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Ask the Expert: Are SaaS and hosted video services ready for physical security?

If money was no object for your customers, how would you build their security systems?

July 26, 2010  By Robert Moore

Aside from selecting top-of-the-line network cameras, monitors and software, you’d probably install provisions to ensure that recording never failed. To do this, you could house the recorder in a co-location facility with an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) to provide emergency electricity. In case of long-term outages, you would protect data by installing a generator. You’d also protect loss of Web connectivity by obtaining Internet redundancy from two different sources. And, above all, you’d make sure that the data was replicated in multiple geographic areas so important information would always be safe.
Unfortunately, budget concerns are an issue in the real world. Fortunately for installers, however, there are companies today dedicated to building and maintaining facilities like those described above. With Software-as-a-Service VMS offerings, you can provide this option at a reasonable cost.
What are the benefits of SaaS?
With SaaS, a service provider will license applications via the Internet as on-demand subscription-based services. You likely use SaaS apps in your everyday life with products such as Microsoft’s Hotmail, Salesforce.com, or Gmail and Google docs.  SaaS usage is now gaining momentum in the physical security market for a few reasons.
SaaS offers a number of advantages for both customers and installers. Customers benefits include: (1) low upfront capital investments; (2) eliminating the need to upgrade VMS or PC security patches for their DVRs; and (3) scalability with minimal maintenance. Additionally, with video data being securely housed offsite, thieves can no longer steal or destroy recording equipment, nor can the video be manipulated by internal staff to cover up crimes.
The main installer benefit is a straightforward one: A new monthly recurring revenue stream, providing a reliable source of income during bumpy sales periods.  It represents an additional revenue stream for alarm monitor companies, as well, with a potential money-saving feature of video verification of alarm tripping to boot.
Any installer can provide VMS SaaS offerings to customers by simply partnering with a VMS host supplier, which will house data in co-location sites. Host suppliers can even help you sell branded SaaS offerings in customized “skin interfaces,” so when a customer uses the VMS, it looks like your company’s product.

Whom should you target?
The SaaS approach is ideal for organizations such as franchises, which may have a relatively small number of IP cameras at several different sites. This enables franchise owners to view video from all sites via a single source.
Small- to medium-sized business owners and current ‘analog shops’ are also good targets. There are many affordable yet high-quality IP cameras on the market today and, without the need to install on-site recording equipment and cabling, owners on a tight budget can finally experience the benefits of IP at an attractive price. Additionally, existing analog cameras feeds can be digitized with encoders – enabling a SaaS model while protecting legacy investment.
Getting started
Setting up SaaS offerings is relatively easy. You just install the IP cameras, connect them to your switches and routers, and then register each camera with the host provider. The video feeds are now connected via the Internet to the provider’s hardened hosted locations. In the event of a security incident, your customer will receive notification via email, text message, etc., and live and recorded video is available via any Internet connection, including mobile devices. Customers also have the option to export video recording to files that can be seen by others.
With this information, SaaS may sound too good to be true and you’re probably expecting some drawbacks — but there really aren’t. In the rare case of a data connection being lost, customers can utilize redundant SD-card storage in the network camera or use a network storage device for backing up communications. Bandwidth requirements are generally met by using a simple T1 line, and even a dial-up connection is enough to send video from one or two cameras. In addition, the need for bandwidth is flexible, since you can reduce bandwidth by decreasing video resolutions, frames per second and/or by using compression technology such as H.264.
SaaS techniques have been around for years and enough companies in our industry have had successful experiences with hosted services that installers should feel confident to offer them to their customers. Because hosted providers do all of the heavy lifting, any installer can take advantage of SaaS.  It’s yet another viable, useful and cost-effective tool to move your customers into the digital age.
Robert Moore is the Canadian Country Manager for Axis Communications.

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