One of the key challenges for CCTV systems has always been how to store the images. Over the years, we have seen a steady evolution of technology, first from analogue to digital and more recently from local, on-site storage to off-site or ‘cloud’ storage.
And one of the pioneers in storing and managing CCTV images has always been Synectics. Now the company has introduced cloud storage solutions which are being adopted by some of the leading CCTV systems in the country including the City of London.
I caught up with David Aindow from Synectics to learn more about how the revolution in cloud storage and cloud computing is impacting on the CCTV sector and discuss some of the many options available for CCTV systems looking to leverage the advantages of this powerful technology.
We held a Snapshot Webinar on Cloud CCTV with Synectics on Thursday 21 October at 2.30pm. Watch the video below:
Thousands of organisations large and small are adopting cloud computing, including police forces and local authorities. In fact many of them are going all in, taking a ‘cloud first’ approach which means they will put as much into the cloud as possible, retaining only what they absolutely need at a local level.
It’s quite possible that your organisation has already done this or is in the process of going to a fully cloud-based IT system or perhaps taking a hybrid approach. Each approach has its advantages in terms of speed, security and resiliency, but the advantages are clear enough to convince many police forces, local authorities and other agencies to adopt cloud computing for their day-to-day computing needs.
No matter how you look at it, cloud is seriously powerful and as the new computing paradigm, it’s here to stay. And according to Synectics, there are a number of advantages to harnessing that power, including cloud storage and cloud computing, to run your CCTV system.
The current default for storing digital CCTV images is on-site storage – racks and racks of hard drives in a secure server room.
But how much storage do you need for a digital CCTV system? You can use storage calculators to estimate how much you need to store images from, say, 100 cameras for 30 days, but the real amount of data will vary, of course, so to be on the safe side you need to procure enough for the top-end estimate plus a margin for safety.
With cloud, you only pay for as much storage as you actually use – and even this can be configured to optimise your storage costs by choosing different tiers of storage.
One of the key advantages of cloud storage is you don’t have to maintain it. You don’t have to procure it, provide a room for racks upon racks of servers and keep the whole thing cool. Cloud storage providers do all of that for you while handling all the software updates and hardware maintenance.
And they automatically back up your data. In redundant data centres. Which means with cloud storage, you don’t have to provision a backup site.
And all of this adds up to savings in equipment and labour and also means that cloud storage is a better choice environmentally than using your own data centre.
Cloud processing is simply the delivery of computing services via a service provider’s IT infrastructure, usually a data centre. So in addition to the storage, the cloud can also provide networking, software, analytics and intelligence for your CCTV system.
What this means for your CCTV system is quite radical. Rather than having all this infrastructure in your control room, suddenly all of that infrastructure is provided by a service provider. That’s the theory anyway, but of course how many of us are willing to put our critical security and safety systems into the hands of a third party? But more on this later when we talk about hybrid systems.
Cloud-based software also allows you to access your key performance indicator (KPI) data remotely, meaning that reports and dashboards can not only be accessed from home or wherever else you may happen to be working but also shared more readily with colleagues including your boss.
Because it collects and distributes video surveillance images more flexibly, it naturally supports remote access, making it easier to distribute images to the people who need to access it, when they need it, something that Synectics supports through its Cloud Evidence Locker.
As we said, many organisations are adopting a cloud-first approach to IT, so you and your IT director may already be comfortable with moving from a traditional on-premises data solution to off-site or cloud. But what if your organisation isn’t prepared to make that jump, what are some of the options available to you?
Cloud Evidence Locker
If you are looking for a simple application of cloud CCTV that can yield immediate benefits to your CCTV operations centre, you need look no further than Cloud Evidence Locker.
Cloud Evidence Locker is a new tool from Synectics that answers one of those fundamental questions in CCTV: how to quickly and securely share video evidence with police, emergency services, internal teams and other third parties.
According to David, it eliminates the need for time-consuming site visits to collect video evidence, and it also automates many of the processes associated with collecting, packaging and distributing it while ensuring security and data protection compliance.
Cloud Evidence Locker allows you to:
Effortlessly export incident clips to a secure cloud service
Add additional images, footage and supporting documents to create an evidence package
Share it with multiple contacts inside and outside of the organisation
Maintain an audit trail of who has accessed or modified the evidence package
Revoke access at any time
Taken together, this ensures you can not only easily share the data but also comply with data protection rules and cybersecurity best practice.
As David tells us, Cloud Evidence Locker is a simple way for control rooms to try a cloud CCTV solution because it leverages all of the advantages of cloud while minimising the perceived risks.
It also comes with extra features such as automated facial redaction which eliminates the need for third-party tools, ensures you only share the redacted copy with third parties, and is a great time saver for control room staff.
Many cloud CCTV providers – who generally market their services under the heading of video software as a service (VSaaS) – offer an ‘all or nothing’ service which for many CCTV systems would mean going from zero to 100% in one go, a real step into the dark.
So one concern for CCTV managers is not wanting to commit their entire system to a new technology. And to be fair, there are many reasons not to move your entire CCTV operation into the cloud which can range from concerns about bandwidth capacity and usage as well as accessibility and control.
With their years’ of experience of the CCTV control room market, Synectics appreciated the need for a hybrid solution, a combination of on-premises and cloud that can be tailored to create the optimal solution for any operations centre.
According to David, one of the most effective hybrid solutions for CCTV centres is using the cloud not only for sharing and distribution – eg, Cloud Evidence Locker for sharing clips quickly and easily with police and other agencies – but also for medium-term storage and long-term archiving.
For most recorded video footage, the sweet spot in terms of accessing and reviewing it is within 72 hours of an incident. If there has been a serious crime, the time and date are known and chances are the police will be turning up in short order to collect any relevant video. Similarly for other types of incidents of interest to internal and external parties.
After that initial 72 hours and the decreased likelihood that someone will want to view that video, you could send that video to cloud storage for safekeeping, with the added knowledge that it was securely backed up too.
With cloud storage you can automatically tag that data to be deleted after a set period according to your data retention policies. And you can even adjust the deletion date on selected video clips, filtered by timestamp and camera, if you subsequently receive a request to retain certain data pending an investigation.
Transmission of data to the cloud either directly from your cameras or via your own premises will require suitable infrastructure. Although not inexpensive, it may not actually cost any more than the typical links you currently purchase via the likes of Openreach.
David will discuss some of the pros and cons of this during the Snapshot Webinar on 21 October and highlight the potential infrastructure savings of adopting a hybrid approach and Time Lapse Later to reduce the data sent to the cloud. We will also compare operational issues and costs of on-premises versus cloud-based storage and processing of CCTV images.
As we have seen, there are options for configuring the cloud environment to suit the requirements of your organisation. What are some of the other configuration options that you need to be aware of when moving to a cloud CCTV system?
How secure is the cloud? Properly configured, the cloud is more secure than most on-premise data centres – and when you look into it, most IT security issues have everything to do with configuration or other forms of “human” errors.
If we take a step back and look at the physical security of cloud data centres, it quickly becomes apparent that it is state of the art for the simple reason that clients demand it. Look at the websites of any of the cloud service providers, and you will see how they physically protect their data centres with layers of physical controls, access control, CCTV and internal security.
Cybersecurity is the bigger concern. If you are running your own data centre, cybersecurity is your responsibility, and any system that isn’t entirely isolated from the internet – and who truly is? – is vulnerable to attack. The chances that an attacker will be successful in compromising your system is another question, and again, that depends on the configuration of your system and the quality of your defences.
Cloud service providers have high quality security software in place, regularly test their systems and even invite friendly hackers to try their luck. They have teams of people dedicated to cybersecurity – who can say the same about on-premise solutions?
All of the cybersecurity breaches you read about which involve cloud systems are the result of user error – misconfigured security settings including, believe it or not, use of default passwords or failing to set a password at all!
Far from being a blocker to cloud adoption, security is one of the reasons why many organisations have chosen to migrate their IT to the cloud.
Moving to the cloud means you are dependent on the internet which instantly raises red flags for some people. Who hasn’t experienced a problem connecting to their organisation from home via the VPN (virtual private network) or experienced a failure in their home broadband?
The first thing to remember is that most VPN failures are due to inadequate bandwidth provision by the organisation or a system misconfiguration.
The other thing to remember is that home broadband – with its shared bandwidth, contention ratios and domestic grade routers – is a far cry from commercial grade IT. Dedicated, dual redundant backbone connections using state-of-the-art network switches will provide 99.99% uptime which, in the worst case scenario, works out to loss of data connectivity for less than a hour in an entire year. Compare that to the reliability of on-premise data centres and you’ll find they stack up well.
Synectics for cloud
Synectics has been involved in the local authority and police CCTV market for many years, and understand the needs and constraints of these systems.
CCTV systems are under pressure to consider a range of cost-saving options, and from Synectics’ perspective, the cloud can not only deliver those cost savings but also added functionality. However, they recognise that attempts by other companies to create a one-size fits all solution or force customers to make an all-or-nothing choice simply won’t work.
David tells us that’s why the company has invested in developing its approach to cloud CCTV, one that allows the customer to dictate the pace of change by working out the optimal solution for their changing requirements.
* We spoke to David Aindow and Martin Bonfield from Synectics at our Snapshot Webinar on Thursday 21 October 2021. The session provided a foundation on the features and benefits of a hybrid cloud solution with a chance to ask questions at the end. The session was recorded and you can view it by scrolling back to the top of this article.