Everyone’s talking about digital signage in the cloud. But what are its advantages over hosting your own system – and what are the pitfalls to watch for? Dan Clemens, CEO of Camvine, has some answers.
Walking around Screenmedia Expo in London this year, I was struck by the number of digital-signage companies that said they were “moving to the cloud” or already “in the cloud”. Why is the cloud so important to digital signage?
The “old”, pre-cloud model of digital-signage technology is not really a single model. There are dozens of variations, all of them proprietary in that they will not work with other suppliers’ software or media players. The formats for content files – video, images or other content – are limited.
Cloud-based digital signage, by contrast, is a game-changer – or at least it can be if it’s done right.What is it?
Essentially, it’s what used to be called software as a service (SaaS). This model has been around for a very long time but the speed, ubiquity and technology advances of the Internet have made it more viable.
In its simplest form, cloud-based digital signage is based on software that runs on a service provider’s computers, outside of your premises or network – “in the cloud”. Exactly where it runs is less important than the fact that it is running somewhere outside your premises.
Because of this, cloud-based digital-signage software can be upgraded and patched without service interruption. There’s no downloading software to all your media players and no downloading software to your PC. The provider can discover a problem, fix it and deploy the fix to a single system, and it potentially serves millions of users. It can also be readily adapted to support new sources or types of content.
Similarly, cloud-based digital signage has the potential to utilise a wider array of media players, and non-proprietary media players in particular, and can be adapted to support emerging media-player technology and interface protocols as they develop.
Mobile and beyond
Interaction with mobile is another advantage. A cloud-based digital-signage system is by its nature accessible to mobile devices that can connect to the Internet, and it is a very short step to allow the mobile device to interact with the signage systems.
In the same way, it’s relatively easy for a cloud-based digital-signage system to link to social media. For example, it could connect to your company’s Facebook account, filter and condense the news feed, reformat it and display on screens in your network.
There are a few negatives to think about. Many cloud-based digital-signage systems require an always-on Internet connection to operate properly. These are increasingly common, inexpensive and reliable, but there are still many parts of the world, even in modern cities, where always-on Internet is not easy to guarantee.
In these cases, network owners need to ask: how tolerant is the system of an unreliable Internet connection? How does it behave when the Internet is down for half an hour or half a day?
Another major consideration with cloud-based digital signage is security. The Internet is a vast playground for hackers and many would take delight in posting unsavoury messages or images on your displays.
However, I don’t think cloud-based digital signage has yet become a juicy enough target for hackers, and there are no real monetary gains to be had from hacking a digital-signage network, although sensitive stored data (for example, details of pupils used for a school’s network) could be vulnerable.
One last consideration in the risk column is continuity of supplier. If the provider of a cloud-based digital-signage platform fails, what will happen to its customers and their networks?
Not all cloud systems are the same and the potential customer needs to ask searching questions about flexibility, maturity, openness to the Internet (and dependence on it), and of course security. A good cloud-based digital-signage company should easily be able to provide answers to these.