Exclusive: On-premises video still has the edge over VSaaS


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Despite the hype, there is no great rush to adopt VSaaS, writes Jason Burrows, Sales Director, IDIS America.

Over the last couple of years, there’s been much talk about the apparently unstoppable rise of cloud video. But while there have certainly been some VSaaS (Video Surveillance as a Service) adopters, for most customers it’s hybrid models that are more likely to become the popular choice. While the surveillance industry is not ignoring the cloud – most video vendors already have varying cloud offerings and partnerships – they know that a mix of on-prem and cloud is unquestionably a better fit for most applications than pure VSaaS.

Buyers are rightly cautious about exaggerated promises and the inevitable hype that new VSaaS entrants with significant sales and marketing budgets can generate.

And while the pandemic saw a rapid increase in use of the cloud for business applications and business data storage the same is not true for end-to-end cloud video. On the ground, we’re not seeing anything like the speed of adoption that has been touted.

Off-the-shelf and preconfigured NVRs that are ready to go – plug-and-play – are still the surest choice, with customers trusting network recorders as well as specialised servers that are inherently cybersecure and optimised for surveillance operations; those, for example, that are capable of supporting extremely low bandwidth conditions of below 24kb. 

In short, on-prem remains the most practical and affordable way to accommodate local and centralised video system access and management and is the better option for live view, playback and archiving.

Cybersecurity concerns

Corporate IT departments understand the trade-offs between cybersecurity threats and cloud architecture and are better prepared with the skills, technology and experience to spot vulnerabilities and fend off attacks. We’re seeing IT departments increasingly involved in procurement decisions, even though heads of security or loss prevention are still the lead decision-makers. 

Most are now familiar with cyber threats, including the risk of ‘back doors’ and vulnerabilities posed by unsecure IoT devices and most understand that a major breach could pose an existential threat, particularly for organisations recovering from the impact of the pandemic.

It’s only a few months since we were all given pause for thought by a major cloud vendor cybersecurity breach that exposed 150,000 camera feeds and made headlines around the world.  That incident sounded a timely note of caution, which many have heeded.

As result, we’ve seen decisions about switching to cloud delayed and reversed.

Flexibility and total cost of ownership

But for customers, the most compelling arguments are still around performance and budgets.  

There are significant lifecycle cost advantages for NVR-based end-to-end solutions – and disadvantages with VSaaS.

VSaaS vendors offer end-to-end proprietary cloud video, but – unlike the typical IT SaaS model – their offerings come with upfront equipment, installation and commissioning costs as well as multiple annual license fees from one or two years through to even ten. This effectively locks customers in.

Over time the costs mount, as businesses expand, add more cameras, open more sites, or adopt additional analytics functions.

Nor do many proprietary VSaaS vendors enable a wide choice of integration options with third-party solutions, something which is easily done via NVRs or traditional VMS. Today most established surveillance vendors offer off-the-shelf integration to a range of popular access control and intruder systems as standard.   

However, perhaps the biggest drawback to VSaaS adoption is that if licenses aren’t paid customers’ cameras become redundant. Unless it’s a planned switch over, businesses are left without any surveillance capability, exposing gaps in security and safety and putting them at risk of void insurances and non-compliance penalties. And the bigger the system, the bigger the decommissioning challenge.

Storage limitations

For many sectors, another major barrier to VSaaS adoption is that vendors tend to offer edge storage for up to 30 days. This may give customers the benefits of flexible edge and cloud architecture and in some cases eliminate the need to upgrade existing networks or implement separate VLANs, but for many applications 30 days retention is too restrictive. Some VSaaS vendors give customers the option of using their own cloud or preferred cloud partner, but that’s when costs really begin to spiral. In addition, things can get complicated for retailers if the preferred partner is Amazon Web Services (AWS), which is effectively a competitor in the retail space. And cloud storage can throw up problems for corporates that need to comply with varying international standards, or local regulations about where data centres are located.

For users who need to retain video for longer periods, for compliance or for operational reasons, cloud storage becomes prohibitive. And that’s why we’re not seeing a headlong rush to VSaaS in highly regulated applications, including critical national infrastructure, banking, retail and hospitality settings where financial or fraud investigations are common, or fast-growth sectors such as cannabis retail and production.

The costs of cloud video also climb significantly for large and multi-site systems, making it hard for them to compete with the scalability and capabilities of on-prem.

Increasing need for high-definition cameras

Customers are increasingly looking for higher definition cameras that deliver wide area coverage and forensic level detail even from significant distances. 4K cameras for public space surveillance are becoming more common, while 12MP fisheye and panoramic cameras capture clear detail right to the periphery of a scene. By contrast, today’s typical VSaaS models cannot provide that level of performance on edge and most offer a limited range of 2MP cameras that don’t give users the visual awareness and detail they need. 

Users are also looking to AI and deep learning analytics to deliver actionable intelligence from their video – and to speed up investigations with automated searches for events, objects and people – so metadata storage is becoming more important. As processing power has increased, both AI appliances and deep-learning powered VMS (video management software) have become more affordable, even for small to mid-sized businesses. 

Yes, on-prem storage can still account for most of the equipment costs for higher-channel systems, but it’s still far more cost-effective to add additional hard drives and servers than pay for cloud storage on top of VSaaS licensing.   

End-to-end on-prem solutions

And on the equally important question of performance, for on-prem users there’s more good news.

Today’s on-prem and affordable VMS is already very smart when it comes to adapting to bandwidth conditions and coping with data peaks and bottlenecks, by automatically adjusting the resolution and frame rate of each device. So, in an emergency situation, for example, real-time viewing and control takes priority while video storage back to servers is temporarily buffered. By contrast, latency continues to be an issue for most VSaaS solutions, meaning critical incidents can be missed.

And while VSaaS vendors make claims about access to video anytime and anywhere, this is dependent on the internet connection and bandwidth available.  

The promise of ‘anytime, anywhere’ is more than matched by on-prem NVR- and server-based solutions that come with free mobile applications giving users 4K live view and playback from smartphones and tablets, as well as bandwidth control options to make sure users can view multiple split screens with next to no latency.

And let’s not forget, only a few years ago, customers tended to worry about increased storage burdens when they upgraded to Full-HD. But today H.265, together with specialist compression technologies such as IDIS Intelligent Codec, have eliminated those concerns. On average, users can expect 65-75% storage savings compared to older H.264 systems. 

One consequence – and major benefit – is that customers no longer hesitate when opting for 5MP as standard, or higher for wide area coverage. And users who need to store video for up to 90 days have increasingly taken advantage of improved compression as we are seeing in the cannabis sector.

Finally, anyone confused by the current VSaaS hype should be reassured by the track record of the established video sector. For years now, vendors have consistently focused technical advances on the needs of security, safety and facilities management users and based innovation on solving real-world challenges for those departments and users. That market understanding and knowledge, built up over decades, will continue to underpin exciting on-prem as well as hybrid developments going forward. 

Those continuous performance improvements are what the established video vendors are so good at and it will take some time for the VSaaS vendors to catch up.


This article was originally published in the July 2021 edition of International Security Journal. Pick up your FREE digital copy on the link here

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