In my continuing three-day ASIS exhibit floor mission to find products that are and will be impactful, I have come across several vendors that are leveraging proven technology from the IT world to address various security challenges. Yesterday, I focused on virtualization. Today, it is all about hosted services. Based on discussions with vendors and integrators alike, my guess is that you are going to see more vendors and integrators jumping on board this bandwagon and end users will welcome the move.

Hosted services are a bit of a twist on a few older business/technology models. A key component of hosted services is the software application itself, which you may hear referred to as “software as a service.” For physical security, that could be video surveillance, access control, video content analysis (video analytics) or mass notification. This software is typically deployed in some remote location under the control of the hosted services provider and is not situated on the customer/user’s premises. Because these physical security applications typically interact with hardware, physical security hosted services also may have a hardware component which is deployed at the customer’s location to ensure security functions can continue to operate in the event of a wide area network connection failure.  

In addition to maintaining the software, you will frequently find that hosted service providers also support off-premises application memory, data storage, and a web server. The hosted services provider also has network security mechanisms to protect the physical security software, memory, storage as well as the security information itself. As you might infer, this frees the customer from maintenance tasks (operating system and application updates, security/virus protection and remediation), thereby reducing operation and configuration complexity. Customers effectively outsource maintenance costs for a very predictable and consistent recurring fee. Additionally, hosted services providers can allocate maintenance resources and costs for the software and hardware used by multiple customers much more effectively than the customer can support a single, non-hosted version of the software application. 

In some cases, the hosted service provider will configure the application, but in others the customer may configure and operate the hosted application. As described above, the hosted services application is available to the customer through a web interface. Information/data generated at the customer premises is sent to the hosted software application. Essentially, someone else (the services provider) is maintaining servers, patches, cooling and power, etc. Customers simply run the application and perform common tasks. 

In contrast, managed services that are offered by a service provider will always handle maintenance, configuration and, to a large degree, operation. Managed services are more akin to having someone behind the curtains, pulling all the strings. The customer has very little control over the application.

So which vendors are offering hosted services? The list is growing, but you will find hosted services offered by Axis Communications (cameras), Brivo (access control), IPVision Software (video surveillance), Jemez Technology (intelligent video image reconnaissance, e.g. video analytics), and AquilaVision (mass notification). Next Level Security Systems (video surveillance and access control) will offer its forthcoming product as a hosted service. It should be understood that vendors may also offer traditional versions of their products, as well. Hosted services and traditional products are not mutually exclusive. And to be fair, Axis has quietly offered software as a service to go along with its cameras for several years — although, it became more visible with this offering, earlier this year.  

While not necessarily the case for any of the above-named vendors, systems integrators/dealers and end-user system owners/operators should check to see if the hosted application provides full or limited functionality as compared with the traditional product offering.

To summarize the benefits, systems integrators/dealers will have less to deal with in terms of system complexity, as that is outsourced to the manufacturer. This means potentially faster installation time, less training, etc. Additionally, most manufacturers will share in the recurring revenue stream with the systems integrator/dealer; a highly desirable business model that large and small systems integrators are embracing.