The past couple of recessions have mandated organizations to be more effective with fewer resources. Such requirements have served as key ingredients to fuel a “perfect storm” — where corporate IT’s focus has gone away from just keeping the wheels turning to being more focused on enabling their business to thrive. In the process, owning and operating on-premise infrastructure has become less important than ensuring that the right sets of capabilities, competitive advantages and efficiencies are in place.
Cloud solutions are fine-tuned for this transformation, since they are designed to simplify the deployment, management and higher costs that traditional models incur. It makes sense that their adoption has seen a significant increase, but their rise in popularity was not one that was readily embraced or without conflict. While some IT pros may determine the cloud is not the right fit for them, it is at least fair to concede that it is now commonly accepted as a mainstream option — quite a progression from what once was a small and fiercely debated movement.
Conversely, physical security pros are taking a closer look at the cloud, but it hasn’t quite become a mainstream option. However, the progress in IT provides insight into what is coming. With the appreciation that the physical access community has its own set of unique challenges that must be addressed to make the same transition, the overall path is quite similar, and getting to the other side will offer desirable benefits that cannot be gained within the boundaries of traditional deployment models. Consider the similarities of physical and IT pros:
- Both were/are wary of the cloud concept.
- Both are facing increased budgetary constraints with the same demands on number of projects.
- Both see increased demand for integration (systems, monitoring, interoperability, acquisitions, etc.)
- Both are feeling the pressure to perform with fewer resources, and to consolidate skillsets.
- Systems are increasingly installed in an IT-like environment (servers, databases, and networks).
The differences are just as significant. For starters, physical access is made up of hardware-dependant infrastructures. We must be able to execute on our commitments to investigate, oversee, respond, and intervene, and it is nearly impossible to substitute all of these aspects into a virtual process that resides in code and is accessible only through a web browser.
Some of these issues are being solved through a combination of innovation and policy re-engineering. Perhaps the largest barrier has been the fundamental prerequisite that a cloud solution requires the internet to deliver its services, and physical access has generally been “offline.” This is the biggest difference from IT — where almost everything in their world is already connected. Conversely, it is pretty easy to see that there has been little motivation for vendors to develop cloud solutions if customers aren’t able to consume them, even if they wanted to.
IP Changes the Landscape
With IP-based systems proving to hold a prominent role in in the future of physical access, its paving the way for organizations to migrate from copper wire to a network-based infrastructures with the ability to be “online.” This would now provide a platform for vendors to deliver cloud services to end-users that prefer them, however the concept is a bit more complex.
Thus far, IP in physical access has mostly been limited to rolling out CAT5 to act as a pipe that transmits data from one endpoint to another; such as in the case of readers and cameras. A cloud service is neither needed to accomplish this nor does this alone make it one. Asking different people as to what they think the cloud is and you are likely to get as many different definitions. Unfortunately, the term is as nebulous as the namesake it references.