The name is a spinoff of SaaS (Software as a Service) which was introduced in the late 1960’s but did not gain widespread recognition until the early 2000’s after Salesforce leveraged the SaaS business model to build the world’s most popular customer relationship management software.
The concept behind SaaS is simple. Rather than asking customers to buy software, install it on their own computer, and maintain it throughout its lifecycle, SaaS companies allow you to use the software through a web browser over the internet. This removes the responsibility of the user to maintain the software. It also allows them to access it from any computer with an Internet connection. The cost structure is also very different; instead of paying an upfront fee to purchase the software, SaaS customers pay a recurring fee (usually monthly). The SaaS business model has proven extremely successful as it is cost effective for customers to signup, creates a constant stream of cashflow for the provider, and makes it very difficult for customers to ever leave. With the obvious benefits of the SaaS business model, it is no surprise that video surveillance software providers have been making efforts to enter the SaaS business for some time now.
Historically VSaaS has not been particularly popular for commercial video surveillance. Bandwidth costs and limited benefits prevented end users from adopting the technology. Even today, most commercial end users choose to use an on-premise solution utilizing their own hardware rather than pay for a VSaaS solution, but things are changing.
Traditionally, investing in a fully on-premise video surveillance system has always made sense. The technology changed very little over a five-year period and there was little reason to upgrade until the system had reached the end of its useful life. But the introduction of AI is beginning to change that. End users are starting to expect features like video analytics and object recognition as part of their surveillance solution, but these features require expensive hardware that may sit idle unless the customer is actively using the software. Furthermore, when new features are released, end users expect to have access to these features in a much shorter timeline and without having to upgrade their hardware. All these requirements make specifying the hardware for a new install challenging, and that is where VSaaS may become a better option.
VSaaS solutions typically operate on one of the large cloud platforms hosted by either Google, Amazon or Microsoft. If a new software feature requires more processing power, these providers scale up in an instant to meet that demand, and the costs are insignificant. Where an end user with an on-premise solution may be facing the cost of a two thousand dollar GPU card to add AI to their server, that same service could cost pennies a month to contract through a VSaaS provider.
The biggest challenge facing VSaaS providers is bandwidth. Consistent and stable bandwidth is often difficult to get. Most VSaaS providers get around this issue by supplying a bridge appliance or mini server that sits on the client site and acts as a backup should the internet connection be lost for any reason. This of course somewhat reduces the value of using VSaaS if a physical piece of hardware is required for the system to function. While VSaaS providers may be able to work around unstable bandwidth with the use of a bridge appliance, the cost of bandwidth is a bigger issue. Streaming video to the cloud requires a lot of bandwidth, something that may be unlimited in some areas, but in others unlimited bandwidth is not available and exceeding your ISP’s bandwidth cap can get extremely expensive.
The same costs that prevented VSaaS adoption in the past remain relatively unchanged. The benefits of VSaaS, however, are changing rapidly. As AI improves and more end users push for access to the technology, VSaaS has a huge advantage over traditional systems in that it can offer the service immediately, with almost no upfront cost to the customer. If bandwidth costs do change in the future VSaaS may enjoy even faster user adoption but even if they remain the same the benefits of VSaaS are quickly going to eclipse the costs.
Colin Bodbyl is the chief technology officer of Stealth Monitoring
This story appeared in the January/February 2019 edition of SP&T News Magazine.