Feature: Moving to the cloud

Feature: Moving to the cloud

With the number of cameras, camera resolutions, and associated video surveillance footage on the rise we take a closer look at the opportunities, challenges, and economics, associated with moving vital evidence into the cloud

With more and more business functions reliant on cloud computing and storage it is perhaps not too surprising that this is on the agenda for video surveillance too. Of course, in the video surveillance world the Video Surveillance as a Service (VSaaS) model is already closely associated with the cloud. On the body-worn camera front, for example, many police forces now utilise a cloud-based infrastructure to help manage evidence once it has been downloaded from their officer’s cameras.

Looking at video surveillance storage in more detail, there are many considerations for end users to weigh-up when deciding whether to go for a cloud-based solution, local storage or a blend of the two architectures with just footage of specific incidents going up into the cloud. In some cases, local storage may still be the better option for video surveillance systems, on large-scale site, or to deliver added redundancy. Legislation in certain jurisdictions may also stipulate that footage has to be held locally for a certain period. There is also the hidden cost of upgrading a site’s IP infrastructure so there is the right bandwidth in place. Added to this there may be questions about just how secure cloud storage actually is. On the other side of the equation, with ultra-high-resolution cameras now making their mark, it may be more attractive to push storage into the cloud where the ongoing costs are well known rather than continually having to purchase more on-site storage capacity to cope.

Body-worn cameras

As mentioned, one area where the cloud has had a major impact on video surveillance is with regards to body-worn cameras with US-based Axon being a prime mover in this regard. The user count for its cloud-based digital evidence management system, Axon Evidence (Evidence.com), which is used by law enforcement agencies worldwide continues to grow. In practice Axon Evidence is designed to allow the police to upload and store data, manage it simply with search and retrieval features, and collaborate and share with prosecutors. During the three months ending 30 September 2019, Axon reports booking approximately 30,800 seats on its Axon Evidence platform, net of renewals. Since inception, the vendor says that it has booked, cumulative Axon Evidence, licences of around 428,600 and, crucially, that more than 60 petabytes of digital files have been uploaded to Axon Evidence. Axon believes that, to ensure evidence is properly managed and stored, and accessible to key stakeholders in a timely and secure manner, it is important that an agency’s digital evidence is housed under one roof.

Another vendor that recognises the evidential value of the cloud is Genetec in the shape of its Clearance platform. Whilst Clearance does not replace local recording it too is designed to make sense of the jigsaw puzzle of evidence that is out there by, crucially, making it easier for users to share relevant evidence with other parties. This is becoming ever-more critical given the vast swathes of video surveillance footage being captured in cities, for example. In practice Clearance allows police officers, investigators, and security managers to gather digital evidence from a variety of sources such as Genetec’s Security Center and other video management systems, body-worn devices, in-car systems and mobile phone footage from bystanders and witnesses, and easily store, manage, review and share it from within this single application.

Whilst these is much talk of the cloud, the clear message from Seagate – a pioneer of surveillance-optimised storage for security applications – that came out of Intersec 2020 was that the cloud alone is not enough and that there is a need to deploy high performing storage solutions at each stage of the data flow, from the end-points to the edge and the core (centralized storage/ cloud). Given this reality, Seagate has brought to market a suite of high-performing storage solutions for surveillance and artificial intelligence (AI) and is aligning its technologies to support the way data is evolving. A case in point is Skyhawk AI which Seagate is promoting as the world’s first purpose-built drive for AI-enabled surveillance solutions.

Market matters

Talking to Jon Cropley, senior principal analyst for video surveillance at IHS Markit, for his take on what storage architecture is best, he stresses that there are a multitude of things that will determine where it actually makes sense to store video surveillance footage: “You have got to remember that video is quite a data heavy sort of format. While all of the broadband companies out there focus on download speeds when it is video surveillance storage you are looking at upload speeds which has been less of priority and so often there is a constraint, there is a bandwidth constraint on how much you can upload, and that is one of the reasons why there are different options around, different architectures.”

Significantly, Cropley says that very often in video surveillance systems once you go beyond a certain camera number there is a need for what is referred to as a gateway device, essentially a local storage device that can trickle data to the cloud at appropriate times when bandwidth is available: “Sometimes only certain parts of video footage are actually recorded. Maybe when there is motion. There are ways of only determining that a certain amount of video surveillance to be stored in the cloud.”

He goes on to explain that it is not just bandwidth that determines the route for end users to take: “There are a number of other challenges. Data residency is an important consideration for companies. Are there any laws on where the data is stored? Are there any company policies on privacy and cyber security? Cost is another issue. How does the cost of a VSaaS style solution compare with buying a recorder and just having it on site? Even cameras have a certain amount of storage these days.” Ultimately, Cropley says that it all depends on what someone is trying to achieve and what their cost and operational constraints are as well: “Some would say there are operational advantages and some would say that there are operational disadvantages of a cloud-based solution. So those need to be borne in mind as well.”

“Some would say there are operational advantages and some would say that there are operational disadvantages of a cloud-based solution. So those need to be borne in mind as well” 

In terms of specific figures on the take-up of Video Surveillance as a Service (VSaaS), for example, Cropley confirms that VSaaS is already posting impressive growth figures: “In EMEA [Europe, Middle East and Africa] we are anticipating that the VSaaS market will grow at over 20 per cent a year on average.” The caveat here, says Cropley, is that this is from a relatively small base. He goes on to explain that, in fact, the adoption of VSaaS has been much higher in the USA and China compared to EMEA: “In the USA it has been popular in what we call quick serve restaurants, fast food outlets. These are organisations which might be big but consist of lots of small widely distributed premises.”

Chuck Darst a senior product manager at Pelco, writing in a blog post last  April – ‘Video Surveillance in the Cloud: Your Questions Answered’, sought to address a series of questions that had come out of a webinar he had co-hosted and attendance at the ISC West in Las Vegas where Pelco had been showing its cloud-based solutions. One area he tackled related to recommendations for the number of cameras and the resolution best suited for VSaaS. Echoing what Jon Cropley and his colleagues from IHS Markit have been saying, Darst noted that the consensus is that VSaaS, with most video stored in the cloud, is best suited today for small and medium businesses (SMB), franchises such as fast food restaurants, and Internet friendly entities with little to no on-site support, such as an elementary school: “Common traits of these are lower camera counts, lower resolutions, and little to no regulatory policies on where video can be stored. Further, the consensus is that VSaaS for enterprises with a hundred, high resolution cameras or more simply isn’t practical today largely due to the Internet bandwidth needed to support the solution,” explains Darst. He continued: “‘Practical’ is the key word here. And for many organisations, current regulatory or compliance mandates simply don’t permit video being stored off-site.”

Looking to the year ahead, with regards to the cloud and on premise storage, in IHS Markit’s ‘Security Technologies – Top Trends for 2020’ Josh Woodhouse, a lead analyst on video surveillance, believes that while the movement of video surveillance into the cloud is gaining momentum it cannot be characterised as a paradigm shift just yet as the cloud is far from being the industry standard: “At present, small-channel-count-systems and those containing multiple sites of fewer channels have been the most suitable for cloud-based off-site management and storage.” The upshot of this is that there is still plenty of life left in local storage solutions.