Storage Soup

Dec 18 2007   9:39AM GMT

Buying typical storage for video surveillance? Rethink that!

Ndamour Nicole D'Amour Profile: Ndamour

Up until now you (corporate IT) have not had to worry about video surveillance. That job was up to the security guys, those guys that wore uniforms and pretty much kept to themselves. But be prepared. If you are not already deeply involved in video surveillance equipment RFP creation, acquisition, installation and management, you will be very soon.

The world of video surveillance is changing so rapidly that the user and the traditional supplier are both in a state of frenzy. It is within this transformation that the role of IT is becoming increasingly critical. The reasons for the increase in video surveillance are pretty easy to understand. Post 9/11, enterprises as well as governments are all adding or increasing video surveillance to the security equation. Of course, casinos and banks have always been the leading users of video surveillance, but now everyone is in the game. On a typical day, a person living in a city may be videotaped five or more places, as he drives to work (and passes through specific traffic lights), parks his car in the company parking lot, enters the building, makes a trip to the bank at lunch, grabs a couple of items at the local K-mart and heads home. There are all kinds of privacy issues that can be debated, but I am staying away from that. At least for now. Right now, I am more interested in the technology and IT’s increasing role in video surveillance.

Traditional video surveillance equipment was not designed to deal with this onslaught and is gasping for air. It is being replaced almost completely with IP-based equipment.  That’s where you come in. Until now, most video surveillance equipment was based on CCTV (closed circuit TV), which basically meant the cameras, which recorded analog video, were hooked up via coaxial cable to the central point, where the video was taped on VCRs. Later, DVRs converted the analog signal to digital at the central location before storing it. But, these technologies cannot deal with the onslaught of data from more and more cameras and the fact that cameras are increasingly adding higher resolutions.

The latest crop of cameras records video in a digital format, and compresses it using MJPEG or MPEG before transmitting it over standard IP network to a central location that stores the data on scalable disk arrays. Once in the realm of IP, all the goodies we are used to in IT become available to an industry that still thinks of guards manning physical structures. Centralized management become feasible, data can be accessed asymmetrically, from multiple locations, replicated when appropriate. Another level of sophistication is being added at the end points. Now cameras can be activated when they detect motion or switch into a higher resolution if certain criteria are met. Video analytics allow software to recognize facial characteristics. Searches can be conducted for specific objects or people. You get the idea. It is like James Bond gadgetry becoming available to regular folks. But, that is reflective of the world we live in.

I think you (IT) need to be prepared to play a major role in this transformation that is occurring. You are the resident experts in storage and, at this point, pretty well up on IP technologies as well. Video surveillance simply becomes another application you have to support. So, if you are not already deeply involved in the selection and day to day management of the video surveillance equipment, it is only a matter of time. Security people who used to make decisions on such purchases without any consultation, will now insist on your involvement. You should gladly offer to help.

Another important thing to realize is that the type of storage you end up selecting for these applications will very likely be different than storage for other applications. For video surveillance the attributes that matter for storage include cost effectiveness (dirt cheap), highly scalable across both capacity and performance (cannot afford to create islands of storage), low entry price point, cost effective availability (mirroring may be too expensive), protection from disk drive or nodal failure and, most importantly, it needs to IP-based. Everything else in this environment is IP based, so making storage IP-based makes it easier to understand and manage. FC storage would bring in a level of complexity that is unnecessary here. Also, legacy architectures that have grafted an IP (iSCSI) interface would not cut it here, because they would not meet the other requirements above. Storage players that I believe merit consideration include Pivot3, Intransa, LeftHand Networks and to a lesser degree, EqualLogic (their price point may be too high for this application). There are other inexpensive storage offerings, such as from Nexsan or Xyratex but if an architecture does not allow clustering and presentation of a single system image, as it scales, it misses a criterion that I consider absolutely necessary for this application. However, you may want them in the initial mix as you start the evaluation process. I am sure you have enough on your plate without adding yet another storage-hungry application. But the way the winds are blowing, you either pro-actively plan on this or you will get pulled in pushing and screaming.

2  Comments on this Post

 
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  • Ndamour
    The storage devices at the core of these surveillance systems have unique requirements as well. 24/7 operations, video streaming, power efficiency. Consider more than the typical SATA drive for these applications. I've got a couple of posts on this: http://storageeffect.com/category/surveillance/
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  • Ndamour
    Consider currently shipping cost-effective iSCSI vendor iStor Networks. With emerging markets such as VOIP and IP Video Surveillance both their 1GbE as well as their 10GbE offer fire-breathing power with low entry cost. http://www.istor.com We love 'em!
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