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EXCLUSIVE: Taking physical security to the cloud


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Laurent Villeneuve, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Genetec Inc explains the cost and safety benefits available by choosing the Cloud over traditional on-site servers.

Only a few years ago, the ‘inevitable shift’ to all things cloud was met with guarded optimism. But today, the shift is becoming more of a reality. An increasing number of enterprise level customers are starting cloud migrations, and the cloud-based video market is growing at a faster rate than traditional business.

With the pandemic forcing restricted access to physical sites, cloud-based or hybrid solutions that enable organizations to remotely monitor video, control cameras, assess system health, perform maintenance, and update firmware/software have become invaluable.

A recent Genetec survey of over 2,000 physical security professionals around the world showed that 45% of larger organizations (with over 1,000 employees) have already adopted cloud or hybrid solutions which is a significant increase compared to 2020 when only 26% of respondents said they had started their cloud journey. A massive 94% of respondents said they have plans to deploy cloud or hybrid solutions in the long term.

Why the Cloud? Why now?

While many physical security departments were hesitant to consider cloud-connected solutions in the past, they now have a greater understanding of the benefits these solutions bring and how they can help organizations better utilize resources to achieve business goals, while minimizing overall operational complexity.

Most businesses desire a comprehensive and technologically advanced physical security system but may find the investment in an infrastructure to support today’s modern IP systems more than they can afford and maintain. Servers, IT and security staff, wiring, software installations, and updates – it all adds up.

One of the most financially burdensome aspects of any surveillance deployment is the purchase and maintenance of the servers required to host applications and store video surveillance archives. As organizations continue to expand surveillance efforts, their private data centers become more difficult to manage, maintain, and afford.

With video surveillance camera manufacturers developing higher resolution cameras all the time, the need for more storage increases exponentially. This can take a toll on an infrastructure that’s not equipped to accommodate these advances in technology. Increasing mandates by insurance providers, government agencies, or internal policies to keep video archives far beyond the common 30- to 90-day retention range are straining resources even more. With these considerations, more organizations have pressing concerns about planning and budgeting for the future operational needs of security systems and are turning to cloud technologies for answers.

How is the Cloud more affordable?

Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions allow organizations to deploy surveillance systems for a cost-effective monthly fee, avoiding the approvals or sourcing of lump-sum capital expenditures to procure more on-premises servers. Cloud services also eliminate the need to find additional rack space – and to cool, power, and maintain storage hardware – while freeing up valuable IT resources for other projects. Hosting the system in a public data center also ensures additional offsite redundancy, as compared to local appliances that are susceptible to theft, damage, or failure.

Cloud solutions can improve security and operations

Today, organizations are leveraging the Cloud to develop creative security and business applications that were once considered unrealistic or economically impractical. The ability to easily share data across departments and locations can aid investigations by allowing different organizations to securely collect, manage, and share video evidence and other relevant case information from one simple cloud-based application. Comprehensive audit trails ensure that the chain of custody of evidence is maintained at all times.

How safe is the Cloud?

Tier-one cloud providers have implemented far more stringent security measures for their infrastructures than most independent organizations could ever afford to do on their own. They offer the highest levels of physical security for their data centers since they have to comply with regulations such as SOC 2, ISO 27001, HiPAA, and PCI. Furthermore, IT tasks such as infrastructure maintenance and patching are done in a timely matter, ensuring the ongoing security of the services provided.

Of course, cloud service providers must do their part to ensure that the right security mechanisms are in place, such as encrypted communications, data protection capabilities, and strong user authentication and password protection. Not only do these tools help protect organizations against hackers and other internet-based attacks, but they ensure only those with defined privileges will be able to access or use resources, data, and applications.

Moving to the Cloud at your own pace

Having an entire security system running in the Cloud is not the only option when considering cloud-based solutions. Organizations can extend the functionality of on-premises, server-based systems by simply adding devices with cloud-based software and storage, implementing remote sites with cloud solutions, or running specific applications in the Cloud. 

A hybrid solution allows organizations to keep on-premises servers for existing technologies and uses as well as add other security and business components or systems as needed. The sheer flexibility and scalability of the Cloud simplifies expansions by accommodating many different objectives, uses, and durations. From a front-end perspective, nothing changes for the operator who can manage all components, whether cloud-based or hosted on-premises, from a central location within one platform interface. 

More private and public entities, for example, are turning to the Cloud to freely extend storage or gain layers of redundancy with minimal economic impact. In this case, organizations can easily choose to keep longer-term video and data archives in the Cloud, while storing short-term archives on local on-premises servers. Other organizations are realizing the value of cloud storage by using it to back up video and data archives. If anything happens to the physical servers, companies can rest assured that their most critical security information is safely stored in the Cloud and is easily accessible on demand. 

Beyond cloud storage, public and private entities are expanding their operations with entire cloud-based applications to achieve central management and monitoring from one location. While every independent system can be server-based, the component that ties them all together and connects people across the globe remains a subscription-based cloud service. This minimizes the drain on existing resources and accommodates sites where the infrastructure might not be available to enable this level of collaboration.

With a hybrid cloud model, expanding security and business applications is simplified. Generally, the hybrid cloud model allows organizations to gradually expand their existing server and storage infrastructure by leveraging the benefits of public datacenters at their own pace.

Deployment considerations

While there is no “typical” hybrid cloud architecture, there are some common are deployment implementations. The first, and perhaps most common deployment, is likely to include an on-premises Video Management System (VMS) along with a simple cloud storage extension to support, for example, longer retention periods of video downsized to a lower definition.

A second common deployment would include enterprise customers with a global footprint of geographically distributed operations. Here, the architecture might entail a network of cloud and local video management and storage appliances, services, and components as required. In this case, they may run a larger VMS deployment in their headquarters which would be mostly on-premises, with many smaller, remote sites federated into the main site.

The third category could be applied to an organization of virtually any size, but one that elects to run its VMS and associated video analytics within its on-premises infrastructure connected to a number of cloud applications to export and share video. This architecture would be typical for say a municipal police department that needs to collaborate securely on video evidence between precincts and other law enforcement agencies. In this case, they may include local clouds managed by the larger organization.

Determining which category or subcategory of hybrid architecture to deploy will always come down to the primary considerations of budget, mission criticality, bandwidth constraints, storage costs, and other business factors that may include in-house IT expertise. But thanks to the unprecedented flexibility of today’s hybrid architectures, whatever the organization’s particular needs are, there is a solution for everyone.

In conclusion

By incorporating a cloud-based or hybrid solution, organizations and businesses of any size can reduce investment in new hardware and easily scale computing and storage resources to facilitate physical security at locations across the globe. Ongoing IT network infrastructure expenses like purchasing servers, electricity, and cooling can be drastically reduced if not eliminated. A cloud-based system is easier to maintain, offers the most up-to-date features and functionality, and with the right protection, can be safer from cyberattacks.

With a hybrid cloud deployment, organizations can move at their own pace: they can pick and choose which installations would benefit from on-prem solutions versus those where cloud solutions might be a better fit. Either way, cloud solutions offer quicker access to the latest technology advancements, including many built-in cybersecurity and data privacy features. The best part is users won’t notice a difference. All cloud and on-premises systems are accessible via the same unified security platform.

This article was originally published in the July edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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