Hosted Video: Safe and Sound

With all the talk about the cloud today, it's hard to make it through the day without getting barraged with cloud chatter. Everything from e-mail to payroll services leverage the power of the cloud and why not? The cloud and its hosting providers offer cost savings, ease of use and flexibility to change the way we run applications-at home, in the home office and on the enterprise. Most of this functionality, however, is relatively lightweight in terms of bandwidth usage and network impact and have thus gained the favor of most IT groups.

Now enter video surveillance, by all accounts a heavy consumer of bandwidth. The question is: How realistic is it to move video surveillance to the cloud? Is video surveillance ready for the cloud? Or maybe better said for most integrators: Is the cloud ready for video surveillance?

While storage and bandwidth providers are enamored with the fact that video-one of the most bandwidth intensive applications-is hungry for transport and storage, the average security director or business owner will certainly have questions about the viability of this solution, especially those with a history of analog use.

As your partners and competitors talk more to the security end-user about the notion of cloud-based video surveillance options, there will be many factors to explain and consider ranging from what hardware to choose, which provider to use for service and all things in between. During this discovery process there will be some commonly held misconceptions about cloud-based video storage and video surveillance as a service offering. While these concerns seem credible on the surface, once you drill down and do your homework, these misconceptions can be very easily overcome.

Is it really ready for use?

One of the most commonly held beliefs about hosted video is that it is not mature enough to stand up to the rigors of today's physical security demands. There will always be resistance to any new technology introduced into a mature market, especially one that deals in safety and security. Many software applications and systems have migrated to the cloud already, specifically in our industry with the proliferation of hosted and managed access control and network-based alarm monitoring.

The technology itself is not the issue, especially as consumers use it daily to stream TV and movies, bank online and send social security information. Rather, how much information can practically be transmitted over the security network is what might come into question. Access control and alarm monitoring systems have proven mature platforms that confirm the viability of network-based functionality. Hosted video is no different with the exception of throughput requirements, which has been addressed with bandwidth-economizing compression technology.

Since video content is being sent out over the Internet, bandwidth usage will always be an issue. However, it's a commonly held misconception that video content is too consumptive to effectively be transmitted over the Internet. With the introduction of more efficient compression methods-namely H.264-systems are able to transmit video quality today that's better than 4CIF resolution over a dedicated T1 line without any significant lag issues. Even some of your customers with in-house recording and storage solutions record video at nominally low frame rates and resolution to save on internal storage, so the quality of hosted video is comparable and still better than analog. In addition, bandwidth capabilities and compression standards will continue to improve, which means the amount of data that's able to be sent over the network will increase as well.

Is my data safe?

Security is always a concern when you start to move data from a site-based scenario to a cloud-based solution. Since we currently trust the cloud to support confidential and critical e-mail information as well as sensitive personal financial information, why wouldn't we trust it with our video data? We've tacitly accepted Internet-based services as safe and implicitly trust them because of all the logical and physical security measures deployed to protect our information. An IP security camera is just another IT device on the network, so it should have all the same multi-level passwords, HTTPS encryption and IP address filtering protecting measures in place to secure the data.

Additionally, the data centers that store SaaS information-from corporate data, to healthcare files, to video hosting-must also follow strict IT-regulated guidelines to ensure the integrity of the data. These sites not only have lock-and-key, video, access control and biometrics safeguarding the perimeter, but many also have armed guards patrolling the grounds 24/7. These same hosting providers who have been storing critical data for years are now ready to store video surveillance as well.

An analog system in the cloud?

For the recent installers of analog surveillance systems that don't think the cloud is worth pitching, don't fret: there is an opportunity there, too. Moving to the cloud is as simple as converting the existing analog systems to IP through the deployment of video servers (encoders). An inexpensive encoder can be installed to digitize the analog stream and communicate over network infrastructure. It's also a great way to show analog-experienced end-users the benefits of IP without making them jump in head first.

Video encoders afford analog users the ability to easily and cost-effectively migrate to IP functionality that leads to cloud-based management of video systems. You can now leverage an existing analog customer as an up-sell, recurring monthly revenue opportunity by transforming their system into a proactive security and business intelligence tool that will elevate the overall security footprint.

The complexity of deploying and supporting hosted systems is perceived as high, but in fact the opposite is true. Innovations in hosted video platforms and partnerships behind the scenes enable the Internet communication between the cameras and the hosting provider to be done without port forwarding efforts that were required in the past. This translates into a seamless, easy to deploy solution not only for integrators but for end-users to functionally utilize because many of the typical installation issues of IP addressing, DNS configuration and firewall navigation are removed from the scenario. In many cases, surveillance cameras can be auto-configured to communicate with a specific video hosting provider's network in a plug and play fashion. In fact, integrators can set up this communications link between the camera and the hosting provider's cloud before they leave for the job site. This allows integrators to stage large jobs in advance by removing logistical issues often associated with large deployments, which means that more jobs can be done in one day.

There are many reasons why some of our most relevant systems and platforms are moving to the cloud. They allow us the freedom to access information and manage our daily business with ease and without restriction. Video surveillance is now one of those functions that can live in the cloud and can provide the means by which to manage our video surveillance platforms in a cost effective, easy to use environment. Setting up the partnerships for success is the next step.

Matt Krebs is the business development manager for the hosted video division at Axis Communications Inc. He can be reached at