A Technology Advancement

The video surveillance industry has turned to using tape to affordably store video

Analog cameras. BNC cables. 300TVL surveillance cameras. VCR tape recordings. It is amazing that the year of convergence from analog to IP was supposed to be 2008 but it was not until 2012 that IP-cameras started to outsell analog cameras. We sure have come a long way from those analog-oriented days.

There are many surveillance manager stories of rooms full of VCR tapes with camera recordings and the hours -- even days – it would take to find an incident and copy out an evidentiary version.

Good thing those days are behind us. Typewriters anyone?

However, what is still interesting within the physical security industry is how dependent on hard disk-based -single tier- surveillance retention storage systems. Why have we sacrificed so much in terms of video quality, frame rates and motion-only recordings to keep our storage requirements from ballooning? Why have we not embraced multi-tiered storage like so many other industries?

With VMS being the center of the universe of our industry, it is the VMS that needs to be able to understand multi-tiered storage, yet nearly every single VMS only cares about recording video to a “C:/ drive” and has no capability of using two-tier storage directly from the main timeline of the VMS.

Sure, there are VMS packages that can archive video recordings off to other storage. But when the operator needs to move their timeline back months or years, these VMS systems need to execute numerous extra steps -truly jumping through numerous hoops- to be able to playback any of the “archived” video, even from those VMS systems that can archive video.


Think about the “record-on-motion” functionality in so many VMS systems. Although, this was a significantly creative feature to deal with what was once extremely costly hard disk-based storage, it delivers the most common cause of missed video because the motion frequently didn’t catch the actual activity that the video surveillance system was implemented to capture in the first place.

Then there is the practice of reducing the frames per second of the video recordings. Even though IP-cameras are capable of 30fps, you can get into heated debates where people argue about what the human eye can and can’t see and how anything over 15fps is a waste of storage. Really?

Let’s also talk about the high-resolution cameras. Cameras are capable of capturing such fine detail with great clarity. But where are we going to store all that video?

Surveillance operators and directors will tell you that a signifi- cant number of incidents are caught via forensic playback mode, not during live monitoring. Why is the practice to record and save a lower-resolution feed? Because of the storage costs, that’s why.


If we step back and look at other industries that center around video storage, we can see that there is a better, smarter, more economical way to accomplish it.

Dailies. B-Rolls. Circle-takes. These digital video-oriented processes of the Hollywood production industry have –for over 15 years now– seen an explosion in the volume of recorded video that must be stored and managed. Entirely new workflows have been created to handle the deluge of video that digital movie-set cameras have unleashed.

In those old days, parts of movies, TV shows and commercials would end up on the cutting room floor, as sections of film were edited out of the production. Nowadays, every “take” is kept and possibly re-used in the bloopers reel or the director’s cut release.

What our colleagues in the very similar Media and Entertainment (M&E) industry have learned is how to manage this vast amount of (and significantly growing) recorded video that is generated every day.

Hollywood has already learned that if you can’t get back to the recorded video quickly and easily, it becomes useless to retain it. Hollywood has already learned how to use tried-and-true I.T. storage technologies to store terabytes and petabytes of video at the lowest possible costs (especially operational costs). The M&E industry has learned how to use multiple tiers of storage to better manage their recorded video.

Just like in the video surveillance industry, video is not frequently reused or viewed after initial recording. And just like the video surveillance market, this rapid expansion of video assets is a relatively recent change and these newer solutions are now maturing. What existing digital storage technologies are trustworthy enough to store our video assets and ensure they will be there when we need them?


LTO storage has been available since 2000, and has become a de facto standard in computer data tape storage. It is widely used in the Hollywood marketplace. The challenge for many in the video surveillance/security marketplace is that when they see the word “tape” they hear “VHS.” Although tape is indeed a fourletter word, it is not your grandfather’s tape deck.

Around the time of the release of LTO-1, Seagate’s magnetic tape division was spun off, and eventually acquired by Quantum. Today, IBM, HP, Quantum, Spectra Logic, Oracle, along with a number of others manufacture LTO data tape libraries with IBM manufacturing the LTO drives. The current shipping generation, LTO-9, delivers 18-Terabyte storage cartridges. LTO-8 is plentiful at 12-terabytes raw capacity with a street price of about $99 per cartridge.

Adoption of LTO is already firmly established in the Hollywood media production environment. One of the driving forces behind this adoption is a mandate for many feature motion picture productions by insurance companies that content (video) captured on set or on location be archived to LTO tape on a daily basis.

LTO meets the dual needs of the studios and the insurance bonding companies. The bonding companies feel safer and more at ease with digital because the content is archived on LTO, the same tape-based platform that banks use.

LTO is rated at up to 30 years archival shelf life. It provides for 5,000 cartridge loads/unloads and it allows for approximately 260 full file passes (with one full pass equal to writing enough data to fill an entire tape cartridge). With the sequential data structure format of video, LTO data tape becomes an ideal storage medium.

An appropriate surveillance video workflow however must be put into place to properly utilize LTO as a video surveillance storage medium. Just like in the Hollywood market, there needs to be a way to reference the original video stored on LTO data tape without any prolonged delays. Just like Hollywood’s video editors, video surveillance operators cannot afford to wait to search and playback recorded video.

It is extremely important that the video surveillance management software provide the ability for the operator to move about the recorded video “timeline” without concern for where the video is ultimately stored. Surveillance operators need the ability to view any and all recorded video to find the proverbial needle in the ever-growing video storage haystack.

As in almost every video surveillance investigation, there is a fair level of forward or backward “scrubbing” to actually find the video of interest we are looking to review. This is another reason the surveillance operator must have the ability, without any extra steps or intervention from the “I.T.” staff to access the needed video.

Then, just like a Hollywood editor, a surveillance video operator can select the snippet of video needed to deliver to HR/Police/ Court/ by directing the system to the specific original, untouched – unaltered, recorded video located on a specific LTO cartridge.

This taking but a few minutes of transfer time to complete. This best-practices approach to multi-tiered video storage also delivers appropriate “chain-of-custody” needed to submit the video as evidence in a court of law.

However, it’s the speed that surveillance video operators will care about most with the ability to quickly find the video they are interested in.

From a cost standpoint, this becomes a superior infrastructure. Compare the acquisition costs of terabytes and petabytes of spinning NAS and SAN and then the cost of an appropriate LTO data tape library, complete with robotics. Understand that this is not an either-or proposition. The ideal video surveillance storage infrastructure will have a necessary amount of hard-disk based storage aligned with a second-tier of LTO storage for long-term retention.

The LTO implementation is significantly less expensive. Adding in the three- to four-year lifespan of spinning disks compared to the 30-year longevity of LTO incurs another maintenance cost. Now, throw in the ongoing monthly operational costs of electricity for all that spinning disk and the cooling costs to keep those SAN/ NAS units spinning. 24/7. Year ‘round. Those costs add up quickly.

Implementing a sound multi-tiered video storage infrastructure with spinning disk and LTO storing unaltered, original video allows for more video to be stored for much less. How do we create a disk-and-LTO infrastructure to provide us what we need in video storage, without breaking the bank?

When contemplating a 21st century surveillance video management solution, we realize that a spinning disk-only approach harkens us back to pre-Columbus days. There are better ways to reach our destination. We all want to store as much video as we can. We want to record at the highest resolutions. We want to record with the highest frame rates. And we want it as affordable as possible. So why not learn from our colleagues in the Hollywood market?

Embracing the sequential data structure format of video along with the sequential recoding method of LTO tape delivers an ideal storage solution. And done properly the implementation of LTO multi-tiered storage surveillance video recording is actually the perfect “killer app” for using LTO storage in video surveillance.

Thanks Hollywood.

This article originally appeared in the January / February 2021 issue of Security Today.


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