Business & Marketing
The advantages (and pitfalls) of Web-based security applications
A few years back, web-based security solutions were all the rage, especially in the access control arena. Several manufacturers offered solutions that were touted as not utilizing any installable client applications (thick clients) and relied solely on a web browser for configuring and monitoring a security system, monitoring. This month, we’ll look at scenarios where web interfaces offer advantages over thick clients, as well as their pros and cons. I’ll also outline what to look for and the questions to ask your solutions providers to truly understand what your customers are buying from you.
By Rob Colman
A number of security system manufacturers, both in the access control and video space, offer their customers a web-based user interface. Typically, the web interface is an add-on to an existing line of installable client applications. Some manufacturers have gone as far as to promote their web interface as the primary interface. One of the advertised benefits of a web-based interface is that there is little to install other than a web browser. Not only does this reduce installation time, but upgrades may no longer be required either. Another advertised benefit is that the web browser will run on various platforms or operating systems, which is not the case with thick clients which are applications developed for specific operating systems.
Going with a web-based user interface is advantageous in several scenarios. If your customers are not standardized on a single operating system, then a web client that can run on multiple platforms is your best bet to offer a solution that can run within various contexts, the probability of finding a solution with thick clients for various operating systems would be extremely low. In another scenario, you have a client which has enacted very strict IT policies in regards to deploying new software. Many manufacturers have come across this scenario and getting the approval of an IT department to deploy a new solution may involve a long approval process. Here, a web-based interface with nothing to install can help your solution cut through the red tape faster.
Another scenario where a web client makes a lot of sense is in a hosted services environment or within a cloud architecture. A service provider may install access control or video hardware at various remote sites, while managing and hosting the security servers centrally. Clients pay a monthly fee for the service but still require some access to the security system for running reports, viewing video, or managing their cardholders. A web interface can help you avoid the hassle of having to install applications for all your clients, manage updates to the software and more. Simply provide them with a link to a web interface and they are good to go.
The benefits of web clients are there but before you decide to deploy such a solution, you need to be aware of the actual functionalities a vendor supports with their web client. Is the web client you are about to deploy truly platform independent with nothing to download? Although most vendors will hint that it is in their marketing collateral, many times the web client uses technologies and plugins that are not platform-independent such as Silverlight, Flash, and ActiveX. Depending on the solution, one of these must be downloaded and installed to view video. If the plugin is not supported on a particular platform, then the web solution is not truly platform independent.
Is the solution you are proposing reliant on any specific web server technology or does it host its own pages? If it relies on another technology then you have to factor in some additional costs, whereas if the solution hosts its own web pages then there should be no additional costs. Does your customer expect the same level of performance as a thick client application? If that’s the case, they may be sorely disappointed. Web interfaces will never truly have the level of sophistication you will find with an installed application. Thick clients with their look and feel and performance are in a class of their own, in my opinion, especially when it comes to video. Furthermore, some solutions have to rely on thick clients for specific functions such as badge design or visitor management. In this case, your customer may have to deploy a thick client for badge design and a web client for everything else, which is not an attractive scenario.
I believe web interfaces are practical for specific scenarios, but as always, you need to fully recognize what you are deploying and any inherent drawbacks and limitations. I also believe that with the growth of tablet device use within the security industry and the myriad operating systems supported by these devices, truly platform-independent web clients will be an excellent approach for manufacturers to offer one client interface that works on all these devices.