IF THERE’S ONE TREND IN VIDEO SURVEILLANCE that may define the last 12 to 18 months, it’s likely the acceleration of cloud video adoption, which came largely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More specifically, this increased demand was a response to the various lockdown requirements that were commonplace beginning early in 2020, as business owners relied more heavily on their video systems to check in on their sites — which often led to disappointments, says Ken Francis, president, Eagle Eye Networks, Austin, Texas. “It was a wake up call; 2020 was the year that end users realized that their video systems were not as good as they thought. This led to a demand to upgrade video all around,” he says.

One of the main problems end users faced with their systems stemmed from confusion over what, exactly, cloud video is.

“Cloud video can mean many things,” says Anthony Novotne, marketing manager, Check Video, Falls Church, Va. “The ability to view video from a web browser or mobile app is not new and has been available with traditional NVRs. Some providers offer cloud-managed NVRs that allow management and configuration through the cloud, but video is recorded on site. Other providers record video in the cloud. Some offerings require no NVRs, because cloud-native cameras work directly with software in the cloud. It is important to keep options open, which is possible with a hybrid recording approach combining on-site and cloud recording.”

Given growing demand for cloud video, many new offerings have come to market over the last year, ranging from small startups to new solutions from existing video providers. Regardless of the size of the offering, these new entrants to the market have continued to add features like expanded search capabilities and more analytics, says Brad McMullen, general manager, security products and solutions, 3xLOGIC, Fishers, Ind.

“The biggest change lately is the launch of solutions that are very flexible for the end user and don’t lock them in to long-term contracts,” he says. “Solutions now exist that allow customers to purchase equipment that can be used for cloud-managed video but also give the flexibility to be used with video recorders, so the customer can always decide the best solution and not be held hostage by contracts.”

Analytics are among the most cited advancements in cloud video over the last year, also largely in response to COVID-19 protocols.

“Over the past year, the industry has developed increasingly advanced analytics solutions that use both on-camera or on-premise and on-cloud algorithms to balance functionalities of very economical camera hardware against the costs of performing cloud compute for everything,” says Cory Plender, director of product management, Alula, St. Paul, Minn. “These solutions use training data at the cloud to design detection patterns that must be simple enough to be operated at the edge, and against lower resolution or lower frame rate streams.”


Securing Video in the Cloud

The March 2021 hack of video from more than 150,000 cloud-connected security cameras from startup Verkada exposed some of the dangers associated with cloud video, which is particularly prescient given the steady adoption and growth of cloud video over the last year, says Salient Systems’ Sanjay Challah.

“Despite the growing interest and the move towards cloud-based video, the large and public silicon valley SaaS, VMS and camera provider hack was a major setback to the trust and confidence in many large firms looking to make the jump to cloud-based video,” he says.

In fact, says BCDVideo’s Jonathan Benedick, “The biggest challenge is security and ensuring the privacy of the video data is kept secure and cannot be compromised. Another challenge would be encryption of that video data and making sure that the way the data is stored does not corrupt the integrity of the video files.”

This all begs the question, “How can I make sure my customers’ video is secure in the cloud?”

For starters, it’s important to choose a cloud provider carefully, says Ken Francis of Eagle Eye Networks.

“[Integrators] want to ensure that the provider is using true cloud. The cloud provider should be SOC-compliant and hyper-aware of cybersecurity best practices. In terms of cameras, the cloud provider should support a wide variety of camera manufacturers and models, including legacy cameras so the reseller can do takeovers,” he says.

In the case of Verkada, the hack was accomplished using a “super password” most likely acquired via a phishing attack, so it’s also important to remember that no matter how robust the cybersecurity technology an organization has deployed, it can all be undone by a simple human error. Therefore, training is also of the essence, as is regular updating and patching on the cloud provider side.

“There’s high confidence in cloud-based video, but security must be a priority,” says Alula’s Cory Plender. “Cloud for any use has the advantage of high availability, high reliability and access from anywhere — but data security must remain a high priority. With increasingly remote workforces this aspect makes them ever more valuable. Take care to ensure that your cloud video provider performs regular security audits and penetration testing to ensure that the security aspects of both the hardware, platform and mobile applications meet and exceed industry standards for security.”


Why Look to the Cloud?

For end users, the value of the cloud lies in ease of use, lack of on-site hardware and the ability to view, control and manage video from anywhere. But for security integrators, the benefits of the cloud might be a bit less clear. For starters, no hardware to sell and install means no revenue from selling that physical equipment, which can be a big shift for some in the space. However, it’s important to note that not every customer or use case is ideally suited to cloud video.

“There are lots of very good on-premise solutions that provide specific use cases and benefits for video but cloud video provides even more options for dealers to tailor and customize the services to the individual installation,” Plender says. “Cloud video excels to bring video together from multiple sites, whether that might be a vacation home or perhaps multiple small business sites within a single account. This provides a more streamlined experience for the end user.”

As competition contributes to shrinking profit margins, integrators are looking for ways to increase their revenues. Enter the cloud.

“As an underlying technology, cloud video brings a wider spectrum of solutions from cloud space into the security industry that will widen the integrator toolbox of offerings to solve customer use cases,” says Leo Levit, director of systems integration for Chelmsford, Mass.-based Axis Communications and chairman of the ONVIF steering committee. “This also opens up additional revenue streams for integrators to take advantage of, as cloud gives a framework to integrators to build new business models based on recurring revenues. This would complement their current service model — as they eventually could be offering solution-as-a-service, whether it’s monitoring, storage, video analytics or another offering.”

Remote services are a prime source of this vital RMR, says Troy Wideman, Bosch Safety and Security Systems, Fairport, N.Y.

“By enabling remote commissioning, updates, and health monitoring, cloud-based services for video have allowed integrators to continue to service their customers throughout the pandemic even though access to end user sites may have been restricted,” he says. “At the same time, integrators have found the reduced need to travel to customer sites has helped to maximize the efficiency of employees and drive savings in labor costs.”

Martin Renkis, vice president, OpenBlue security and innovation, Johnson Controls, Milwaukee, says the conversation has shifted lately from “why cloud” to “which cloud,” indicating that the benefits are becoming more commonly known.

“In a fast-moving market with rapidly changing technology, having a long-term relationship with a customer (selling a cloud service) compared to selling ‘iron’ (cameras, NVRs) one off delivers a path to business continuity and higher profitability,” he says. “Uniquely, security-as-a-service solutions (camera and cloud service in one subscription) make this a simpler and more profitable benefit to move into cloud video.”


Experts’ Advice for Working With Cloud Video

Anthony Novotne, Check Video: “There are many providers offering cloud video services. Since cloud video depends entirely on services being available for years, it is important to choose a vendor that has long-term experience doing it reliably, with proven cybersecurity and availability. The vendor should be willing to back it up with a service guarantee.”

Brad McMullen, 3xLOGIC: “Sell cloud-managed video to the right customers for the right reasons. It still may not be the best solution for all customers. Helping customers identify whether to choose an on-premise, cloud-managed or hybrid solution will help ensure a better customer experience and a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.”

Cory Plender, Alula: “Pay attention to who maintains the customer relationship. Many of the biggest tech companies in the video space capture the monthly RMR. These companies are also selling security products and consumer data. Unfortunately, this can limit the professional security dealer to an installation and technician role for the video service offering. Alula is focused on delivering services for the professional dealer — we only work with dealers, which keeps them in the driver’s seat with their customers.”

Jonathan Benedick, BCDVideo: “When working with public cloud options, it is worth figuring out and accurately determining the amount of data that the end user will egress out of the cloud on a monthly basis. Each cloud provider is different, so choosing the correct one that fits the customer’s needs is important to make sure they are not hit with extra charges if they end up pulling constant video data out of the cloud for review.”

Troy Wideman, Bosch Safety and Security: “Cloud video is a broad topic and can cover many areas — from enhanced capabilities for the integrator to end user services that can include video monitoring, notifications, event-based recording, counting reports and more. Integrators should take the time to learn about what is available and how it could benefit them, their customers or both.”

Martin Renkis, Johnson Controls: “The future of physical security, like most other industries, is moving to services, and the security-as-a-service business is very different from the historical security business. The first consideration for any vendor considering this shift is that selling security as a service is on ongoing relationship with the provider — so the financial health and size of the vendor, cybersecurity and privacy history of and commitments from the vendor, the support staff, and most importantly the history of the vendor in the cloud will dictate the future success of the cloud video solution and in turn the success of the integrator. Integrators are no longer looking at simply reselling an IP camera or NVR with installation services, they are considering the relationship they have with their vendor of cloud solutions and ongoing services in a more holistic way.”

Sanjay Challah, Salient: “Carefully vet the cloud-based video solution and ensure that the solution clearly addresses the use cases required by the end user customer.”


What Are the Challenges?

Many of the challenges security integrators face with the cloud revolve around different approaches to selling.

“Cloud-managed video is a fundamentally different sales and business approach for providing video services to customers,” McMullen says. “Integrators need to understand they may give up short-term, immediate revenue from recording devices for longer-term monthly subscription revenue. Cloud-managed video may not be the right solution for all customers yet. So integrators need to work with manufacturers to educate themselves on ‘when and why cloud-managed video’ for their customers. Integrators need to understand their customers’ needs and priorities to make the recommendation for when cloud-managed video is the right solution, when traditional on-premise technology is the right solution, or when a hybrid approach may be the best option.”

According to Plender, IT challenges are also among the biggest obstacles to cloud video for integrators. As a result, installers and integrators will want to select a solution that provides a good initial installation experience while also including management tools to support the solution remotely.

“The on-site IT environment over time can be highly variable — with ISPs, routers, access points and other on-site equipment creating conflicts,” Plender says. “A solution with good remote management and alternative communication path technology that enables reconfiguration without a truck roll is a great benefit.”

Additional challenges may come from outside the security industry, says Francis Lachance, director of the video and appliances product group at Genetec, Montreal.

“Another challenge integrators will face [is] new competitors coming from the IT space where cloud-based video systems could definitely be fulfilled or handled either by the internal IT department directly, or by new IT integrators that could take on some of the business,” he says.

Depending on the cloud service or solution, integrators are at the mercy of the cloud-based video offering just as much as end users are, says Sanjay Challah, chief product officer, Salient Systems, Austin, Texas.

“The recent hack highlighted how powerless integrators and end users might be when consuming such offerings,” Challah says. “Additionally, integrators may not have as many options to configure and tune cloud-based video offerings, and may struggle to meet unique/non-standard requirements and may also struggle to show substantive add-on value to clients.”

According to Jonathan Benedick, national sales manager, BCDVideo, Northbrook, Ill., even though cloud options have been around for a long time in the IT sector, it is still in its infancy stage in the security industry.

“The use of cloud services and storage is only going to continue growing as it becomes a major architecture platform in the industry as time goes on,” Benedick says. “As more and more VMS APIs are developed and integrations are written, it will keep opening doors for customers to proactively secure and protect their businesses and investments and effectively and efficiently cut operating costs while maximizing internal and external resources.”