The End of the Beginning

It’s all going to be in the cloud — that’s what the researchers seem to be saying to the whole AV/IT world. 
Certainly technologies like digital signage storage and retrieval and a lot of security archive are already on or migrating to cloud or some hybrid of the cloud based platforms. The reality is perhaps a bit different than that rose-colored viewpoint presented by the cloud-based purveyors.

What seems to have been lost or at least partially ignored in this whole debate are the value of and frankly the simple existence of the existing massive infrastructure investment both in hardware and facilities.

The build-out of data centric capabilities continues to expand at a record pace, but there is a disconnect between the two competing methods of getting to the desired endpoint.

If the cloud is the choice, then the client/user/facility must take into consideration what it’s giving up from a control, ownership and security standpoint. Understanding the dozens of subtle nuances of this choice is often extremely difficult even for highly knowledgeable and skilled IT professionals.

If your own company or your client(s) is a part of the majority of customers who do not have the extensive and in-depth IT knowledge and resources in-house, this process become even more difficult and often overwhelming.

Lack of Solid Modeling Options

Unfortunately, there is no solid and reliable analytical model that will allow a valid comparison to be made between the cloud and any other solution. The technology is simply too fluid and fast-evolving to be able to say at any one point — this is the comparison between cloud and not-cloud solutions.

If the choice is to build out more conventional hardware-based capabilities, the up-front costs and on-going maintenance and upgrade budgets need to be factored into the bottom line.

While it is considerably easier to cost-estimate this type of design, even here the speed of technological change and product development can render a plan or product choice obsolete overnight.

The vast size of and complexity of the globally-based parts supplier chain market makes it virtually impossible to ensure that a choice made today will still be available and viable when the actual hardware has to be acquired.

Two Sides, Multiple Choices

Either way there are issues to be evaluated or costs to be determined, managed and considered.

If you’re the integrator/system supplier who has to present the case for making a choice to any client, how do you fairly and equitably explain the information that will allow a logical decision tree to exist?

First Pick a Solution

While it would be ideal to be able to offer any potential customer either option, the reality is that they will have a built-in weighting towards one or the other primary pathway for this technology quandary. What they lean toward will be based on what their existing in-place infrastructure is and what their capacities for change are. Generally speaking, the newer the company or facility, the more likely they are to consider a cloud or hybrid-cloud based solution. This is simply a practical, hardware-driven choice.

If there is no large-scale, physical hardware plant/structure already installed, it’s far easier to consider the cloud as an available option. No embedded costs need to be calculated, no lifecycle hardware costs will be needed and, most importantly, no commitment has been made to a particular format.

While the IT industry wants the business world to believe that interoperability and cross-platform comparability are not significant issues, the realities of deployment almost always prove this to be wrong.

Regardless of the primary vendor(s) chosen, and irrespective of whatever underlying software and topology they might require, the likelihood of their being 100% cross-platform flexible and capable is far, from a certainty. With that caveat in mind, it may be come somewhat easier to make a specific recommendation for a particular customer or facility.

By doing your homework, and gathering sufficient information on what is already in place, and what internal capabilities that client may or may not posses, you can realistically determine two key things:

  • What pathway makes the most sense for that facility: cloud based or embedded infrastructure. Simply by knowing what is already in use, this choice should be obvious.
  • What internal IT resources does the user have or plan to acquire before deployment of any new system or upgrade? How much staff and resources are being committed to this IT overhead will quickly tell you whether this user is better off with a system where they do not have to add staff or whether they want to maintain control and ownership and are willing to invest in the costs of doing so.

A Cautionary Note

While the above guidelines are logical, there is no 100% correct pathway though the IT/cloud//infrastructure swamp. There is solid ground for sure but there is also considerable quicksand waiting to trap the unwary in a spiraling and potentially vary costly and painful technological dead-end.

Before climbing onto the high IT diving board, be sure to know the depth of the water in the pool (and have a life preserver, i.e., a back-up plan) in place up front.

Oh… and good luck — it’s certainly a complex segment of the industry and perhaps in the end we will develop solutions that stand the test of time. But for the moment, stay focused and watch the technological horizon carefully — change will come faster than you can possibly imagine.