Eye in the Sky: Managing migration of CCTV into the Cloud

Oct 16, 2020


by Frank Crouwel

Market research which we conducted earlier this autumn, uncovered plans for many organisations to move their CCTV systems into the cloud. The most startling finding was that 71 percent of private sector firms with 50 or more employees, and headquartered in England, are planning to move their CCTV systems (that is their video surveillance storage and management) into the cloud over the next 12 months.

With this Cloud CCTV boom in mind, we decided to take a closer look at why this is happening now and offer some guidance for making sure cloud migration plans are thought through adequately before implementation.

There is no doubt that there are at least four key reasons why so many CCTV system owners are considering migrating them into the cloud right now:

  1. COVID-19 is definitely stimulating an acceleration in the migration of all IT applications into the cloud, creating a ‘Remote Everything’ phenomenon, as we like to call it. It makes sense, with so many of us working away from our normal workplaces, that remote access to all essential systems is enabled. For many, that’s naturally led to a push to put more systems into the cloud.
    Early adopter cloud-based system users recommend it over accessing on-premise systems remotely because of the ease of access and retrieval of data, often coming with improved resilience, tighter cybersecurity, and easier system management for IT managers.
  2. The UK has finally gone through its ‘CCTV to Network Video’ tipping point so that 61 percent of all UK-installed CCTV systems are now on an IP network. As such, many more video surveillance management systems are that much easier to migrate into the cloud now
  3. You also need to set cloud migration in the context of a wider drive to ‘servitize’ IT systems to accommodate IT decision-makers and C-suite executives who want to pay for all network-based services based on usage levels, rather like a utility.
    Servitization fuels cloud migration as this is the preferred way of delivering IT services via affordable monthly subscriptions while delivering highly reliable IT services with near 100 percent uptime.
  4. Finally, cloud migration supports a growing trend for managers to request access to video evidence wherever they are. Why? Surveillance camera data is increasingly used to check site operations, as well as ensuring security of premises and the health and safety of workers

Video data is attracting more remote managers as video analytics wizardry offers the capability to deliver new insights linked to the inner workings of a business. It is part of the phenomenon that we call Remote Everything – more on that later.

Research findings reflect on-the-ground experience

Our survey findings reflect what we are seeing on the ground. There’s strong demand for ‘Cloud CCTV’, as we call it, particularly in businesses managing multiple sites: logistics, construction, and retail for example.

Multi-site businesses early adopters of CCTV in the cloud

The idea of not having to maintain a dedicated server, with video management software licenses in the cramped back room of each and every premises you run, is appealing. The hardware cost savings and ongoing management efficiencies alone are obvious when you multiply that by the number of sites you run.

With Cloud CCTV, cameras can be connected directly to the internet and no other equipment is needed, whilst users experience the systems remotely through standard web-browsers and smart mobile apps like many other cloud-based services.

Start with an operational requirements review

However, it’s important to remember the operational requirements of your surveillance system. We often find ourselves recommending clients review their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and actual requirements, well before considering moving to Cloud CCTV. Failing to do so can reduce or eliminate anticipated savings from migrating your CCTV system into the cloud, or lead to inadequate functionality.

Video data is different

Managing video data is not as simple as typical data flowing through corporate computer networks. For a start, it requires much more bandwidth and storage resources. Large volumes of data are being accumulated quickly; and much of it may never be accessed. Video data is 97 percent input (i.e. recording) and only three percent output (i.e. playback).

Therefore, a thorough assessment is needed, including basics such as video resolution and frame rates needed, retention requirements as well as anticipated playback use and speed of access. Additionally, advanced tools such as video analytics should be considered to only capture, transmit and store video data of operational value.

How much video data do you really need to store up there?

Would-be cloud migrators of CCTV systems need to focus on the fact that Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Google Cloud charge monthly, based on how much data you are moving up into the cloud, for how long you keep it there and how often you are retrieving some of that data.

When it comes to cloud, data is a key cost driver. So, you want to ensure you transfer, store, and retrieve video data as efficiently as possible.

Similarly, Video Surveillance as a Service (VSaaS) providers typically charge based on your resolution and frame rate requirements and the length of time you want to keep the CCTV footage for (i.e. data volumes).

One obvious area to look at is your video storage and retention policy. Many companies still adhere to traditional CCTV video retention times of 30 days which were really geared to the era of VHS tape-based video cassette recording in the 80s and 90s and daily tape rotation regimes for ease of management in those days.

In reality, an incident or event of interest is identified within a few days. Recorded video evidence associated with any security incidents can be secured swiftly today. In most businesses, there is rarely an operational requirement to keep all recorded footage beyond seven days. Cloud migration offers a powerful stimulus to consign outdated data retention practices to the bin. In most cases, this can mean storing just 25 per cent of the amount of CCTV data many are collecting today.

This assessment of data transfer, storage and use is vital prior to deciding to move your CCTV system into the cloud. Remember, cloud providers make money out of data volume and use. So, it’s not in their interests to warn you about this!

If your operational requirements truly require a combination of high-resolution video, high frame rates as well as long retention times (i.e. a lot of data accumulation), then a hybrid on-premise, off-premise model may be more suitable if you are a multi-site operation.

For single site operations, with very high video data storage and access requirements, cloud is unlikely to be a good option. Having said that running the application in the cloud, but keeping your video data on-premise, may be beneficial in some instances. For example, if there are many remotely-based managers who need quick, easy, and secure access to your CCTV system.

Managing user expectations

Normally when you move from hosting your own software to a cloud-based service, the user will benefit from some feature and performance enhancements with enterprise IT systems. Companies tend to have similar expectations when moving CCTV into the cloud.

However, because of the huge amount of video data involved with CCTV, some features and performance might actually suffer. It’s important for companies to gain a true understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of Cloud CCTV versus on-premise video management before they leap. There will be some advantages. However, just as surely there will be several disadvantages for users. These need to be properly assessed with a view to determining if they are deal-breakers.

Video analytics only just moving to the edge never mind the cloud

Also, you need to bear in mind that until very recently, most video analytics functionality could only be managed on-premise, on high CPU servers because of the amount of processing power required to analyse the video data.

For example, only with Axis’ seventh generation chipset, ARTPEC-7, launched just 1.5 years ago, did it become possible for higher-end Axis network cameras to perform CPU-hungry video analytics capabilities in the camera itself.

Only basic video analytics capabilities are currently available from VSaaS providers today. If you are looking to use more advanced video analytics available on the edge, then moving your video management system (VMS), such as Milestone, into AWS or Google Cloud would be a more suitable cloud option.

So, if you are migrating your CCTV system into the cloud, be prepared to compromise on some features when you are doing your planning work. Certainly, if advanced video analytics is a significant or essential part of your system, then cloud is probably not the best option for the implementation and ongoing system management.

IaaS versus VSaaS

We touched upon this a few times already. When considering moving your CCTV to the cloud you have, in general terms, two available options:

  1. Migrate your existing video management system (VMS) into the cloud using an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provider such as Google Cloud, Azure or AWS, or
  2. Move to a Video Surveillance as a Service (VSaaS) provider offering you a ready cloud platform.

Running your existing VMS in an IaaS environment will give you all the features and functionality that the same software would deliver if installed on-premise. An open platform ecosystem, such as the one provided by Milestone, will continue to benefit from the many integrations and advancements that exist.

Moving to a VSaaS provider, such as Morphean, means you’ll be restricted to the features and functionality available within its platform. However, all the basics and more tend to be covered and for most businesses, this will be enough. But third party or true ecosystem integrations do not really exist for VSaaS platforms yet. We don’t anticipate this changing in the near future.

There is a lot to think about when contemplating moving your CCTV into the cloud. It is recommended you speak to CCTV solution specialists before you make the step.

Remote Everything re-energised

In all this, it’s worth looking at the growing trend which we like to call Remote Everything. When we started NW Security back in 2004, with IP video technology at its heart, we had a vision to not only deliver relevant video data to the right people at the right time, but also to use this technology to significantly reduce unnecessary travel, saving time, money and, importantly, reducing environmental impact.

However, our Remote Everything vision was only slowly and partially realised – until now at least. The COVID-19 pandemic is making Remote Everything more inevitable and hastening its take-up. Working from home or away from the workplace and less business travel has become common globally. Many predict this phenomenon is here to stay even after COVID-19 recedes.

The need to travel for business has become scrutinised at many levels. We are all finding new ways and remote online tools to do our work without leaving our homes if necessary.

Therefore, our vision to reduce travel by using IP technology smartly is finally receiving the major boost it needed. The market is not only ready for it, it needs Remote Everything to keep the wheels of commerce moving. And to drive it with focus and conviction, we’ve relaunched our Remote Everything strategy this month.

Read more about Cloud CCTV services

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