Head in the cloud: digital signage and cloud computing

As digital signage grows and companies implement it, the big question they face is: should we have our solution on the premises or should we place it in the cloud instead? Having your system in the cloud means taking a scalable computer resource and placing it outside of your organisation, rather than having it inside your own network. It represents a shift in the way companies allocate resources for IT, integrated security, recovery and increased capacity or capabilities. It allows remote content and software updates.

The cloud can offer advantages for digital signage network owners

“Before, customers’ only option was to purchase expensive servers, install software and employ the skills necessary to configure and manage an on-premises digital signage network,” explains Jason Cremins, chief executive of cloud-powered digital signage solutions provider signagelive. “Now, thanks to the internet and cloud computing, customers can purchase a range of internet-enabled digital signage devices that are preloaded with the necessary software to play back full-screen and multi-zone digital signage. Alternatively, many cloud-based digital signage solutions, such as signagelive, also offer a software only option, so that you can install the software on any PC with the operating system of your choice.”

There are five main advantages offered by a cloud-based digital signage solution: scalability; lower cost; stability; flexibility and enhanced security.

An example of a familiar place where one can get cloud services is the huge online retailer Amazon. Attila Narin, senior manager of Amazon Web Services (AWS) EMEA, says of scalability and security: “AWS has companies of every size and in virtually every industry. Today we have hundreds of thousands of customers in over 190 countries – both start-ups and large companies – including many in advertising and digital signage.

“One company using AWS is digital advertising and marketing firm Razorfish. Razorfish uses AWS to run big data analysis to better target consumers with advertising-based on data from online browsing sessions. A common issue Razorfish found was the need to process gigantic data sets which resulted from holiday shopping traffic on a retail website, or the sudden, dramatic growth on a media or social networking site.

“Normally crunching these numbers would take Razorfish two days or more. By leveraging on-demand services such as Amazon Elastic MapReduce, Razorfish is able to drop its processing time to eight hours. As there was no upfront investment in computing hardware, no procurement delay, and no additional operations staff needed, Razorfish is now able to increase its return on ad spend by 500 percent.”

But what type of security can companies get on AWS? Narin expands: “AWS provides the same, familiar approaches to security that companies have been using for decades. Importantly, it does this while also allowing the flexibility and low cost of cloud computing. There is nothing inherently at odds with providing on-demand infrastructure while also providing the security isolation companies have become accustomed to in their existing, privately owned environments.

“We often find that we can improve security using AWS. Amazon’s scale allows significantly more investment in security policing and countermeasures than a smaller company could afford. We have also completed certifications such as ISO 27001, FISMA, SOC-1 (formerly SAS-70) and PCI. We’ll continue to pursue certifications that are important to larger customers and those in the federal space.

“With AWS,” says Narin, “customers have full control over their data – they own it, not us; they choose where to store the data and it doesn’t move unless they choose to move it. They can encrypt their data at rest and in motion, and regardless of whether customers choose to encrypt or not, we never look at the data.”

Cremins points out another advantage: “Our cloud-based offerings are provided as a service, which means that signagelive customers will get all the support they need from trial to full roll-out.”

OK, but how much does it cost? While signagelive offers free trials, AWS has a free Usage Tier to help new businesses get started, which gives anyone free access to an Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) Micro Instance for one year. This includes free Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), Amazon Elastic Block Store, Amazon Elastic Load Balancing and AWS data transfer. In January this year Amazon extended the Free Usage Tier to include Windows Server Instances.

First published 3 April 2012 – Output