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The Cloud Era: An Examination of Multinationals and VMS Migration

03 June 2020

FABLIHA CHOWDHURY presents the key takeaways from a recent panel discussion in which representatives from Starbucks and Uber, as well as a former representative of Barclays, shared their personal take on embracing a cloud-first approach towards security and operations.

Workplaces are going through an evolution and, increasingly, businesses are seeing the benefits of a cloud-first approach to their infrastructure. Even before COVID-19 hit, we were witnessing a significant shift in terms of how multinational corporations were adapting their operations. This is particularly true for those with a High Street presence where stores and branches are having to adapt to keep pace with changing consumer habits and expectations.

COVID-19 has only hastened this behavioural change, and we expect this to continue to be one of the driving market forces over the coming months and years.  

As business space is changing, how we monitor it is adapting as well. For example, banking has seen a major change in terms of how retail branches operate. Due to many peoples’ preference for online banking, the in-branch experience is now totally different to how it was ten or 15 years ago. There are fewer cashiers as consumers don’t need to deposit cheques or withdraw money as regularly as they used to. Many simply transfer funds online instead. They’re comfortable with self-service arrangements and have little desire to wait in line for something they can do themselves.

Of course, this has influenced the technology on-premise. However, despite an increasing preference for smaller, boutique-style branches (convenience stores over superstores, satellite offices over skyscrapers), the size of the physical infrastructure that needs to be housed in these premises doesn’t shrink to fit into the desired space. This is because many multinationals are built on legacy systems that cannot simply be ripped out and replaced. Banks, healthcare operators, airlines – all of them have systems in place which hold valuable data that cannot be discarded. They need to be integrated with the wider stack and take up space.

In itself, this truism raises the issue of capital expenditure and operating expenditure, which again has been under the microscope thanks to COVID-19. On-site servers are expensive in terms of outlay and maintenance, while  on-premise VMS and other operational necessities have relied on a physical presence to assist in housing large swathes of data. On the contrary, a cloud-based VMS records and stores video directly in the cloud, in turn eliminating the need for physical servers.

With the shift towards remote working and infrastructure, there’s a growing argument that enterprises should be adopting a cloud-first strategy towards security in order to help alleviate certain issues such as cost, while at the same time taking advantage of the other benefits a cloud-based approach realises.

Why is cloud appealing?

For most organisations, housing their own physical servers is a risky and unnecessary business. Economies of scale mean that the large cloud computing providers like Microsoft Azure can offer far better pricing, security and uptime than is possible in-house. Cloud infrastructure is also helpful in that it’s able to do what many multinationals have previously been unable to achieve – centralise all data such that crucial information is not just housed locally.

Recouping and reducing costs will be a priority for many this year due to the expected global recession and the after-effects of the pandemic. Moving a VMS to the cloud is a way in which to achieve a return on investment in what is more than just a boost to productivity. Moving to the cloud removes significant hardware and association management and maintenance costs. Also, due to its subscription-based approach, it enables predictable pricing and capacity planning. Multinationals can pay for what they use instead of paying for capacity which may be either over or under their evolving requirements.

All that said, businesses do have to be mindful when choosing the right cloud vendor since not all solutions are created equally. In the VMS space, some hybrid-cloud or cloud-managed solutions don’t eliminate infrastructure costs since these systems still store video on-premise (either in the cameras themselves or on a server bridge) before sending it to the cloud.

Issue of visibility 

Visibility across all sites has often been an issue for multinationals, from IT performance through to real-time sales numbers or customer updates. Being able to achieve complete insight into business performance has been somewhat elusive, mainly due to legacy systems acting as blockers. However, a cloud-based approach stops satellite stores, branches and offices from acting in siloes as operations can be managed centrally. This means that specific branch issues may be identified and managed from a single central location, thereby saving time, money and effort.

A cloud-based VMS can facilitate central monitoring of multiple remote sites by federating video back to the central security platform. This makes it easier for the security team to quickly see what’s going on and handle investigations across all of their sites.

The traditional method would require operators to enter an IP address to connect to a store’s NVR, find the right camera and then review footage. If they needed to see who has accessed an office building, they would find the event in the video system, jot down the time of the incident and then go into a separate access control system to determine who badged at the door around that timeframe. The beauty of a central security system, to which video from remote sites is federated, is in the flow of information. There can be one unified security platform for both remote branches and office buildings.

Consistent support

There’s also a benefit in terms of scalability and agility. With the elimination of infrastructure kept on-premise, new sites can be quickly deployed or removed. Consistent support is also possible across all regions. Previously, due to different layouts and premise sizes etc, it could be difficult to ensure a uniform approach towards security and its associated hardware as it may not have been possible to equip all buildings to the same standard. However, with no hardware kept on-premise, businesses should find it far easier to implement a uniform approach.

Unlike legacy systems, this approach enables firms to scale up or down as necessary. As businesses evolve and new products or services enter the mix, they will require systems that enable rather than hinder this change. Investing in systems which enable change in an ever-shifting landscape will be of benefit. With change comes its associated challenges that will require a digital foundation for necessary support.

As security professionals we all appreciate the need to protect physical assets. We leverage technology to stop bad actors. However, that doesn’t always translate to the digital threat, with many businesses failing to adopt a unified and hardened approach which balances physical and cyber threats equally. For example, many divide the threats such that they sit under different dominions – phishing and hacking sits under a CIO, whereas physical security sits under operations.

However, this singular approach means that key factors (such as the maintenance and security of the security equipment) can then be overlooked. Thankfully, some solutions incorporate end-to-end encryption of video from a branch or office to the cloud with the video encrypted at rest. This makes it far more secure and reduces the likelihood of someone intercepting the footage.

Modern approach

We all know that COVID-19 will dramatically disrupt many organisations’ plans and mean they need to pivot to help mitigate the new threats they face. However, adopting a cloud-first approach towards security may be the solution they perhaps were not looking for, but may yield significant value.

At a time when costs need to be saved, security tightened and ease of work enhanced, a cloud-first approach may help. I don’t just say that as a security professional, but when you look at how it can benefit other areas of the business (eg finance, cyber, operations and facilities) then it makes perfect sense for enterprises to reassess their priorities and look at how the piecemeal paybacks add up across the whole network.

This pandemic has made many of us realise that digital transformation is now not a nice-to-have, but rather a necessity. Part of this means revolutionising how we approach practices like security that can sometimes be thought of in quite a traditional way. It’s time to change that status quo by leveraging a cloud-first approach to save time, costs and space and help satellite branches, stores and offices work more effectively and, importantly, in line with central functions such that they then drive sound returns on investment and productivity increases.

Fabliha Chowdhury is Product Manager at Genetec

*To view the original discussion visit https://info.genetec.com/ConnectDX-Registration.html