Cloud Computing is currently a hot topic of conversation in the security industry, but what affect is it likely to have? We asked Carl Hayesmore, technical manager at CCTV Center, the Panasonic System Networks Distributor, to explain the benefits, cost savings and overall impact it might have on the security industry. CCTV Center is a leading proponent of Cloud Computing and has just agreed a Europe-wide service and supply agreement with Next Level Security Systems, the unified security management system provider, to offer security cloud solutions.
What is Cloud Computing?
Cloud Computing is best defined as the delivery of IT services via the internet. The name “Cloud” is derived from the cloud symbol used to represent the internet in many IT network diagrams.
Businesses of all levels require up-to-date IT solutions for the majority of their operations, often with remote, mobile and 24/7 access requirements for their staff. CCTV and security services are part of that IT solution. Most commercial and business applications around the world have adopted a “data centre” IT infrastructure where PC and networked equipment data is transmitted across a Local Area Network to a central server for management and storage. Cloud Computing, by comparison, makes those IT services available via a third party host or provider, over the internet, on a per-user or per-service basis.
The operational benefits of Cloud Computing
There are a number of key benefits Cloud Computing offers the CCTV and Security industry:
Security services, along with IT services, can be managed on behalf of a business by third party experts. This shifts the responsibility of security system management and operation away from the end-user and installer to specialist operators, trained to handle security incidents in real time.
Security functions, such as CCTV, access, fire and intruder systems will become part of one, unified security platform. This security platform will eventually integrate with other business management systems, including commercial, operational, communication, manufacturing and websites.
The management of software upgrades and their associated cost is removed. New services can be implemented quickly and all services are automatically kept up-to-date, simply accessed remotely by PC.
Off-site data storage will improve business data security, reducing rather than concentrating risk. Not only is data kept off-site, but also specialist IT and data storage companies can operate a level of sophistication and replication, far beyond the budget of most companies.
The cost advantage of Cloud Computing
Cloud Computing can be extremely cost effective for a business. IT and security become pay-as-you-go services; the host shares the IT infrastructure cost-overhead with other businesses; site-based IT hardware and software requirements are significantly reduced; and a company’s IT capital expenditure is reduced, switching, instead to an operating expense. In future, IT services will be bought more like a utility such as water, electricity or gas, with the cost being proportional to use.
Cloud Computing also offers significant financial planning and budget advantages. Even with a limited budget, more businesses will be able to purchase the precise IT and security services they need, because expensive equipment and new technology will reside with host companies. Business expansion, contraction, seasonal variations and changing requirements can be easily accommodated.
A new era of security services
Cloud security solutions will always require expert CCTV and security integrators to install cameras with specific functionality, in the correct location. However, Cloud Computing will remove many of the complications associated with network security installation. The end-user will require less skill to operate the system and have less responsibility for its correct operation.
Existing remote monitoring solutions already use a Cloud Computing business model, providing hosted surveillance and site management services online and on demand. Operational expertise lies with trained, professional operators, not the businesses staff on site. Surveillance can be 24/7, out of hours or as required. Professional operators are better able to react appropriately to site incidents and intrusions. They offer superior crime prevention, police response requests, data recording and ultimately evidence provision, all available as and when they are needed. Data storage might still be on-site, but off-site duplication and back-up is also commonplace. The service is usually “pay-as-you-go”, with the option of adding further services instantly, such as lone worker protection, enhanced holiday cover, key-holder alerts, mobile response and more, without additional equipment investment.
Cloud Computing will make security installation easier. NVRs will become “gateways” which connect cameras to a hosted security provider. IP CCTV will no longer need camera IP addresses and the associated registration processes will be avoided. Integration of CCTV, access, intruder and other site security systems will be far simpler, offering a superior service to end users. System maintenance, software upgrades, operation and management, data storage, data protection and all the legal aspects of security system management become the host’s responsibility. End users will be reassured that, in an emergency, the appropriate measures and actions will take place.
There is still, however, progress to be made. A unified security platform has not yet been standardised or optimised. Network limitations still restrict the speed, efficiency and reliability of CCTV data transfer, although these are gradually being solved. A pricing structure based around services, not equipment, has yet to be developed. The legal aspects of the new technology also need further consideration, especially in regard to the safety of data, data protection and legal compliance in different countries, not to mention protection for businesses should their Cloud host, holding all their data, go into receivership.
In my opinion, however, the biggest risk that Cloud Computing poses to the security industry is that it will absorb security into the far larger IT function. We must act quickly to stay ahead of the IT experts, creating our own security-based cloud solutions which utilise our specific knowledge and expertise. Installers will always be needed to install cameras, but there is a lot more scope for the security industry as a whole to offer “security-as-a-service”, if it acts decisively and embraces Cloud Computing as the way forward.