Mysteries of the cloud fading as benefits become clear

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

YARMOUTH, Maine—Talking points are in abundance when integrators try persuading customers to consider cloud-based storage and management solutions. Two themes, however, seem to resonate, and for different reasons.

One appealing aspect of cloud storage is the notion of shedding responsibility for data issues that have little to do with why you started your business in the first place. Another conversation hook emerges when integrators explain that just a few short years ago, they were experimenting and stumbling with cloud transition before it made their own lives a lot easier.

“First of all, customers don’t have to invest in PCs,” said Christen Austad, president and founder of Enterprise Fire and Security, based in Wisconsin. “They don’t have to learn new software. They can [manage] from their phone or tablet. They don’t have to learn how to upgrade the software.”

“It gives them remote access to their systems,” said Austad. “They don’t have to run to their site [to address issues] … We can handle it.”

“People like things easier,” he said. “It takes the stress out of managing the server. If you can put it on someone else’s shoulders, all the better.”

“There’s no installation of a main server on site,” said Jay Slaughterbeck, managing partner and cofounder of Strategic Security Solutions, headquartered in Raleigh, N.C. “Rest easy. Maintenance is handled by someone else … Currently, our biggest growth area is our cloud-based access control.”

Integrators find that they can draw upon their own learning experiences to take some mystery out of the cloud. Virtually all of their war stories occurred within the past five to 10 years.

For Tyco Integrated Security, headquartered in Boca Raton, Fla., the education process for figuring out what the cloud can and cannot do, when and where and for whom, was an internal process that began around 2005.

“We did the heavy lifting ourselves a few years back,” said John Hudson, Regional-West (Houston) director of TycoIS. “11 years ago we had to learn the hard way. We scraped our heads a few times … We became stronger and better with those internal conversations.”

In 2017, Hudson said, education for the customer is a pretty straightforward process that he calls “fork lifting” of education—including nomenclature, conversations about bandwidth and cybersecurity.

Cloud education has become easier as more end users find conceptual parallels to their lives, Hudson said. “They tell us, ‘I bank online. I use my iPhone for everything.’”

Adaptability and shifting gears are facets of the security industry that even the most experienced and successful integrators struggle with at times. Leveraging the cloud falls under this dynamic.

While Slaughterbeck sees greater adoption of cloud services in 2017 and beyond, he suggests that it could have happened a lot sooner. “The security industry is often slow in adapting,” he said. “Not long ago we were talking about the transformation from analog to IP cameras. People were saying the old equipment did its job.” Now, he said, “People are jumping on the [cloud] bandwagon.”

Austad had a similar observation. “Everyone gets used to the old-fashioned way of doing things,” he said. “It’s been a learning curve for us as well. We have used some cloud software in our own operations. We were used to [another way]. That helps us explain it, telling [customers] the things we went through.”

What all end users want to know is the comparative risk of cyber attacks that cloud storage possesses.

“Cloud-based applications are designed taking cybersecurity into account in a big way,” said Slaughterbeck. “With a cloud-based system, there is actually more security.“

“These conversations come up quite a bit,” said Hudson of Tyco. In several instances, he points out, “your [on site] network manager may be less secure” than the cloud.

“We have a robust vetting of our partners,” he said. “They have advanced [protection].”

So with the bandwagon filling up, where is the market growth potential?

Austad sees expansion coming in the commercial property market, for those who manage tenant space in areas where the building may not be fully occupied, and where management may not be on-site. The managers don’t have to staff the facility with software or data management people. With a cloud-based management system, he said, you’re not managing the data infrastructure.

Slaughterbeck sees cloud use for companies that are expanding geographically, particularly property management firms. The cloud offers growing companies more “expandability.”

Hudson referred to “distributed real estate” as a growth area for cloud utilization. Here you get “more bang for your buck” and “more standardization on a single platform” with cost efficiency because you pay for one platform. Examples that fall under this cloud-friendly end-user profile include childcare centers and restaurants.

The growth in cloud usage, while steady and seemingly inevitable, is still not a linear process. It’s not for everyone, and concerns remain. Bandwidth capacity and cost are always front-and-center for understandably cautious security providers.

According to Hudson, cloud storage may not be the ideal fit for a company with a large amount of security cameras. “You get into bandwidth discussions and you find little desirability when you get into several hundred cameras,” he said. “When the camera count is four to 20 or four to 30, that’s the sweet spot.”

Austad finds that fire alarm systems and video surveillance are not automatic matches for the cloud. “The bandwidth requirements for high-definition, to move that data to the cloud, it’s still not being done efficiently,” he said.

Slaughterbeck sees growth potential in the access control arena. “With access control we are talking about small amounts of data so its much easier to take to the cloud,” he said.

Nevertheless, cloud adoption makes sense for a lot of businesses that find data management a
necessary evil, or a headache, or a part of the technology landscape that takes up too much of their time. In the cloud, out of mind.

“It’ll just continue to grow,” Austad said. “Competition will bring the price down.”

“I’m a realist,” said Hudson. “The process is not perfect.“ But, the benefits for many end users are obvious. “The interest level has been uniform and high,” he said.