What are the current limitations of cloud-based systems? How will the situation change over the next five years?
There’s a cloud hanging over the security market. Or rather, The Cloud is portending great change for our market (and other markets, too). But with all the talk about cloud-based systems, limitations still linger along the path to optimum implementation in the security market. We asked our panelists to reflect on those limitations and look ahead five years to how the situation is likely to change. From bandwidth and connectivity challenges, to geographic limitations and even a need to change how we do business, their answers highlight a market facing change driven by The Cloud.
Some of the current and most significant limitations for cloud-based physical security systems are limited throughput and interruptions to Internet connectivity. These limit the availability and amount of data that can be transported. When video is involved, this becomes even more of a limiting factor. Over the coming five years, it is likely the obstacles for cloud-based systems will be drastically reduced as transmission rates and availability improve. There will be a period in which users and manufacturers explore different approaches and begin to better understand cloud technology and its practical and best applications. A benchmark of agreed-upon standards within the IT industry will help bring clarity to the establishing of best practices. Then, perhaps, we might see a call to develop formal standards aimed at cloud-based systems. Having all or most manufacturers developing and making products with similar specifications will increase usage and understanding of the cloud.
Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) providers such as Salesforce.com and Amazon have effectively eliminated the limitations of cloud-based systems. These robust, secure platforms not only improve security and reliability, they reduce costs by eliminating the need for expensive on-site equipment, software and the associated installation and maintenance costs. The only remaining limitations of cloud-based systems are bandwidth and connectivity to the cloud. There is more than enough bandwidth for applications like Access Control and Visitor Management, but it will take a couple more years before all high-resolution video is cloud-based. In the next five years, for lower-bandwidth applications like Access Control, connectivity to the cloud will shift away from local, expensive, and complex IT networks that limit the number of useful applications to cellular and data connections. So, in addition to using your phone as your key, for example, you will also use your phone as your network.
Currently many end-users and some manufacturers believe cloud-based systems are limited to enterprise-level users. This view is primarily derived from costs. It is not uncommon for cloud-based storage solutions to approach $100,000. As end users become more aware of cloud-based solutions, it is generally expected that costs will shrink. Recurring costs are a major consideration. Laws in many foreign countries restrict data from being stored outside of the home country. Many companies do not want to fight this restriction or provide a work-around. Therefore, those manufacturers that offer cloud storage solutions must be able to operate in those countries, and abide by that country’s restrictions. Bandwidth is also a limitation to cloud-based storage. However this is expected to also improve as bandwidth increases. Segregated cloud storage also exists to provide on-premise and off-premise storage. This provides the customer a choice regarding what data is stored on-site and off-site.
Two major limitations exist to implementing cloud-based systems at this point in time. First, data security is of the utmost importance to consumers and end users – not only in the security industry, but in any market. Companies need to feel comfortable with sending private and confidential information – including video – "off site" and into the cloud. Second, there's the issue of bandwidth. Megapixel video, even with compression, still produces large files that need sufficient storage space. This is especially true for end users who need to be able to access video quickly and efficiently in the event of an investigation or event. Cloud-based systems, however, have significant benefits – for example, look at Apple's iCloud service. I am confident the improvements and progress already being made in these cloud-based systems can address these limitations – and I don't believe it will take five years to do it.
There are a few limitations to cloud-based systems as they stand today. Bandwidth is perhaps the biggest, especially for locations that have a wealth of video data to store. However, at some point, most customers will be able to stream their video cost-effectively to the cloud. Security is an additional concern with video and data insecurity in the cloud, especially during transit. This technology continues to improve in terms of assessing vulnerabilities, detecting them before they cause harm and dealing with them once they happen. In regards to the security industry, right now channels aren't suited to selling cloud-based systems and services. Integrators and resellers don't know how to sell and monetize cloud-based systems. Within a few years, business models will evolve and integrators/resellers will be more capable and knowledgeable. Global scalability also has been a factor, and some cloud services do not scale seamlessly or efficiently across geographic regions.
This is a really tough question to answer. First and foremost, the functionality and feature set of today's cloud-based systems vary drastically among competing manufacturers as they rush to get first- or second-generation platforms to market as end users warm to the idea of cloud-based security offerings. [Early cloud adopters have] had several years to refine their offerings to perform optimally in a virtual environment and to address concerns of privacy and critical data protection. Where will we be in five years? Imagine a security application where there are no on-site servers or workstations, no on-site video storage, no access control or intrusion controllers or panels — everything will be controlled by cloud-based applications accessed via the Web from your smart phone or tablet. Your service technician will troubleshoot and repair most issues without stepping foot in your facility, and will have you up and running in minutes instead of hours.
One aspect of implementing cloud-based systems apparently involves a waiting game: Waiting until existing bandwidth and networking infrastructures meet the security market’s needs – especially related to video. But there’s a lot going on in the meantime, too – a lot of activity in our market already centers around the cloud. Current infrastructures are perfectly sufficient for many security applications, such as access control and visitor management. And there are already some video applications, too. The market should also be looking at how it can adapt its business practices to more fully embrace the cloud model over time. This cloud shows all the signs of a torrential downpour of (recurring) revenue on our market – likely sooner than five years from now.
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