Cloud solutions for video surveillance aren’t and never were black-and-white options. Rather, cloud-based video can be set up in many different configurations — with hybrid cloud being the most common and fastest growing. There are solutions for practically every end-user customer in one form or another.

The right solution for some end users, however, is no cloud at all — strictly an on-premises video surveillance system. And that’s why having answers for which type of video surveillance model is best for which applications is essential among security integrators.

Configurations of video surveillance systems range from fully on-premises (sometimes called on-prem), where all of the hardware, applications, management and storage are done exclusively at the customer’s site; to a hybrid solution where some components/operations occur on-site and others in the cloud; to fully cloud-based. Some vendors look at this range of solutions on a continuum, with on-prem systems at one end of the spectrum and full cloud at the other end — and a great number of hybrid cloud solutions in between.

Sanjay Challa, chief product officer, Salient Systems, Austin, Texas, points out that the configurations at either end of the spectrum are extremely polarized in that with full-cloud systems you don’t have an experience without the internet and with on-premises systems you only have an experience without the internet.

While full cloud gives end users the ability to perform many functions remotely, its “Achilles heel” is video data ownership, vendor lock-in, cost and reliability issues, Challa says.

“You have that internet outage — oh, well, good luck. You decide you don’t want to renew with that vendor — ouch, there are some lock-in and cost issues. You want to pull all of the data that you have — hmm, those egress fees. First, you don’t own your data and second, it might be kind of challenging to pull it all out,” Challa says.

Some of these factors might not matter at all, though. For very small businesses, “easy is the way to go and they don’t care about owning their video surveillance data,” Challa observes.

The factors important to end users at the opposite end of the spectrum are ownership and control of the video, as well as flexibility in how they deploy and manage some of the components. Doing things completely offline, disconnected from the internet and from cloud services, allows complete control but may impede remote services. “At the end of the day, there’s just a trade-off. You’re trading easiness with ownership and control,” Challa says.

There are appreciable benefits to all three main video surveillance options: on-premises, fully cloud, and hybrid cloud deployment. // IMAGE COURTESY OF GENETEC

On-Premises Solutions

The advantage of on-prem systems is having complete control. Users have direct physical access to the infrastructure and video when needed and the ability to realize their specific security requirements, says Jeremy White, founder of Pro-Vigil, San Antonio, Texas.

“One disadvantage is that on-premises resources are typically accessible only from within the organization’s network. Another disadvantage of on-prem is it requires a significant upfront investment to buy the hardware and software required, as well as pay for the ongoing maintenance, updates and security,” White says.

For large Fortune 500 and multinational organizations, data sovereignty is a very important aspect of their operations as it affects video streams, Challa explains. This includes factors such as where the data resides, compliance with data privacy laws, and building a corporate data lake by leveraging the video data with corporate business intelligence. “So, probably anything further right of hybrid or cloud-enabled doesn’t make sense,” he says.

For these reasons, integrators who serve this part of the market shouldn’t be considering “no-footprint” or bridge-based solutions that rely solely on the cloud. Instead, they should look at traditional or hybrid and cloud-enabled solutions, Challa advises.

“I’d think more about how the cloud can help them with operational processes like license management and system health reporting. Those are great things to do through the cloud while allowing these large multinational corporations to still worry about how they store and manage what they consider one of the most critical data assets that they have,” Challa says.

Cloud Collect Integrator
With Cloud Collect’s Surveillance Bridge solution, users can achieve 90 days of video retention using one of three different configurations: disaster recovery, storage extension, or recover and extension. // IMAGE COURTESY OF CLOUD COLLECT

Cloud Solutions

Conversely, cloud solutions often make sense for companies with small systems, such as those with up to eight cameras. Ideal applications for cloud solutions are end users who don’t place big demands on their system. They don’t need a huge server or massive storage space, and may not even have a server rack for an NVR, says Aaron Saks, senior technical marketing and training manager at Hanwha Vision America, Teaneck, N.J.

“For them, a system that is either direct-to-cloud where it’s just cameras, or a somewhat hybrid system where there’s an on-site gateway, works perfectly for them,” Saks says. The gateway is a small box that allows data to be stored locally in case of internet problems and can throttle bandwidth based on time of day, Saks explains.

He describes the attributes of the cloud that make it ideal for surveillance at many types of facilities: it is flexible and elastic, scaling to the end users’ needs and resources. “If they’re recording 30 days now, but in a few months or seasonally they need 60 days, they just log in, click a few buttons and they’re done. They don’t need anyone to come on-site and change out hard drives,” Saks says.

Hybrid Solutions

This flexibility and scalability allow end users take advantage of the significant cost savings offered by tiered cloud video storage, says Jennifer Hones, manager, Key Account Team, Milestone Systems, Portland, Ore. Hybrid is an ideal way for many users to put toes in the water with cloud video.

Hones describes the hybrid cloud model as one that combines on-premises, edge-based storage and processing with cloud-based services. “This model helps minimize bandwidth usage since only relevant footage (like alarm-triggered clips) is uploaded to the cloud while maintaining continuous local recording,” Hones describes.

There are other models, as well, which address different corporate structures and suit a range of policies. In a multi-site hybrid deployment, there may be a mixture of on-prem, scalable infrastructure at an organization’s larger sites, while their smaller, remote sites are fully cloud-based and are connecting to the head end, describes Laurent Villeneuve, senior product marketing manager at Montreal-based Genetec.

Learn More by Asking

Use the following list of questions about cloud video solutions when you meet with prospective vendors. Add more questions as your knowledge expands on the topic.

What is the primary architecture of the system and what does the offering consist of?

“Cloud video architectures can vary greatly based on the vendor, use case or application, and the configuration of the system,” says Ryan Gregory, director of solutions management and devices, Axis Communications, Chelmsford, Mass. “Generally speaking, cloud-based video systems should do more than just stream video across a WAN, which is a technology that has existed for quite some time. The storage of video and the management of the system, users, analytics and more, is where system architecture and capabilities come into play.”

Laurent Villeneuve of Genetec advises, “If you’re an integrator and you’re selling VMS and trying to focus on better outcomes for clients, I think what’s really important is understanding what the vendor offers in terms of edge devices — cloud-managed video recording hardware, edge computing appliances and cloud storage.

Villeneuve says you need to ask: What is your offering in terms of hardware and software; in terms of full cloud/fully hosted operations, but also in terms of cloud-based add-ons and different computing editions.

“Do you have direct-to cloud cameras? Do you have native cloud storage? Do you have connected services? Do you have edge storage with cloud connectivity? Do you have fully hosted video monitoring operations? Do you have multi-platform applications that will be agnostic whether or not you’re storing on premise or in the cloud?” he asks.

“Another one that’s super important is, are you providing open architecture or closed end-to-end solutions? That will be a big influence whether or not it’s ready for future upgrades, whether or not it’s a rip-and-replace kind of installation or if it’s going to gradually replace certain components,” Villeneuve emphasizes.

How and where will your customers’ video be stored?

“It is important to ask about where the data is stored — on whose cloud and where the cloud data centers are located. Who has access to the data and how is it securely stored and replicated?” says Aaron Saks of Hanwha Vision America.

“It’s very important because you want your data centers somewhere close so you’re not having to send the data around the world to get to your cloud provider,” explains Skip Sampson, managing director at Cloud Collect, Indianapolis. “The longer it’s being transferred across the internet, the more things can happen. You want a data center as close as possible to where you are.”

Is storage configurable?

“In other words, can video be stored either locally on device or streamed natively to the cloud backend? Can it do both at the same time? If stored locally is any additional hardware required, such as bridge devices or NVRs?” asks Gregory.

What camera vendors are supported and what camera controls does the user have?

“What is the breadth of the vendor’s product lines? If the cloud vendor doesn’t provide their own cameras, do they support ONVIF?” Gregory says .

“How many cameras can your cloud VMS support?” Michelle Johnson, North America Video Solutions marketing manager at Bosch Security and Safety Systems, Fairport, N.Y., suggests asking.

“Do camera-based analytics trigger recording and searching? Can I move PTZ cameras and de-warp fisheye cameras? How do multi-senor cameras integrate? Can I easily adjust camera settings remotely?” asks Saks.

Does your cloud solution use video analytics and artificial intelligence?

“I want my customers to try some video analytics and AI. How much does that cost? Is AI really being used in the cloud and what does it do?” says Ken Francis, president, Eagle Eye Networks, Austin, Texas

“What analytics capabilities are included in your cloud video surveillance offering and how user-friendly are they both for me and my customers?” says Brad McMullen of 3xLOGIC.

Does your cloud vendor do hot storage or cold storage?

“Hot storage … means instant retrieval. Cold storage is less money, but it takes a day or two to get the data to you,” Sampson explains.

What is the required investment?

This is perhaps the biggest question end users ask. “What kind of hardware investment does a business have to make when they move from an on-prem system to cloud video surveillance?” Francis asks .

“Can I use all of my existing hardware? Some would say you have to use their cameras or at least buy their recorder to be able to go to their cloud,” Sampson says.

“Besides the cameras, will some equipment be required to be on site with your cloud VMS offering?” Johnson says.

How is your cloud offering priced?

“What is the subscription model and pricing? More specifically, how is cost broken down and what are the payment models, options, retention times, etc.,” poses Gregory.

“What are the … commitment terms of the reseller agreements and how is that billed? Can I brand/rebrand the solution?” asks Jeremy White of Pro-Vigil.

“What are the storage and bandwidth options available and what is the licensing structure and costs associated with them?” McMullen asks .

“How does pricing work in terms of storage, resolutions, multi-sensor cameras, and advanced features?” queries Saks.

“Is your cloud storage sold at a true fixed cost? Do you guarantee how much per terabyte I’ll be paying every month or does it vary? Are there any ingress and egress charges, as well as any other small charges?” Sampson suggests asking.

What are your integration capabilities with third-party systems?

“As an integrator, I bring together products. I would want to understand what the manufacturer offers as integrated solutions,” says Michael Coniff, offering management lead for MaxPro Cloud, Honeywell Building Technologies, Atlanta. “I would want to see how I could expand my offerings to those end users and make more opportunities for RMR. The breadth of the products that the company is offering and how those are being brought into a cloud platform would be important to me,” he says.

“Is the offering mainly around video management or do you provide integrations/full unification with other security capabilities? The unified approach is getting more commonplace in the industry, but there’s still some ways to go on that,” Villeneuve says.

“Does the cloud solution integrate with intercom systems, access control, visitor management, IP public address/paging systems, etc.?” Gregory asks.

“Can the cloud video solution integrate with customers’ existing on-premises hardware and software? In other words, does the cloud solution offer an open platform architecture that allows seamless integration with devices and applications from different manufacturers?” says Milestone Systems’ Jennifer Hones.

How scalable is your cloud offering?

“Most end users will have a need for system expansion at some point. Consider the scalability options and flexibility offered by the provider, including the ability to add or remove cameras, adjust storage capacity, and easily accommodate future expansion,” says T.J. Dickson of Speco Technologies.

How does a typical end user access the system?

“Is it all web browser based, or are there mobile apps and a thick client?” Saks says.

“For customers with multiple sites, can they access cameras and video from all locations from one user interface?” Johnson says.

What certifications do your cloud/data centers have?

While not the only ones, “Two important ones are HIPAA and FedRAMP,” Sampson says. “You have to be HIPAA-certified to be able to store medical records and some medical video. And any local, state or federal law enforcement agency cannot store their video, including bodycam video, in a cloud that is not FedRAMP-certified.”

Will you be here as a vendor for the long-term?

“Is this a manufacturer that I can trust and will this manufacturer be there for me in five years? And what is that going look like from their perspective as an investment? What are they doing as a company around those cloud-based services? Where are they going?” says Michael Coniff of Honeywell Building Technologies.

How would you rate the reliability and uptime of your solution?

“Evaluate the provider’s track record in terms of system availability and uptime guarantees to ensure consistent access to video footage,” suggests Speco Technologies’ Dickson.

What are the details of your cybersecurity?

“I believe it is my responsibility to provide cybersecure systems to my business customers, but I’m concerned about cloud systems. Are they as safe as conventional systems? I’m also concerned about security cameras being vulnerable to malicious hackers. Why should I consider cloud video surveillance?” Francis says.

“What measures does the cloud video company take to ensure the security and privacy of video data stored on their platform? Can the vendor provide details on their encryption protocols, user access controls, and other critical cybersecurity features?” Hones asks.

“With cybersecurity concerns on the rise, it is always good practice to assess the provider’s security measures and encryption protocols to safeguard customer data and maintain privacy,” Dickson of Speco Technologies says.

“From a cloud perspective, I would be very interested in the cybersecurity of that product. Are the products that these companies are selling to me NDAA compliant? Does the company take that seriously? Where are they sourcing their products from?” Coniff says.

“What do you do to audit your systems to ensure that only certain people have access to your cloud-based platform? What things do you have in place as a company to ensure that if a breach happens, how am I protected as a dealer?” Coniff says. “It also feeds into the hardware perspective. Try to get an understanding as an integrator of how seriously the manufacturer takes cybersecurity as a whole in their business.”

“A lot of customers are asking for this kind of approach, where their full large-scale operations need to remain intact,” Villeneuve says. “They want it to evolve but they don’t want to lose all the enterprise functionality, all the storage that they’ve invested in over the last decade. But they do have new sites to spin off and they will benefit from cloud capabilities for these smaller sites.” He adds that the sectors interested in such a configuration include enterprise, retail, banking and others like these.

Then there is an on-premises-first kind of deployment, but with added cloud capabilities, such as video recording infrastructure that has cloud storage for redundancy or for longer term storage. Connectivity — for cloud updates or maintenance services — could also be part of such a solution.

“You are benefiting from some cloud capabilities, keeping your things up-to-date and secure and easier to manage, but you still have some on-prem servers to store your video because in many cases the bandwidth is just not there yet and we’re not going to force customers to opt for cloud if it doesn’t work,” Villeneuve says.

Starting again with an on-premises-first configuration, an end user then could do cloud add-ons. They would manage their VMS on-site with their core security team. If they want to send video to an investigation team located elsewhere or share it with law enforcement, then can do that easily and through the cloud, he notes.

“I think evidence management is a really good complement to VMS. You could also think about access and identity management; that also can be fully cloud-based,” Villeneuve says.

From video surveillance, access control and intrusion to fire systems and building management, Honeywell is moving towards cloud as a platform across its many offerings within the Honeywell Building Technologies group. // IMAGE COURTESY OF HONEYWELL

Full Cloud

A fully hosted, fully cloud-based solution is likely to be called “direct-to-cloud.” It involves connecting a cloud-ready camera or other security device, and all the playback and storage is done in the cloud with native cloud services, Villeneuve describes. “That’s on top in terms of cloud.”

This configuration also may be called Video Surveillance as a Service (VSaaS). With it, the management and storage of video data, along with analytic tools, is entirely in the cloud. VSaaS is well-suited for small- or medium-sized organizations with multiple locations, smaller camera-channel counts, and end users who need fast/easy cloud deployments, Hones says.

The advantages are ease of use and scalability, as well as cost savings over time, since it eliminates the need for hardware infrastructure, Hones says. “However, VSaaS can pose bandwidth challenges because constant video streaming to the cloud can consume considerable network resources. Also, the quality of service is heavily dependent on the quality of the internet connection,” she explains.

A totally cloud-based video surveillance solution offers easy storage, streaming and analytics, and makes it easy to expand or contract the size of the end user’s system. Users can access video feeds from anywhere with an internet connection, describes Brad McMullen, president, 3xLOGIC, Fishers, Ind. It also provides redundancy and back-ups, ensuring data integrity and minimizing the risk of data loss.

“Continuous video streaming relies on a stable internet connection, though,” McMullen emphasizes. “Significantly, storing video data in the cloud often raises concerns about data privacy, potential breaches or unauthorized access. Robust security measures must be implemented to mitigate these risks.”

The bottom line is that embracing cloud video solutions can benefit not only end users, but security integrators in multiple ways, says T.J. Dickson, vice president of marketing, Speco Technologies, Amityville, N.Y.

“Cloud-based solutions use subscription-based pricing, providing predictable recurring revenue that increases bottom-line profitability and the overall value of the business,” Dickson says. “Integrators can save on maintenance and support costs with fewer on-site visits and reduced hardware. Overall, embracing cloud video solutions enables integrators to expand offerings, generate recurring revenue, and lower costs while enhancing customer relationships.”