Google, that little search engine that could, is app happy. Bear with me -- I'll relate this to security technology in a minute. Not content with becoming the dominant web search engine, or with making what is arguably the best online mapping interface (so good that it took Yahoo! almost a year to copy it), nor content with the fact that it now owns the biggest video sharing site on the Net (YouTube), Google decided to go after the biggest dog in the pack. I'm speaking of Microsoft, of course.
Google's big announcement of this week was its "Google Apps" -- an online services package that delivers common business software like word processing and spreadsheets over the web, rather than having the software in a traditional format where it runs off the local hard drive. Not only do you not have to download or install any software, but the documents are managed in an online format, so if you can connect to Net, you would have access to any of your documents. And that would be the case whether you're at your office desktop, on the road with a laptop, or logging in from a friend or family member's PC in their home.
So, they're going up against Microsoft's "Office" suite and they're going up against the whole theory that data lives in a hard drive, and that's great and clearly made a bit of hoopla over in the world of business computing, but I was thinking about what a web-delivery model would mean for the physical security and surveillance industry. In the Google theory, your software would run much like a browser (where you can already do things like input text and compute numbers -- so it's not much a stretch to envision the document editing and spreadsheet systems Google has created that run like websites).
It's actually something that I've seen from a number of companies that use a web-interface to manage surveillance networks and even access control systems. Join these companies at their tradeshow booths, and they'll tell you how great it is that the director of surveillance can log-in at 10:30 p.m. at night from her own home and see whether that was the janitor or Joe Hoodlum.
One of the problems these companies faced has been latency, especially since it's different when you're dealing with live, real-time, 15fps video versus a text document. The model seems great, sure -- no software, just a PC with an Internet connection. But when things start dragging, users get frustrated.
That's OK, I think, because I believe we can solve latency, and I think companies lie 3Com, Cisco and HP are already doing that. If you think back a few years and think about network cameras and web video running directly from camera to computer (even without a web app in between), you probably remember the latency. You wave your hand and then almost a second later, you see the video of you waving your hands. It's been especially problematic for PTZs on the network of course. But that's been changing. The networking switches and server guys have been able to deliver faster bandwidth and more bandwidth, so let's assume that the latency issue fades away for most customers. In fact, I think latency will be a non-issue in two years -- except for those companies who will decide to keep operating in the networking dark ages.
Then where does that leave us? I think the second concern (and for some, the primary concern) is security. In Google's model, your documents live on the web. They aren't in your own servers. And I'm guessing that if your security reports and access control reports were hosted on a company's server that wasn't your own, you'd get nervous. It's not that they necessarily face any more risks being on a remote 3rd party server than they would being on your own server in the room down the hall, but there's something in our minds which says that if our data isn't on our own network, it's probably weaker.
So I suppose that looking out at what this Google Apps offering could mean for our industry, I think we're a bit far away still. Yes, our industry is already looking closely and starting to adopt web applications, but we tend to be naturally suspicious people: it's the nature of security, right? And until the point that we, as a collective consciousness, are comfortable hosting text documents and spreadsheets off site on 3rd party servers, I don't think we'll be ready to put important security data in the same model. After all, this is an industry that still uses VCRs (not as many as before, but they're still out there running). Letting go just isn't as easy as we wish it was.
In summary: Good one, Google, but still too early for adoption as a model in our industry.
[Do you disagree? Does your company already do that? Tell us how it works using the comments button.]