To Cloud or Not to Cloud?

What effective security management looks like in 2024

The cloud is a fact of life across all IT applications—and security is no exception. While most software applications today have moved to the cloud, security is a bit different. There are significant technical and budgetary challenges, particularly as the increasing volume (and image quality) of security cameras in use results in an enormous amount of video data transferred and stored in the cloud.

Each of the 100 million individual cameras in the United States generates as much video data as a Netflix movie—every day. Security departments also tend to run their own infrastructure—and, due to cyber concerns and historical precedent, they like to have most equipment on site.

But the benefits of cloud apply to security as clearly as any other application: the cloud offers better manageability, improved scalability, lower maintenance costs, less on-prem equipment (like expensive servers) and increased cyber security as systems can better be kept updated.

The Cloud Approach
When it comes to the cloud, there are two approaches: single vendor end-to-end or open system. While single-vendor solutions may sound straightforward, customers may find themselves locked into that one vendor’s product ecosystem, confined by price increases and other inconveniences.

Sometimes vendors do not own the whole technology stack, but have instead OEMed part of the solution, such as the surveillance cameras. That can make managing and updating from a cyber security perspective difficult. That said, the simplicity of a single partner to turn to for things like tech support can be a significant advantage.

Open system, on the other hand, gives customers the ability to integrate different edge devices, or repurpose their existing edge devices if they change vendors. However, depending on the strength of the technology partnership between the vendors creating the complete solution, system management and cybersecurity can still be a significant challenge.

Today’s organizations are increasingly seeking to avoid locking themselves into an individual vendor by embracing a platform-based model built on having the flexibility to shift between single and multivendor best-of-breed systems based on strong partnerships rather than exclusive agreements. The need for cybersecurity has highlighted the value of aligning platform management and device manufacturer as organizations look for any advantage they can get against cybercriminals.

An open-platform approach that emphasizes strong, best-of-breed technology partnerships is one of the most important ways today’s organizations can ensure their approach to the cloud is as effective and secure as possible.

The Race to the Cloud and Return to the Edge
As technology has grown more advanced, cloud storage has become more complex. Today’s cameras produce higher quality video, with a greater level of detail—in fact, Quad HD (QHD) and even 4K video are now standard for many systems. This, along with higher frame rates and retention times, has had a significant impact on both storage and bandwidth needs, which have increased accordingly—and so has the cost.

Even as video compression technology improves, organizations are using more devices than ever and producing higher quality video than ever. This has made a cloud-only approach less viable for many organizations as they struggle to keep up with rising subscription fees.

The combination of cloud expenses and improved edge capabilities has been the driving force in the shift toward hybrid deployments. Deep learning capabilities and improved processing power allow cameras to run analytics at the network edge. With only metadata sent to the cloud, bandwidth and storage requirements can be reduced significantly, and SD cards and other local, on-site storage solutions can be used to further reduce costs and complement cloud capabilities.

The strength of today’s edge offerings has allowed organizations to adopt a “best of both worlds” approach, prioritizing suites of products that meet a variety of needs. By partnering with manufacturers and developers rather than committing to exclusivity, organizations can streamline their products and services without overcommitting to a single provider.

Best of all, a strong edge with AI-based capabilities is a major enabler for the cloud. Simply put, the more organizations can do at the network edge, the more scalable their cloud solution will be.

Embracing a Platform-based Approach
The key to this “best of both worlds” approach is a service management platform capable of effectively managing physical devices while providing the essential cloud services that allow users to make the most of their data. When selecting a device management platform, prioritizing openness is a key factor that allows customers to avoid becoming over-reliant on a single vendor.

That said, it does make sense to choose one managed by the same manufacturer of the edge devices in use. For example, an organization that uses hundreds (or thousands) of surveillance cameras from one manufacturer will want to prioritize a platform capable of managing those devices smoothly and effectively.

Organizations should look to align their platform and their devices as closely as possible without sacrificing flexibility. Ideally, that means working with a manufacturer that provides an open cloud management platform—one capable of integrating with several solutions, rather than locking customers into only its own cloud video management solutions.

Ease of use is not the only thing to consider when selecting a device management platform. Another factor is the growing need for effective cybersecurity. Many organizations continue to struggle with cybersecurity—particularly when it comes to managing devices in the cloud.

Cloud also tends to make organizations feel as though they can be more “hands off.” They believe that the cloud provider will take care of security concerns, which is not always the case. This can result in gaps and vulnerabilities where neither party is taking responsibility, leaving openings for cybercriminals.

Some organizations also believe that because the cloud is “separate” from their on-premises systems, attacks on cloud devices cannot impact the rest of their network. This is incorrect. Compromised cloud devices can be a gateway to the broader network—and cybercriminals know it. This problem can be mitigated when working with the right manufacturers. Device manufacturers understand how to secure their own devices better than anyone, and constructive collaboration between platform and devices also provides the necessary infrastructure for fast, reliable solutions when problems arise.

Manufacturers push out regular updates, patches and vulnerability fixes to keep their devices running safely and smoothly. When the manufacturer also manages the platform, those updates can be installed with little to no disruption or labor. While it is possible to install those same patches and updates manually, it can take a significant amount of time—especially if the organization is working with devices not originally designed for the platform.

Every minute a vulnerability remains unpatched is a minute attackers can take advantage. This creates unnecessary security and regulatory risks that could be easily mitigated by working directly with device manufacturers.

The choice between convenience and flexibility is no longer binary. Some device manufacturers move away from proprietary systems and toward open-platform solutions, meaning customers can achieve an unprecedented degree of security while maintaining a prominent level of flexibility and agility. And, as edge devices become more powerful, driving a greater volume of data to the cloud, the ability to seamlessly integrate edge devices with the cloud platforms that manage them will become increasingly critical. That makes it important for customers to prioritize devices from manufacturers that offer a device management platform that can either provide an open cloud solution or a single-vendor cloud solution, depending on what works best for them.

Balancing Openness and Convenience by Choosing the Right Platform
Choosing an open-platform cloud solution is always a good idea, as it provides organizations with flexibility needed to pursue the solutions that align with their specific needs. Organizations should also seek to align their cloud platform with the devices they use. This not only helps keep those devices functioning smoothly by ensuring the devices and platform are designed for one another but improves cybersecurity posture as well. Cybercriminals regularly target cloud devices, and as cloud migration persists that trend will only continue.

By prioritizing a platform-based approach and working with manufacturers, organizations can ensure that their devices will be as protected as possible against today’s advanced threats. By choosing a platform that is open, rather than proprietary, organizations can enjoy a combination of end-to-end capabilities and open-platform agility that ensures access to secure and convenient security solutions without sacrificing the ability to pursue additional solutions—even if they are not offered by the manufacturer. As today’s businesses plan for the future of the cloud, that balancing act between convenience and flexibility will be increasingly critical to maintain.

This article originally appeared in the March / April 2024 issue of Security Today.

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