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Coming soon: Milestone XProtect on AWS

Abstract cloud network imageMilestone will soon have a cloud capability to make deployment and scalability issues a thing of the past, via Milestone XProtect on AWS. The launch date is set for 9th June 2020.

Milestone XProtect is one the world’s leading video management suite of products for business, of this we have no doubt. Our earlier blog on why XProtect is our go-to VMS explains why. We have been deploying Milestone in virtualised environments for many years and the move to Amazon Web Services (AWS) is an extension of this.

What is AWS?

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a cloud services provider offering cloud servers (virtual machines) of any specification, massively scalable storage and network capacity to and from those servers and storages. AWS is, alongside Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure, the largest provider of cloud hosting services there is. Simply, most websites and applications you use today are hosted on one of these three platforms.

What’s new here?

Well, on the face of it, not much. It has always been possible to run XProtect in AWS. However, this would have been done as a ‘roll-your-own’ solution running the risk of not being fully optimised for Milestone. The new Milestone XProtect AMI (Amazon Machine Image or ‘AMI’) that is becoming available on AWS Marketplace changes this, meaning you can spin up a system with a few clicks and be confident that it is already correctly optimised for Milestone. The time savings on system deployment here alone are considerable.

From CAPEX to OPEX, from on-premise to cloud

To date, the most common way to deploy a Milestone XProtect is on local server hardware, either built specifically for the task by a competent provider with Milestone-specific optimisations or on commodity hardware (such as Dell or HP servers). This can be costly if a system is large or has long retention times, high frame rates or very high resolutions and requires a lot of storage. The CAPEX costs of solutions like this can be high and may lead to organisations choosing to compromise on their security and opt for other solutions away from XProtect instead.

Cloud hosting of Milestone lowers the CAPEX requirement substantially and moves the deployment to an OPEX model which is more manageable and favoured by many businesses.

There are many businesses who acknowledge Milestone is right for their needs, but who sometimes won’t move to use Milestone due to its typical system requirements and associated hardware cost. They may not have a server to hand or the capacity to purchase one for the task (Milestone is best run on server hardware and server OS, not PCs). In this case, running XProtect in AWS is a simple and cost-effective way to get started, particularly for businesses with small to medium-sized systems. In those situations, XProtect on AWS is especially attractive.

XProtect on AWS will also be of interest to the many companies that are looking to move hardware and software off-site and putting their core infrastructures in the cloud. Service providers like NW with both Milestone and AWS skills can help with this.

What are the key benefits of deploying Milestone XProtect in the cloud?

Apart from the main benefit of reducing the initial investment in the hardware required to deploy Milestone XProtect, there are all the usual benefits that AWS cloud-based infrastructures provide:

  • Reducing the need for hardware space, including the ongoing cost of cooling and electricity
  • Deploy XProtect systems in minutes – deploying an AMI can be done in just a few clicks, resulting in a server pre-configured with XProtect and available to you to log into. Adding cameras into and commissioning the system will then be done in the usual way
  • Unlimited scalability (up or down / smaller or larger as needed) – AWS provides the means to automatically, when demand increases, scale-out systems in an unlimited manner for servers (compute), storage (retention) and data (live video and playback).
  • For global systems, deploy servers at the edge – AWS has data centres around the world. Deploy XProtect in the data centre closest to the cameras and the users. An Australian business in London could, for instance, have a management and recording server in London connected to their cameras and a Mobile server in Australia to which the Australian team connect in order to view the cameras
  • Enables multi-site video management systems in a frictionless way – multi-site systems can have their servers live in the AWS cloud, with the cameras literally anywhere
  • Mix with on-premise systems as necessary – the distributed nature of XProtect allows for complete systems to be a mix of on-premise and in-cloud servers without compromising the solution
  • Predictable, variable costs – pay only for what you use
  • VPN connectivity – cloud servers become a secure part of your network, just like local servers

Are there any negatives?

It can be complicated

Yes. AWS sounds easy, but it can be complicated. To do more than simply spin up new servers requires a level of skills (IT DevOps) which many businesses do not tend to have. Take it beyond the very basics and the learning curve shoots up rapidly. The key is that it can be easy to deploy in an insecure manner, against best practice, so a good understanding of AWS security is needed before putting PII (personally identifiable information – video of people) through it. New skills are not easy to come by and most businesses (I write this 8 weeks into the UK’s coronavirus lockdown) won’t have the capacity for taking on new, highly skilled (read expensive) staff for purposes like this. This is where professional services from NW come in.

However, businesses with existing skilled IT teams should find that moving their Milestone to the cloud can give those teams some much-needed respite in workload as they will no longer manage the infrastructure layer, only the software layer.

Bandwidth considerations

Camera-site bandwidth could also be an issue. Cloud-hosted CCTV is in its very early stages not due to capability, but due to bandwidth availability. How you architect a Milestone system for the lowest impact on bandwidth is a critical factor for success with the platform in a cloud environment. The size of the bandwidth ‘pipe’ at the cameras’ location will, therefore, be the limiting factor in the number of cameras that can be added from a site and not the capability of the cloud-hosted system. Couple this with large amounts of video being watched by on-site users and you have a perfect storm of data usage that could, in worst cases, cripple an organisation’s access to the Internet.

Helping stretched IT teams

Finally, moving XProtect to the cloud does not absolve the administrator from keeping the system up-to-date and keeping it patched with bug fixes, feature updates and security patches, but the infrastructure management is now done by AWS, so lessening the workload on stretched IT teams.

Will licensing of XProtect change?

When the XProtect AMI launches in the AWS Marketplace in June there will be two flavours:

  • XProtect Essential+ (free version)
  • XProtect VMS (BYOL – bring your own license)

I am not sure why there will be two AMIs here as the Essential+ flavour should be upgradable with a normal XProtect license (SLC) in the same way as the BYOL version. We will update this post once they are launched.

It looks as if Milestone and AWS will be making available new AMIs as and when new versions of XProtect are released (2020 R2 is due very soon), but it’s not clear if older versions will also get AMIs. This could be useful, for instance, if an organisation wishes to expand its existing system with a cloud node without first upgrading the whole system.

Can I use my existing Milestone XProtect license and use them with Milestone AWS?

Yes. Those businesses with existing XProtect licenses in use on on-premise hardware can move them to AWS and deploy on an AWS instance. This gives you the flexibility to move your whole Milestone XProtect installation onto AWS or opt for a hybrid solution and have part on-premise and part on AWS.

Does Milestone provide support for instances on AWS?

No, and neither does AWS (unless paid-for). AWS-skilled solution providers such as NW Security Group will provide AWS platform support services, in addition to the Milestone support we provide.

Does the cloud version of XProtect support 3rd party integrations?

As the cloud version is no different than the on-premise version you can download from the milestone website, the answer is yes. In fact, deploying server-based video analytics and integrating them with your Milestone system will never have been easier. The beauty of the cloud is that you have ‘unlimited tries’ to get things right. Image, or ‘save’ your system, install the new components and if they fail, just roll back with your saved image, or create a new server and try again. Doing this with physical hardware is time-consuming at best. Running new video analytics software components on new servers will no longer be a complex exercise.

Stay tuned… more to follow

We await the launch of these new AMIs and will reserve final judgement on the potential of the system until we’ve tested it, but on the face of it, this looks very interesting and a great step forward within the Milestone XProtect offering.

It could transform the way in which businesses deploy video for their organisation at a time when protecting people and assets is paramount and everyone is looking to spread the cost.

Published on May 13th, 2020 by Kevin Bowyer

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