Reeling Video Surveillance Into the Digital Age

Fans of “Law and Order,” “CSI” and other popular crime shows have seen their fair share of video surveillance tricks — but have you ever stopped to compare Hollywood surveillance footage to what you see on the 11 o’clock news? In the real world, still images or video from bank or convenient store robberies are often grainy with greenish hues — terrible image quality for anyone looking for forensic evidence or identification.

In a world where HDTVs, Blu-ray and 3D IMAX features dominate the entertainment landscape, how can video from surveillance cameras be so poor? It’s because, surprisingly, 80 percent of surveillance installations today are still based on coax analog technology. Physical security is one of the last industries to enter the digital age — especially in small stores, banks and gas stations, which dominate the install base.

The reason? IP-based surveillance systems — even though they provide much better image quality, flexibility and functionality — aren’t often a cost-effective alternative to analog for an outfit that needs just a few cameras to protect its property. But thanks to virtualization and the benefits of managed services, those who want the benefits of IP video surveillance can do so through a hosted video partnership.

Following are five reasons cloud-services are changing the surveillance industry.

1. Hosted Video Is Finally Secure Enough

The physical security industry is historically slow to adapt to change. When the job is to protect the lives and property of the surrounding community, it’s understandable to want to use what’s familiar. However, the IT and consumer industries have paved a path for trusting the cloud.

Today, we entrust personal finances, Social Security Numbers and email data to the cloud, so security directors have been educated to trust Internet-based services. Since an IP-based security device is essentially another node on the network, it should have all the same multilevel passwords, SSL encryption, VPNs and firewalls protecting it.

In a layer on top of the camera itself, hosted technology in physical security has also improved to protect the actual video. Security provisions are in place so that once a camera is connected to a specific hosting provider’s cloud, it will communicate with that server only, unless physically rebooted and reregistered.

Additionally, the same compliance regulations met by the big data storage players apply to video surveillance hosting providers, including SAS 70, RSA Encryption and ISO 27001-compliance.

The argument can be made that storing video data in the cloud is more secure than on a DVR — which is used in an analog-based surveillance solution. With hosted video, there’s no physical recording device to steal or video evidence on site to destroy. Conversely, inexpensive redundant storage devices, called “network attached storage,” or “NAS,” can be added to the system to protect against network failure.

2. Hosted Video Is Surprisingly Easy to Use and Affordable

A key to any electronic security deployment is ease of installation, ongoing system operation and maintenance. Initially, the installation of the IP device (camera) is much simpler than installing its analog counterpart: There is no coax cable to run, no BNC connectors to fit and attach, and no cumbersome centralized power supplies to handle.

With an IP camera, the device is simply connected to any switch on the network — and if the switch is PoE-enabled, it eliminates the need for an additional external power source.

In addition to installation efficiencies, there are plug-and-play provisioning methodologies that enable the IP camera to “call home” to its host server at the click of a button, eliminating the need for installers to have to navigate firewalls, IP addresses and port issues, streamlining the installation process.

Ongoing operation and system support is also easier than with its predecessor. Through a simple Web browser, users can connect to their cameras and systems to view live video, histories and events, as well as manage these processes through mobile devices such as an iPhone or iPad, a BlackBerry or an Android smartphone.

System maintenance and upgrades are all handled behind the scenes through a hosting provider. End users simply need to know how to navigate to their Web portal and remember their username and password.

3. Hosted Video Offers More Benefits Than On-Premises Systems

Hosting video in the cloud provides a simple, affordable and scalable recording solution for video surveillance. It’s a viable alternative whether it’s an SMB with one store to monitor remotely, a franchise with multiple sites that need simultaneous monitoring, or a large corporation looking for secure off-site archiving to satisfy internal policies or compliance issues.

As with other virtualized services, a hosted video surveillance platform allows users to leverage the power and cost-effectiveness of cloud services by eliminating the need for on-site storage and maintenance. This helps business owners reduce both the capital investment in physical security technology and total overall cost of ownership.

Though the video data resides in the cloud, users can still gain access to live and archived video through a secure viewing portal wherever there is an Internet-connected device.

The cloud protects against possible theft or damage to on-site recordings. Additionally, augmenting the system with a local NAS not only protects against loss of critical video if the network goes down, but also enables high-resolution, high frame-rate video recording.

4. Hosted Video Works for Large and Small Businesses

Ideally, smaller camera-count systems are more suited for hosted video surveillance when bandwidth is considered, but there are applications for hosted video from the Mom and Pop to the big-box retailer.

Large commercial operations looking for more nimble, cost-effective ways to deploy discreet, temporary surveillance are also interested consumers of this technology. Hosted video is ideal for them, because the connected camera can be moved from place to place very easily, and it automatically finds its way back to the host and reconnects itself.

In addition, enterprises that currently operate large on-site surveillance systems have identified a need to move “critical video data” offsite to a secure cloud-based location because they cannot afford to lose that data.

Cash rooms, server rooms and pharmacies are examples of areas that have critical video content that if lost, could be problematic for the business. Enterprises can isolate these cameras and simply host them offsite so the video is secure and no longer at risk of loss due to video manipulation, DVR failure or theft.

5. Hosted Video Works With Functioning Analog Systems

Since analog is still a popular choice among small business owners, many of the devices today are recently installed equipment with a substantial useful life cycle. So, even if end users are interested in migrating to IP-based surveillance for better image quality, functionality, TCO and scalability, they might be reluctant because of their recent investments.

Fortunately, the solution lies in building a good analog-to-IP migration strategy. Analog signals can be easily and cost-effectively converted to digital through the deployment of video encoders (sometimes called “video servers”). These devices attach to the existing analog device, converting the stream from analog to IP and then connecting to a switch to communicate over the network. When the existing analog camera eventually fails, it can simply be replaced with a full IP unit, and the migration is complete.

In this scenario, no existing hardware, cable or infrastructure needs to be abandoned in order to make the conversion and take that next step in the evolution of video surveillance to network-based video surveillance — it’s yet another way in which the cloud is changing the face of an industry.

Matt Krebs is the business development manager for hosted video solutions at Axis Communications, which provides network video surveillance solutions.

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