Pivot3 Technology Helps Secure Mall Of America

If you haven’t been to the Mall of America, it can be hard to imagine the enormous scale of the facility. Imagine the security challenges inherent in protecting more than 40 million visitors each year inside 4.2-million square feet of enclosed space. To put the project in perspective, consider that the world's most popular theme park sees only 17 million annual visitors and that the facility includes more than four miles of storefronts, not to mention a seven-acre indoor amusement park and a 1.2- million gallon aquarium.

The Mall of America uses several hundred cameras to provide safety and security for the 13,000 employees and more than 100,000 daily visitors (enough to make it Minnesota's third largest city). As part of a major upgrade to a digital system, the mall deployed a Pivot3 Serverless Computing Array running Genetec Omnicast video management system software to provide instant video search and retrieval, reliable storage and better image quality.

The plan to upgrade the video surveillance system to a digital system and standardize the infrastructure on a common platform became practical when the Mall ownership consolidated under the Triple Five Group.

“With all of the facilities under common management, it became practical to upgrade the installed analog systems to digital and to standardize on a common IT platform to minimize operating costs and provide for future expansion,” said Chris Lake-Smith, director of IT at Mall of America. “We have been working on a plan to double the size of this mall, and the Pivot3 combined storage and server solution provides us with the flexibility, the scalability and the cost of operation needed to expand much more efficiently than anything else we have looked at before.”

For security, this meant replacing the old video management system and videotape jukebox storage system. Going to a disk-based solution had several advantages over tape. These include the ability to instantly replay or search the videos, to copy videos without image degradation and to record continuously without gaps when tapes were being changed.

In the planning phase, the security group considered a Dell Storage Area Network (SAN) since another Triple Five Group property, the West Edmonton Mall, had installed a Dell SAN with the Genetec software. But security systems integrator VTI Security proposed an alternative solution: Pivot3 Serverless Computing, a simple-to-configure, appliance-based recording system specifically designed for surveillance applications.

The Pivot3 solution uses 40 percent less power than a separate Fiber Channel (FC) SAN and server arrangement. Its virtual machine recovery structure provides self-healing failover protection for both the storage and the Genetec applications in the event of any equipment failure. Since it uses Ethernet rather than FC connections, it is less expensive and doesn't require support staff with special FC expertise.

“Pivot3 has better redundancy to ensure system uptime and also has the ability to embed the Genetec Omnicast offering into a virtual environment,” said Rick Allan, VTI's chief technology officer. “We presented the technology to the IT department at the Triple Five Group, and once they weighed the cost and benefits, they agreed it was a better solution.”

The mall preserved its investment in existing analog cameras, but VTI installed Axis Communications encoders to convert the analog signals, so they could travel over an IP network. Because the Serverless Computing solution is based on standard Ethernet technology and not proprietary Fibre Channel, the mall personnel installed the networking gear and prepared the Ethernet switches.

The specification called for 15 days of storage at 24 frames per second and 4-CIF resolution (704 x 576), so six Pivot3 CloudBank appliances were selected, fitting 72 TB of storage capacity and six embedded servers into less than two feet of rack space. The units are designed with redundant power supplies, fans and disks that can be swapped out and replaced without losing any data.

“No one else offers the level of redundancy and availability that Pivot3 has on its hardware,” Allan said. “With traditional systems, you run the risk of losing a month's or a year's worth of evidence. But with Pivot3, even if an entire server fails, none of the data is lost.”

Installing and configuring the Pivot3 CloudBanks™ took less than a day, including time spent training IT staff from Edmonton and Mall of America. They ran a test scenario where they purposely failed one of the servers that contained a Virtual Machine. In less than a minute, the Virtual Machine had moved over to another CloudBank within the cluster. During the night, video recording was switched from the tape drives to the CloudBanks, and they have been operating smoothly ever since.

“With the Pivot3 CloudBanks and the Genetec system, we are getting a much clearer image than before, the image retention time has been expanded, and the system is reliable and easy to maintain,” Lake-Smith said. “With Pivot3 we can concentrate on managing the security of the Mall and not the security system. We are very happy with the decision we made.”

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