Video Surveillance

Determining the Right Storage Option for Video

August 1, 2012
Trans

Information storage, according to psycho cybernetics author Paul Thomas, has to take place at the unconscious level. Less psycho– and more cyberfocused, Thomas has – unconsciously, no doubt – managed to get security video storage right, too.

Back in the day, storage came in just one flavor: VHS cassettes during what was then labeled the analog videotape wars. A security video breakthrough at the time was the time-lapse VCR. By the way, you can still buy some used time-lapse analog recorders for about fifty bucks. Good door stops.

Nowadays, there is a diversity of storage choices and pricing, the latter on a dual track of more storage capability at lower cost.

And what is driving the diversity of storage platforms and the need for more and more storage? Two things: IP video and megapixel cameras. Migrating from analog to digital means moving from a closed circuit television (CCTV) setup with coaxial cabling to a network infrastructure. Shifting to megapixel cameras means that more information is collected by the camera, processed – sometimes at the edge; transmitted – sometimes in video clips or a lower resolution but almost always compressed; and stored for forensics retrieval.

Whatever the final design, there is always a balancing act among the camera, transmission, processing, display and storage.

So, when it comes to storage, it all depends on transmission as well as the purposes of the images.

As camera manufacturers add more functionality, there is more storage at the edge, with solid state SD cards and flash memory options and activated through video management software and systems. There are digital video recorders (DVRs), yesterday’s nail in the coffin of VCRs, with the DVRs most often near the cameras. Separate encoders or DVRs with encoding capability can transform analog cameras to a digital world. There are network video recorders (NVRs) and their sister off-shelf storage servers. And there is in-the-cloud storage, which kind of ranges from virtual memory – with IT dedicating security video storage within its infrastructure thanks to virtualization – as well as storage in private and public clouds.

 

Myriad Storage Options

Secure Digital or SD is a non-volatile memory card format. The Secure Digital standard is maintained by the SD Card Association. SD technologies have been implemented in more than 400 brands across dozens of product categories and more than 8,000 models. The Secure Digital format includes four card families in three different form factors. The families are the original Standard-Capacity, the High-Capacity, the eXtended-Capacity and the SDIO, which combines input/output functions with data storage. The three form factors are the original size, the “mini” size and the “micro.” There are many combinations of form factors and device families and not all are applicable to embedding inside a security video camera.

NVRs are similar to DVRs but with several distinct differences. An NVR’s video input is from a network, as opposed to a direct connection. The main distinction being video on a DVR is encoded and processed at the DVR, while video on an NVR is encoded and processed at the camera, then streamed to the NVR for storage or remote viewing. DVR is the main engine of CCTV-type systems while NVR is the main engine behind IP video surveillance systems. There are hybrid NVR/DVRs as well.

Jay Krone, senior director consumer and small business products division, Iomega, an EMC company, sees value in a hosted approach to security video storage.

“We have three different ways to go: NVR replacement; cloud-based storage and storage behind a VMS,” says Krone. Expanding his comments, Krone points out that network storage as a surveillance storage target features simplified, scalable network storage for a user’s recorded or archived surveillance video files. This option uses a network storage device – a double-, quad- or six-bay desktop model or a multi-drive rackmount array – as a simple surveillance storage target that works in conjunction with a VMS.

An integrated VMS approach uses smart network storage with leading video management software and IP cameras for an integrated, low-cost video surveillance solution.

The hosted video surveillance solution or what Krone calls HVSS leverages the power of cloud storage and the ubiquity of a browser-based video management system interface for a highly cost-effective security solution. The approach reduces the need for upfront capital investments and instead uses a flexible and scalable architecture with a much smaller monthly operating expense.

No matter the approaches or breakthroughs, most security video storage today is spinning media.

But, as savvy system integrators and IT professionals know, storage of security video is vastly different than storage of emails, for instance. One bottom line: Security video storage devices must ingress vast amounts of image information without burping.

Which gets us to devices, designs and redundancies particular to the security video application. Generally this falls into one of three categories – directly attached storage (DAS), storage area network (SAN), or network attached storage (NAS).

DAS is the simplest and most economical for storage that needs to be accessed by only a single server. As the name implies DAS provides storage directly attached to a server. The methods of attachment vary, according to a white paper on storage from Avigilon.

It is obvious that video surveillance application requirements are growing exponentially. The number of cameras, frames per second and longer retention periods are creating enormous performance and capacity requirements.

So selecting the right storage platform is critical to an enterprise security leader’s success. Beyond a commodity peripheral, according to DataDirect Networks (DDN) robust storage platforms are the key to providing the scalable bandwidth needed to capture and store 100s to 1,000s of high-definition and megapixel camera streams and the scalable capacity to manage multiple terabyte and petabyte environments with the fewest systems, floor space and power.

Among DDN advice, security executives and system integrators should aim at:

 

•  Scalable NAS, SAN and cloud solutions

•  Ensure ingest performance with no impact during disk drive rebuilds

•  Affordable, high-density and low-overhead storage capacity

•  Energy savings at archiving

•  Long-term data protection

 

Networking Influence

A storage area network (SAN) is a dedicated network that provides access to consolidated, block-level data storage. SANs are primarily used to make storage devices, such as disk arrays, tape libraries and optical jukeboxes, accessible to servers so that the devices appear like locally attached devices to the operating system. A SAN typically has its own network of storage devices that are generally not accessible through the local area network by other devices. The cost and complexity of SANs dropped in the early 2000s to levels allowing wider adoption across both enterprise and small to medium sized business and security environments.

Network-attached storage (NAS) is filelevel data storage connected to a network. NAS not only operates as a file server, but is specialized for this task either by its hardware, software or configuration of those elements. NAS is often made as an appliance – a specialized computer built from the ground up for storing and serving files of video images – rather than simply a general purpose computer being used for the role.

For security video applications, NAS devices have gained in popularity. Potential benefits of network-attached storage, compared to file servers, include faster data access, easier administration and simple configuration. NAS systems are networked appliances which contain one or more hard drives, often arranged into logical, redundant storage containers or RAID arrays.

RAID or redundant array of independent disks is an umbrella term for data storage schemes that can divide and replicate data among multiple physical drives. The physical drives are said to be in a RAID array, which is accessed by the operating system as one single drive. The different schemes or architectures are RAID 0 through 8, each scheme a different balance between three key goals – resiliency, performance and capacity.

Storage can, of course, do more than store.

Take, for example, King Soopers, a supermarket chain owned by The Kroger Company with a presence across Colorado, and its use of security video at a massive distribution center that occupies approximately 550,000 square feet located on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains.

At the distribution center, when the previous analog video system started to fail, replacing it became urgent. Due to the size of the facility and the limited capabilities of the analog system, the enterprise had not been getting the image quality it needed. Video had been recorded to a DVR, which was failing and wouldn’t keep the date and time or control the pan-tilt-zoom cameras.

 

Server Needs

King Soopers saw the benefits of a megapixel IP camera solution, according to Chris Keith of integrator United Systems, and who picked Arecont Vision cameras. King Soopers is pleased with the quality of the cameras, having the ability to pan/tilt/ zoom digitally without the loss of the current view. This allows them to put a focus on walkway paths and still view wider scenes.

A new NVR/storage system is built around an ExacqVision 24-terabyte server. Video signals are transmitted using fiber and Cat-6 cabling. The system is being monitored both locally by onsite managers viewing day-to-day operations and centrally by the corporate office. United Systems designed the system, performed the installation and provides on-going service. The megapixel cameras provide image quality, and a digital zoom makes the image even more useful, according to Robert Urbanek, information technology manager, advantage logistics for King Soopers.

For Baxter International Inc., a global healthcare company, higher level storage was part of the firm’s plans to transition from an analog world with DVRs to an IP environment, including an Intransa scalable external IP storage system. The storage solution enables Baxter to eliminate the risk of video loss, more than double video storage capacity and establish a “future-proof” IT standards-based storage platform that can expand as requirements grow. Baxter had the choice of using “native” video management software the DVRs were equipped with unchanged, or use a VMS of their choice, one certified to work with the Intransa VideoAppliance technology.

 With fault tolerant, IT-grade technology used throughout the Intransa IP storage solution and with integrated, advanced RAID protection, the risk of lost video of unprotected DVRs is also a thing of the past for Baxter.

In another application, NVRs are at the heart of a megapixel camera design at Gistex, one of the largest manufacturing companies in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, which focuses on the production of textiles, garments and fashion.

A local firm, Smart Buildings and Automation integrated the new IP megapixel video system, including Arecont Vision technology, for better resolution, clarity and depth of field, along with easier maintenance.

Megapixel Cameras Expensive? Think Again

There is a misconception in the security industry that megapixel cameras are more expensive than conventional cameras. Don’t believe it, contends Scott Schafer, executive vice president at Arecont Vision.

Megapixel cameras provide superior performance and imaging capabilities versus analog and           standard definition IP cameras. Megapixel cameras are also field-proven to deliver the most cost-effective video surveillance solutions. To understand real value, it’s important to focus not on the price of a single camera but on the overall system cost.

Analog and standard definition IP cameras may be lower-priced than megapixel cameras (on a per-camera basis), but these cameras are far more expensive if you evaluate costs system-wide. The truth is that analog and standard IP cameras provide a weak value proposition and a poor return on investment (ROI).

When end users buy cameras, what they are really purchasing is the ability to view video that effectively achieves the goals of the application. They need video that provides facial identification, recognizes license plates, captures numbers off of shipping crates and/or captures images of activity in retail stores, bank branches, company or government facilities or at borders, airports or ports. They are purchasing the capabilities, or the functionality, the cameras can provide. When you consider the price of analog or VGA cameras compared to their functionality, the picture changes dramatically. Megapixel cameras provide much more bang for the buck – that is, more value for the price – than lower-resolution cameras.

Megapixel cameras do a better job of capturing more information than standard-resolution cameras, and that superior performance translates into ROI in multiple ways. If you consider the concept of “pixels per meter” (that a certain number of pixels are required to depict one meter of a scene for a specific application), it’s clear that more pixels equate to an ability to view larger areas. For example, where 10 standard-resolution cameras might have previously been required to cover a parking lot, the same application can now be served using three or four strategically-positioned 3-megapixel cameras or even a single megapixel panoramic camera, depending on the application requirements.

A real value of megapixel cameras is the ability to provide more “resolution per dollar” than analog or VGA cameras. Using estimated pricing and numbers of pixels as a quantitative measure of resolution, it’s easy to demonstrate that megapixel cameras provide more resolution for the money.

The following grid illustrates the real cost effectiveness among various camera resolutions. VGA or standard definition cameras provide about 300,000 pixels per camera.  Megapixel cameras provide 1,300,000 to 10,000,000 pixels per camera, or more.

 

Class

Resolution

Pixels

Pixels/$1

VGA

640 x 480

307,200

1,536

HDTV 720p

1,280 x 720

921,600

3,686

1.3MP

1,280 x 1,024

1,310,000

4,188

2MP

1,600 x 1,200

1,920,000

5,714

HDTV 1080p

1,920 x 1,080

2,073,000

6,170

3MP

2,048 x 1,536

3,145,728

5,454

5MP

2,592 x 1,944

5,038,848

8,333

10MP

3,648 x 2,752

10,039,296

15,385

 

 

This clearly shows that the most cost-effective solutions are multi-megapixel cameras. The VGA camera only provides 1,536 pixels per U.S. dollar ($). Compare that to 1080p cameras at 5,714 pixels/dollar and 10MP cameras at 15,385 pixels per dollar.

Understanding “resolution per dollar” makes it simple to evaluate which camera (or what number of cameras) is appropriate for a given application. Based on “pixels per meter” you know how many pixels you need to view a certain area. “Resolution per dollar” makes it clear which camera (or group of cameras) can provide that needed number of pixels most cost-effectively.

When crunching the numbers on a new system installation, it is helpful to take a broad view of overall system costs. The complete cost of the system is obviously a better measure than the price of a single component. The price of a single component is not a good reason to dismiss a new technology as too expensive without considering how the extra expense will be offset by added functionality and other system cost savings. In the case of megapixel cameras, beyond the lower resolution-per-dollar cost analysis, other factors include a decrease in installation costs by using fewer cameras, the elimination of mechanical pan-tilt-zoom devices and a reduction in operations staff. Using fewer cameras to cover large areas also translates into cost savings related to infrastructure (cables, mounts, housings, etc.), which makes it easy to realize an ROI.

So now you know, says Schafer.  Analog and standard definition VGA IP cameras provide the worst value and therefore are the most expensive cameras you can buy. Next time, go for the best image quality and best price by choosing megapixel cameras. They deliver the best ROI.

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