You can afford to store your surveillance data: Storage management basics

The Boston Marathon bombing turned the klieg lights on surveillance video. More people were taking photos and videos of the race finish line than of possibly any other location in the world at that moment, so the Boston Police Department (BPD) requested...


The Boston Marathon bombing turned the klieg lights on surveillance video. More people were taking photos and videos of the race finish line than of possibly any other location in the world at that moment, so the Boston Police Department (BPD) requested video and photos from businesses and spectators to help find the attackers. The BPD and Federal Bureau of Investigation searched thousands of videos and images for information; ultimately, video from a Lord & Taylor store surveillance camera proved instrumental in identifying the two brothers who carried out the attack.

Businesses have long relied on surveillance data, and recent events are prompting many municipalities, including Boston, to increase the number of surveillance cameras. This increase in the number of cameras produces an increased amount of video data and metadata—such as the data and time of the video or image capture—as well as the need to store it all. New generations of cameras, video management software, and storage solutions are available to facilitate the storage of video data and to provide access when needed. Understanding some of the surveillance market’s challenges, and relative advantages of today’s top storage technologies, including disk and tape, can help surveillance storage system managers minimize their solution’s cost and architectural complexity, while maximizing storage capacity and flexibility.

A growing appetite for video storage

“I don’t necessarily agree with Moore’s Law,”—the observation that computing capacity, or the number of transistors on integrated circuits, doubles every 18 months—“but it’s very applicable to storage,” says Business Development Manager Vince Ricco at Axis Communications, which manufactures cameras and develops video management software systems. “We have a growing appetite for longer storage of video.” The question is how to store that video. Decisions include whether to rent storage (cloud) or own it (on-site disk and tape), the length of time to store the data, the resolution of the stored data, and a method for finding and readily accessing data after it’s stored.

Before these storage techniques can be implemented, however, the surveillance storage requirements must be reasonably well characterized. Retention requirements are a key consideration when designing the storage system. Chief spokesman Paul J. Browne of the New York Police Department (NYPD) says under its privacy policy, the department discards images after 30 days, unless the images are part of an active investigation.

More organizations are moving toward keeping large quantities of data, but may be using applications to reduce the frame rates of older video. As rate storage capacities expand and costs decline, the NYPD may already be able to retain older files for longer periods—and encrypt the older files to comply with their privacy requirements.

Video-aware information management

Today, the surveillance infrastructure marketplace offers far more dynamic, easily scalable, and efficient alternatives to this inflexible strategy than ever before. The practice of Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) is defined as the strategies based on risk, business rules, and events used to administer storage systems that manage business data and metadata from the moment of creation and initial storage to the time it is deleted. ILM principles can be applied to storage management, allowing organizations to retain surveillance video over its useful life, at appropriate file sizes and frame rates, for as long as the video data is needed. Now, “video-aware” software with Video Lifecycle Management (VLM) capabilities is available to address these challenges.

Managing video throughout its lifecycle

The available storage platforms for video data have typically been limited to disk storage. Everything has been designed for disk.

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