Some think IP video is like a high-performance luxury car. It is powerful and beautiful to look at, but too costly and complicated to own. But similar to how car dealers have lowered the investment bar with leasing options, a hosted video surveillance model has made top-of-the-line IP technology affordable by eliminating upfront investment.
You have probably heard the hosted video story before: Network cameras are installed onsite while the video data streams over the Internet to a highly secure hosted data center. This model eliminates the need for digital video recorders (DVR) prevalent in analog installations or even a centralized network video recording (NVR) server, which lowers a customer’s capital investment and total overall cost of ownership. The hosting provider creates a customized web portal that allows properly credentialed users to access the video at any time from any Internet-connected device — a desktop, a laptop or even a smartphone.
Hosted video is billed as a great solution for business owners who need 10 or fewer cameras per site, especially for owners of multiple dispersed locations. The solution is also intriguing for large enterprises that need to satisfy internal policies or compliance issues — as well as those with critical camera locations (cash room, stock room, pharmacy, etc.) that must record 24/7 or are at risk for employee tampering.
In theory, hosted video makes perfect sense for many end-users. But some have questions about technical challenges — specifically installation, maintenance, bandwidth and scalability.
Installation is a Snap
Hosted platforms are designed specifically to eliminate the complexity of installation, operation and ongoing maintenance. Since smaller systems today are predominantly analog, the typical hosted video candidate might be intimidated by the perceived complication of moving to IP.
Fortunately, IP cameras no longer require port forwarding or fixed IP addressing to communicate with the hosted server. An integrator can auto-configure a network camera for a specific host communication link before even going to the job site. Once on site, the camera is plugged into the network like any other peripheral device. As soon as it powers up, the camera is automatically recognized by the hosting service, a secure “handshake” is created, and the system can start streaming video. This shortens installation time on site, which minimizes disruption to a business. The integrator can even pre-set each camera’s recording and retention parameters, which not only reduces installation time but also results in fewer installation helpdesk calls.
Some IP cameras can also be focused and adjusted remotely over the Internet, speeding up the process of fine-tuning surveillance video settings at each site. The hosting provider can remotely diagnose system problems, which helps to expedite service calls and maximize uptime. As part of the Service Level Agreement (SLA), the financial onus and responsibility of software/hardware maintenance should fall to the hosting provider and is typically rolled into the monthly service fee — which is what makes hosted video an operating expense as opposed to a capital one.
Once the hosted system is installed, it should look and feel like any regular, in-house surveillance system. The system has the same pipes, just a different storage mechanism. Users can readily access live and archived video through a secure viewing portal to their hosting provider, which often includes an intuitive graphic user interface with pull-down menus, simple icons and point-and-click operations to minimize the learning curve and help users quickly gain proficiency.
Some hosting providers also program location maps overlaid with camera icons to make it easy for customers to quickly find and click on a specific camera’s field of view. Customers have the option of downloading these simple-to-use applications to their tablets and smartphones as well, enabling them to view live and recorded video wherever there is an Internet connection.
Data is Protected
With a hosted video solution, customers do not relinquish control over their physical surveillance system, just the physical location of their surveillance data. The key is to understand the SLA for your specific service and ensure the hosting provider has proper auditing procedures in place.
Know that hosting providers employ layers of extra safeguards to keep a customer’s video secure. Transmission is protected by multi-level passwords, SSL encryption and can be further protected by virtual private networks and firewalls. Owner identification keys restrict camera communication to a specific hosting provider’s cloud. Authentication protocols prevent port hijacking. There are also a number of regulations from the data center world, such as SAS70, RSA encryption and ISO 27001, that govern how host providers ensure the security of video transmission, storage and access in the cloud.
Protection of the actual video storage is another part of the equation. Ruggedized off-site storage — i.e. in the data center — limits a customer’s exposure if there is a fire in their facility or a break-in where the first thing the thief might steal or destroy is the DVR.
But what if the Internet goes down? As further protection, customers can augment their hosted solutions with low-cost local network attached storage (NAS) to prevent the loss of critical video recording and an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) to protect against power outages. When Internet connectivity is restored, the NAS can automatically stream the stored video to the cloud for off-site archiving.
Bandwidth consumption is always a concern when streaming video over the Internet. Fortunately, highly efficient compression technology such as H.264 enables end-users to send quality video even over DSL and cable modem connections. To save further on bandwidth usage and archival storage, the system can be configured to record on a specific schedule or only when an event is detected, such as motion in the scene or a door contact disengaging.
If a business owner needs HDTV or megapixel clarity, they can add the inexpensive NAS device — starting at around $200 for multi-terabytes of storage — for high-definition, full frame video onsite, while redundant, lower-resolution video streams to the cloud. Or, they can store video in-camera on an SD card or the NAS and schedule uploading to the cloud at a time of day when there is less competition for bandwidth.
Business Continuity Assured
Since hosting data is a provider’s primary line of business, they build safeguards into their operation to ensure the continued integrity of each customer’s surveillance system. Hosting providers design their state-of-the-art data centers to withstand disasters, using such methods as server farms programmed for automatic failover in case of hardware malfunctions. They staff the centers with highly-trained technical personnel to ensure quick problem resolution and maximum uptime that often follows the rule of “five nines” (99.999%). Like cell phone service providers, their hosting contract includes seamlessly handling hardware and software upgrades, virus protection and other healthcare checks to optimize system performance.
If the customer requires additional cameras, IP video can scale by one camera at a time — unlike the analog world where if you need to add a ninth camera to an eight-channel system, you need to buy a new DVR for the one extra channel. If the system and business outgrows the hosted solution and must scale to 20, 30 or more cameras, you merely connect the cameras to the NVR or PC server storage as needed. But remember, bandwidth capacity grows every day. The 10-camera cap suggested by hosted video providers today could be double that in a few years.
A Transparently Simple Solution
Like a finely-tuned car, hosted video users do not need to fully understand what’s under the hood to enjoy the ride — but they should understand the SLA and quality of service (QoS) agreements made with the hosting provider. Hosted video is designed to be transparent to the user, while worries about hardware, software, configuration, bandwidth and security are left to the provider.
Fredrik Nilsson is General Manager of the Americas for Axis Communications and author of the book Intelligent Network Video. He is a regular expert contributor to STE on topics of networked video surveillance systems and cameras, and his popular “Eye on Video” series is available on SecurityInfoWatch.com.