Moving to the Cloud: Key Questions for Integrators to Ask Cloud Providers


Off-premises solutions can provide multiple advantages to integrators

Martin Renkis
Martin Renkis, general manager, cloud solutions, global security products, Johnson Controls

When systems integrators embrace cloud technology, they enable a long-term solution that allows a transitional approach with many options available to customers. While preparing an integration business to provide cloud services for video, access control and other solutions can be a challenging and uncomfortable transformation, it is one that will ultimately prepare integrators for the future. Moving services to the cloud does require a totally different financial model and sales process. While profit margins are compressed and upfront payouts for installing hardware are much smaller, security businesses will benefit from incremental and predictable income from recurring monthly revenue (RMR) that is generated from system management, maintenance and monitoring.

The real story here is that it is not if an integrator moves to the cloud, but when. End users are asking for the cloud, with many CEOs, CIOs and CSOs insisting on moving all their “iron” off premises, relying on hosted, off-site cloud solutions for secure and easy upkeep and maintenance. Systems integrators need to be able to deliver the value proposition expected of the cloud – reliability, expandability, and the move to operating expense versus capital expense. With the cloud, integrators can offer services that can be maintained on a grand scale, even with thousands of cameras around the world, ensuring the solution is running reliably. Installations are also simpler, utilizing one portal for all systems, services and user management, yielding a unified platform for video and access control.

Long term, leveraging cloud solutions means a healthier revenue stream and additional options for future profitability. There is also inherent, enhanced cybersecurity and compliance embedded in cloud platforms. It is easy to add or offload services, as well as provide remote maintenance and management through a single interface or mobile device. Together, these help to create a better user experience and a stickier customer.

Moving to cloud management and storage starts with a deep dive into the functionality of the platform. Education and research come next, homing in on what customers are looking for and what the cloud offers to meet their physical security needs or challenges. When posed to cloud providers, these five questions should provide guidance in the quest to decide what is best for an integrator.

1. How Does the Platform Positively Affect My Business Growth?

Look for a platform that is not entirely tied to technology, but instead helps to build a managed services business through efficiency and scalability. It should be ready for the ongoing digital transformation and the future of security contracting – everything “as-a-service.” Leveraging a single user interface and reporting structure for all customers helps an integrator scale the offering so that devices can be added as needed, boosting RMR.

Storage is critical and is tied to many parameters, including bandwidth, how video is stored and used, and if there are regulations to meet for archiving. These parameters can vary drastically from job to job, so an integrator needs flexibility from a cloud provider. For example, customers should have the ability to record and store at the edge and upload video as needed at the resolution required. They should also be able to record and store either on motion or 24/7. Dynamic, on-demand services to store and manage all solutions are what is needed.

2. What Capabilities Will Provide Better Service to Customers?

Capabilities that an integrator should be able to leverage from a cloud platform include the ability to obtain status updates in real time to address issues when or before they happen, thus avoiding possible compromise of security solutions. An integrator should be able to see the entire surveillance system on a map and click on any camera or gateway to see details and troubleshoot immediately. A robust cloud platform will enable an integrator to add, edit and delete users, remotely upgrade systems, track and report on bandwidth utilization, view live video and recorded playback, uploads and cloud storage, and more from a single dashboard. The cloud platform should be able to provide health reports and other system and process documentation. Finally, e-commerce and billing management and reporting to track revenue per camera per customer should also be part of the solution.

Ease of maintenance and labor savings, as well as built-in security and updates, are also keys to effectively utilizing the cloud. When the cloud can be used to manage a client’s services and even reboot field devices or take locks offline, that saves time, labor and costs. Even across an enterprise with thousands of cameras, integrators can manage users, cameras, gateways and services from one web browser and track bandwidth and provide customers with network and cloud storage utilization reports. Monitoring the status of all systems in an intuitive map mode allows integrators to jump to any device for instant, on-the-fly troubleshooting.

3. Is the Platform Robust and Open?

It is a simple question, but it is essential to the decision-making process. The cloud platform should run on an open and modern architecture to deliver fast, scalable and secure services globally, and it should cover video, access control, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and unified legacy products. It is important to clarify that having a cloud-based service does not mean that all video must be stored in the cloud. In fact, the best cloud platforms allow users to share video securely and to store video in cameras, via gateways, in the cloud, or in a hybrid combination. This gives integrators the ability to custom-design their managed services for all their customers, from small and mid-sized businesses to large enterprise accounts. Some cloud platforms require the use of specific cameras, but the beauty of cloud services is the ability to use existing devices with a gateway product or new hardware, which addresses problems related to the transition of legacy equipment.

4. In Terms of Cybersecurity, How Are Customers Protected?

The cloud is one of the most secure platforms, but not all cloud services are created equal. The cloud provider’s experience in handling a variety of vertical markets comes into play. Architecture is also paramount, and one that is design-built from the ground up as a secure, multi-tenant platform for capture, transport, storage, management, analysis and distribution of a variety of video sources over different networks makes the most sense. With a cloud infrastructure, there is more overall reliability in the configuration. It is almost like a mini network operations center, where if one camera goes out, the remainder stay online. With NVRs and DVRs, it is the opposite; the entire solution networked together can suffer a failure, knocking out all cameras and components.

Uptime and reliability are paramount, and the cloud provider should have documentation of these performance factors. Video surveillance is network intensive and can interrupt critical data collection such as point-of-sale, so select a platform that handles bandwidth management and controls network utilization, as well as one with integrated failover that buffers video when a network disconnects and then sends data automatically when connectivity is restored. Recording services should optimize video for different connection speeds and deliver storage bandwidth control. Another nice perk is the availability of secure third-party app access to recorded video on demand from any location and any connected device.

Leading cloud providers create their own secure software, helping deliver services that achieve higher levels of security, privacy and compliance. Encryption, redundancy, two-factor authentication, backups and software updates are automatic. Best of all, the cloud regularly adds features, which enables integrators to pass along a continuing array of new services to customers.

5. Are There Ways to Create Recurring Revenue?

It is important to select the most versatile, flexible and scalable platform available. When a platform is versatile, a cloud solution can be used where it makes the most sense to move complex and costly infrastructure off premises. Unlimited storage options provide simple and cost-effective cloud and hybrid video storage and allow for the selection of days, motion event counts, bookmarks, and quality settings for each camera and the scheduling of video uploads during off-peak times. There should be flexibility for cloud recording in a simple-to-use interface, with the ability to select all cameras or any single camera, enter the number of days to record (from one day to a year or more), record only when motion is detected, and specify video resolution. With a flexible cloud platform, an integrator can turn recording on and off as necessary and can create a custom upload schedule to send video to the cloud in the evening or at other non-prime times to save bandwidth.

In the case of a large boutique bank, for example, the customer stores video in the camera and the cloud. The integrator managing these devices can view recorded video and can ascertain the current camera status: how many people have been logging in and viewing, how much data has been used, and whether a camera has been tampered with or hacked. With the ability to manage thousands of locations from one interface, the integrator is in control of the levels of management provided and can easily add or customize services, providing for a stickier customer. The amount of RMR from cloud services can vary dramatically. If the camera is sending video to the cloud 24 hours a day at 4K resolution at 5 Mbps, the RMR can be around $100 per month, but if it is recording motion activity only, the RMR may be less than $10 per month. Bandwidth is one of the limitations in the growth of cloud recording, but it also provides a lot of variables and scenarios. Some customers only record on motion or dial down to one or two frames per second to save bandwidth. Again, it is all dependent on a project’s parameters, and integrators should have the flexibility to address every customer and vertical market.