Going Virtual

Hardware will make the difference in successful deployment

Most people in the industry are familiar with how the NVR has changed the face of security video projects worldwide. As security hardware professionals, you may have been asked, “Aren’t NVRs just servers?” or “Can we use one of our extra e-mail machines as an NVR?” You might answer with a reserved, “Yes, but....”

As with almost all leading-edge technologies, few product sectors ever sit idle without introducing new advancements, and security video recording is getting ready to make some giant leaps forward. Let us look at the next big thing in NVR technology: virtual machines.

The Next Stage
The requirements for an advanced IP video management system are simple: a group of IP cameras, a liverecording NVR server machine and a storage server if long retention times are needed.

Most security video projects require IP-based video systems to be scalable and capable of growing with the client’s evolving needs. These demands often call for the strategic placement of multiple live-recording NVR servers and storage servers across the network.

Continuing with this scenario, system managers need to be focused on securing the servers, managing networks and overseeing updates and other issues across the NVR array. Virtualization is the next evolutionary stage of the IP-based video management system. It can provide great benefits when used correctly.

Preparation is vital to properly deploying a virtualized environment. The key component to a successful deployment is to use qualified hardware that can leverage the software and hardware technologies together.

Windows Server 2008 R2 is a platform that embraces the virtualization technology as a standard in its operating system. The Windows platform has become the platform of choice for the majority of the top-tiered video management software vendors on the market.

Intel’s Xeon processor family is a key playmaker in the virtualization revolution. It provides everything from entry-level to enterprise-level scalable processors that adapt to specific needs.

A New Standard
Virtualization will become the standard when deploying medium- and large-scale IP-based video management systems and long-term storage. Virtualization allows IP-based VMSs to do more with less.

Instead of five to 10 live NVR servers taking up 5U to 10U worth of rack space in a server room, virtualization needs only a 1U to 2U form factor, which reduces hardware costs and energy use. The sustainability factor in energy use and reduction in materials is immediate and continuous throughout the hardware life cycle.

By leveraging the technologies in the virtualized system, it becomes an efficiently scalable system and adapts appropriately to the current environment.

Hardware downtimes can benefit from virtualization through quick and easy backups and restoring of virtual server instances. In addition, it can create server clusters that act as a fail-safe mechanism that automatically takes control of a failing server. By combining virtualization with a solid VMS, the road to efficient, reliable and sustainable systems can be achieved now and scaled for the future.

For example, a large school district, such as San Diego, which consists of more than 300 schools and facilities, is using an ONSSI Ocularis-DS platform to manage all its locations. Each school has a physical server and is connected to the Intranet through a gigabit connection. The missing piece in their system is a fail-safe mechanism that will allow for minimal downtime when a server goes down due to software issues. Their current procedure is typical of most IPbased VMS environments: they replace the failed unit with another unit.

This downtime can range from days to weeks, based on the availability of the new replacement unit. With an NVR virtualization plan that will allow for a local and global fail-safe server environment on their internal cloud, each local server would have two virtual server instances. This allows for a local fail-safe environment that improves the efficiency and reliability of the system. The second piece to the virtualization is an external environment that resides within the internal cloud of their network.

The creation of a virtual server cluster environment will allow these server clusters to be queued to take control of failing servers on the internal cloud network.

This type of environment will give them the assurance that if the local environment fails altogether, there is a contingency plan to keep the system alive.

Benefits of Virtualization
The first benefit is in the sustainability for public and private institutions. Making the systems easy to use and maintain will translate to more systems being purchased and installed over the long term.

Another important advantage of using a virtualization environment is the immediate impact on energy use. A 1U standard server can consume approximately 15 kilowatts a month. This figure does not include any other additional equipment that may be needed to support this 1U server, such as cooling. Now take into account that a single 1-2U server (with the proper hardware configuration) can virtualize approximately 10 server environments. By going from 10 physical NVR servers to just one, an institution can save approximately 135 kW a month on energy use for the extent of its hardware life cycle.

Costs and Savings
In the current economic climate, virtualization is an attractive option not only to secure your business or institution with an IP VMS, but also to cut energy and hardware costs that are required to deploy a medium- to large-scale IP-based system.

Some of the higher-end security-based NVR manufacturers are starting to release virtual NVRs as part of the feature set. The NVRs need Microsoft Server 2008 R2, which includes the virtualization architecture as a standard and needs to support current and future Intel Xeon processors with the ability to scale to a multiple CPU configuration. Some NVR servers are engineered for low-power consumption without sacrificing performance.

With many companies jumping into the security product space, it is important to research carefully, as not all machines are built with this technology in mind. Performance and reliability are vital to NVR design philosophy, so it is no surprise that very few manufacturers can refresh their perspective hardware monthly to keep the end product current with hardware technology advancements.

Future advancements will allow even smaller form-factor, edge-based NVRs with the upcoming embedded OS version of Server 2008 R2 to further reduce energy use and increase efficiency of newer VMS updates.

This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of Security Today.

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