To The Rescue

To The Rescue

Surveillance footage will reveal the truth

Jim Short can’t name names, but one of his NVR clients is a Los Angeles hotel brimming with $3,000 a night suites, and a parking garage stocked with vehicles that most of us only dream of owning. One day, a customer stormed into the lobby raging that his car had been keyed—a clear, glaring defacement of his prized paint job. Long story short, the hotel manager tried to pull up the garage’s surveillance footage and found … nothing.

More embarrassingly, the third-party hard drive containing the footage was not operational. The hotel manager sent the drive off for forensic data recovery, incurring well over $1,000 in costs, only to discover that the drive had suffered a failure a month before the event. Had they turned on the NUUO “Health Monitoring,” he might have discovered the malfunction almost immediately. The moral of this story highlights the importance of drive reliability, and a system to check on drive performance.

To create a better NVR solution for the hotel and hundreds of other customers, Short, the new business development manager for surveillance solution provider NUUO, had to delve into the heart of its product line and find a better way to safeguard the customers’ data. At the same time, he had to address another major business problem his company was facing from third-party drives.

As customers increasingly show an insatiable hunger for terabytes of storage, NUUO had begun to see a rapid uptick in customers buying NVRs with no surveillance-class hard drives pre-installed. NUUO couldn’t compete with big third-party e-tailers on volume, and by mid-2015, NUUO’s monthly hard drive sales had flat lined and was heading for zero.

THE CASE OF THE DISAPPEARING DRIVE SALES

There are numerous reasons behind this growing appetite for more storage. The global video surveillance space is experiencing a 22 percent CAGR, according to Research and Markets in its recent report “Global Video Surveillance Market 2016-2020,” which also pegs wireless connectivity as a key driver behind growth, particularly in locations where network infrastructure may be sparse.

Another key trend is that the average resolution of IP surveillance cameras keeps creeping higher, observed HIS Technology in its “Video Surveillance Intelligence Service—August 2015” report[JAJ1]. The typical 640x480 streams of a decade ago have given way to megapixel feeds, with 4K cameras now gaining steam in high-end deployments.

NUUO offers NVRs ranging from a single-drive, eight-stream “Solo” model up through the 2U rackmounted surveillance-class “Crystal” system with 550 Mb/s of recording throughput. Data growth and resolution continually push NVR models to feature faster components; however, speed isn’t always the key metric. Data retention policies continue to explode, fueled primarily by demands from insurance providers, Short said.

“Just five years ago, a shopping mall application with maybe 300 cameras only required 30 to 90 days of surveillance storage,” Short said. “Nowadays, those same malls have requested a year’s worth of storage capability. One reason is because in the event of a slip and fall accident, injured parties have up to 12 months to file a claim against that mall. Furthermore, some industries require storage for up to two years.”

Combine more cameras with higher resolution/ frame rates and skyrocketing retention times—never mind that 88 percent of global surveillance users keep their cameras recording 24 hours a day, according to Seagate’s 2015 “Video Surveillance Trends Report”— and that adds up to an explosion in storage capacity requirements.

With customers often sourcing the cheapest storage they can find, losses from hard disk sales affect all NVR manufacturers’ bottom line, but not nearly as much as the corresponding rise in solution support costs. These costs, Short notes, are due to customers calling in about issues with third-party purchased products. He’d noticed that an increasing number of drives was failing because integrators were not using purpose-built surveillance drives, but selecting drives merely based on price. Many sites also had amassed large amounts of video storage and needed forensic data recovery.

Buyers naturally assumed that the fault rested with the NVR manufacturer, presenting NUUO with an escalating dilemma, especially when these installations did not have NUUO-sold drives: “Should we support these customers with problems that may be drive-associated, and offer a no-charge type of tech support, as we have in the past?” Short says. “Or do we change our business model and offer to support third-party drives as a paid option? We want to be the company that provides the best support for our integrators, but the number of hours spend troubleshooting problems not associated with the NVR can be very time consuming.”

A BETTER DRIVE FOR A BIGGER JOB

Plugging consumer-class hard drives into business applications is nothing new. After all, if a 4TB hard drive with the word “NAS” or “Surveillance” costs $20 more than one with “Desktop” on the label, why pay the extra? Behind the label, though, several answers await, and they fall into two buckets: construction and firmware.

While 3.5 inch hard drives adhere to an industry-standard form factor, interior design can vary considerably. For instance, a drive such as Seagate’s Surveillance HDD uses a higher grade of heads compared to its Desktop HDD, which is better suited to 24/7 operation. Similarly, the platter assembly is more finely balanced in a higher-end drive. Such upgrades allow surveillance-class drives to tolerate higher workloads without increased risk of failure. The Seagate Surveillance HDD, for example, sports a workload rate limit (WRL - the amount of data traffic a drive is rated to handle annually) of 180 TB/ year while the Desktop HDD is rated to manage 55 TB/year.

The ability to handle highly sustained use is essential in applications such as surveillance, where high quantities of traffic may pour non-stop into drives for months on end.

Furthermore, the ability to handle rotational vibration (RV) may be one of the most underrated features of these surveillance-class drive types. Sensors mounted to the drive’s circuit board can detect ambient vibration forces and take corrective action, for instance, decreasing RPM speeds. A slight drop in rotation rate is far more preferable than heads being jarred out of alignment, which can result in failed read/write operations. This leads to time-wasting data resends and potential data corruption.

Every hard drive generates some level of rotational vibration due to the nature of its motor and operation. The same is true of fans and other system components with moving parts. In a desktop PC, where components tend to be relatively few and well separated, RV is rarely a problem. However, in NAS or surveillance systems, where several hard drives may be packed close together in a single drive cage, RV can pose a severe performance issue, and even lead to premature drive failure—as NUUO so often noted.

Firmware plays an important role in drive performance and extending reliability. Manufacturers can “tune” a drive for different workload characteristics. Whereas a drive in a desktop PC setting is likely to encounter a mix of data types and tasks, the overall load will be light and usually focus on random reads.

In contrast, surveillance applications feature sustained, heavy loads that predominantly comprise write operations. Optimizing a drive’s firmware for a certain type of workload improves the drive’s ability to prioritize and respond to requests, resulting in faster response time, and less wear over the drive’s life.

RELYING ON RESCUE

Offering a higher caliber of hard drive was an important step forward for NUUO’s Short, but he knew the company had to go one step further in enhancing its value proposition to solve its business challenges. In the process of making Seagate Surveillance HDDs exclusive across NUUO’s product lines, he learned about Seagate’s recently launched Rescue service.

Seagate Rescue plans provide hard drive owners cost-efficient and easy access to world-class data recovery services so that in the unlikely event a drive fails during the coverage period, the customers do not incur any additional expenses for recovering their data1. As our unfortunate Los Angeles hotel manager found out, forensic data recovery typically costs hundreds to thousands of dollars. aWith Seagate Rescue, all costs are covered.

NUUO opted to provide its customers with 30 months of rescue coverage on all of its surveillance HDDs, absorbing the costs itself. Short anticipates that the company will more than recoup this expense in saved support time and increased sales.

Educating customers about NUUO’s adoption of Seagate Surveillance HDDs backed by rescue coverage can be time consuming, but Short said that many buyers are taking the value addition to heart. Since October 2015, NUUO has sold more than 500 Surveillance HDDs, and drive sales are steadily increasing, as support calls continue to drop. This is just one more concern that the Integrator can check off the list, he said.

“We went back to that hotel manager and swapped out his drives for Seagate Surveillance HDDs with Rescue coverage,” Short said. “We also advised him on improving his monitoring practices. In the end, we retained the customer, and he’s happier now than ever. We’re seeing that scenario play out over and over across our client base. When you put the right product into the right solution, everybody wins.”

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Security Today.

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