In A Flash

Surveillance data is critical in applications ranging from retail to government, and gaming to transportation. Today, video usage is moving beyond security and safety to other key business functions such as training, staffing, marketing and traffic flow. The strategic value of video data is made possible because of advancements in IP-based megapixel cameras and the intelligence of incoming video streams, which are increasingly tagged with information to improve search capabilities. But the influx in high-resolution video data combined with the greater amount of VMS features creates a significant performance challenge for video surveillance storage systems, which are the core of any surveillance deployment. Flash memory is a compelling new high-performance storage technology, but the price premium over disk drives is so large that it takes some creative thinking to make flash costeffective for mainstream surveillance environments.

In A Flash

The impact of high-resolution cameras on video storage systems is dramatic. The improved clarity and analytic capabilities so valued by security practitioners place a heavy load on the slowest component in the system—the disk drive. Similarly, tagging video with attributes such as location, time, GPS, color or motion increases the size of incoming data streams that must be captured and stored in real time.

All of this new functionality requires an innovative approach to meet the manageability, performance and cost expectations of the video surveillance market. As more security systems embrace IP infrastructure, storage vendors are incorporating more functionality in appliances to enable scalability, simplicity, and immediate and long-term savings. Today, there is a new focus on bringing technologies commonly seen in consumer-based technologies to the surveillance market to increase performance and reliability. Flash memory is one of the technologies that can benefit the market, but many see this option as cost-prohibitive for today’s budget-conscious user. In this article, we look at the pluses and minuses of flash storage and how unique approaches to the technology can boost performance when used in specific security applications.

Flash Gains Traction

You may not be aware, but flash memory is everywhere. Flash memory products are found in iPods, digital cameras, thumb drives and even game consoles, such as Wii. The technology has helped increase the development and adoption of portable devices, and it is likely to become only more affordable and better performing as time passes.

Even so, flash technology is only just beginning to be used in the security and video surveillance markets, and it is used only in limited technologies, most of which are new and unique innovations. Flash brings a variety of benefits to the consumer market, but what benefits can it bring to surveillance? What is it about flash memory that makes the technology attractive, and how can it be deployed to meet the specific needs of video surveillance users?

Strength in Speed

With the name “flash,” you would expect that this chip-based storage technology is fast. And you’d be right; it is. Flash memory can be more than 100 times faster than familiar disk drives. Read and write times vary by device, but flash is especially effective when it eliminates the spin-up time of traditional mechanical disks.

Flash-based technologies deliver other benefits, as well. These solid-state devices eliminate the mechanical frailties of a disk drive spinning at thousands of revolutions per minute (rpms). Therefore, they are less likely to break when a user drops or damages the units. Flash devices are also quite quiet, which is a change from traditional spinning drives that can make quite a racket.

Considering the benefits of flash memory, the question becomes, why haven’t flash devices replaced disk drives entirely in surveillance? The answer lies in the wide disparity of cost and the difference in reliability between the two technologies.

Comparison Points

First, the price difference between flash memory devices and traditional disk-based storage is startling. A 1-TB SATA drive costs approximately $100 while a 1-TB flash drive appropriate for video surveillance is 10 to 50 times more expensive. That means 1 TB of flash can cost between $1,000 and $5,000, a substantial increase that would scare off most budget-conscious customers. Overall, that storage cost premium would add more than $500,000 to the budget of a mid-size airport installation, for example. Therefore, because of economics and budgetary needs, it is clear that flash will not be selected, or demanded, as the primary storage technology for a large-scale surveillance deployment.

While it is expected that flash devices will decrease in cost over time, disk drives will similarly drop in cost, and the delta between the technologies will remain through the end of the decade. As a result, disk drives will continue to be the primary storage solution for the huge files generated by today’s highresolution, IP-based surveillance cameras that are commonly being used in large-scale surveillance systems.

Flash on Board

Now, if a customer requires only a small amount of capacity, then a single flash chip could be an attractive option. This is why surveillance camera manufacturers are adding SD card slots— on-board storage—in particular camera models: to locally store video in distributed environments with limited retention times. We’ve seen an influx in cameras with on-board SD storage in the last year, and this is predominately due to the cost benefit. A 32 GB flash card, for example, costs approximately $40 and can store about a week’s worth of video at fairly low resolution and frame rates. Altogether, adding SD cards to 100 cameras would cost about $4,000.

There are some downsides to camera-based flash cards. The camera—and the video on the camera’s flash card—is a single point of failure that is easily subject to loss, theft or vandalism, leaving video data unprotected and at risk. Because of the risks associated with video and equipment loss, this design simply does not work for installations where video is critical for liability or regulatory issues, or those located in high-risk areas. The critical importance of video data demands that video is available at all times, and it is paramount that mission-critical systems run 24/7 and maintain a high level of performance.

With this in mind, flash attached to cameras seems more suited to small installations with limited liability exposure.

The newest idea for applying flash technology to video surveillance is to place small amounts of it as a disk drive accelerator so that more high-resolution camera channels and more tagged video can be supported with the slowest, most inexpensive disks.

The blending of flash memory for speed and spinning disk storage for economics has been difficult to achieve in the past because conventional IT storage systems required huge amounts of flash to keep up with dense, incoming video streams.

The solution is to introduce small amounts of flash in storage appliances and then scale up both the flash and the disk as additional channels are added or additional capacity is needed. By aggregating the expensive flash memory across multiple appliances, it can be cost effectively added into a surveillance system to improve performance while increasing the cost only slightly.

Many users think of video feeds as streaming and sequential. But new video tagging data—also known as video intelligence— introduces non-sequential information that is difficult for slow-spinning disks to accommodate. As video management software introduces new features and capabilities, the support for tagging video can be sped up dramatically with a discriminating use of flash. The Pivot3 vSTAC Watch appliances, for example, are the first video surveillance storage products to include 200 GB of flash memory with each appliance. The ratio of flash to disk capacity is less than 1 percent, but the write performance for latency-sensitive operations improves by 10 times.

Flash Forward

As video surveillance has changed, video storage systems have changed to meet the needs of the surveillance user. Over the past 20 years, tape systems gave way to disk-based systems. Then stand-alone DVRs migrated to RAID-protected NVRs. Recently, shared storage and even virtualization technologies are making their way to the mainstream. Flash technology is the latest example of how a technology widely used outside of surveillance can be deployed in a custom way to meet the specific needs of the surveillance user, whether applied to cameras or high-end storage systems. Users must look closely at their specific needs to see how flash can benefit their environments.

Product manufacturers will similarly need to look at how new applications of flash memory can improve their offerings to best maintain valuable video evidence that helps security end users reduce fraud and criminal activity.

About the Author

Lee Caswell is the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Pivot3.

Featured

  • Survey: Less Than Half of IT Leaders are Confident in their IoT Security Plans

    Viakoo recently released findings from its 2024 IoT Security Crisis: By the Numbers. The survey uncovers insights from IT and security executives, exposes a dramatic surge in enterprise IoT security risks, and highlights a critical missing piece in the IoT security technology stack. The clarion call is clear: IT leaders urgently need to secure their IoT infrastructure one application at a time in an automated and expeditious fashion. Read Now

  • ASIS International and SIA Release “Complexities in the Global Security Market: 2024 Through 2026”

    ASIS International and the Security Industry Association (SIA) – the leading security associations for the security industry – have released ”Complexities in the Global Security Market: 2024 Through 2026”, a new research report that provides insights into the equipment, technologies, and employment of the global security industry, including regional market breakouts. SIA and ASIS partnered with global analytics and advisory firm Omdia to complete the research. Read Now

  • President Biden Issues Executive Order to Bolster U.S Port Cybersecurity

    On Wednesday, President Biden issued an Executive Order to bolster the security of the nation’s ports, alongside a series of additional actions that will strengthen maritime cybersecurity and more Read Now

  • Report: 15 Percent of All Emails Sent in 2023 Were Malicious

    VIPRE Security Group recently released its report titled “Email Security in 2024: An Expert Look at Email-Based Threats”. The 2024 predictions for email security in this report are based on an analysis of over 7 billion emails processed by VIPRE worldwide during 2023. This equates to almost one email for everyone on the planet. Of those, roughly 1 billion (or 15%) were malicious. Read Now

Featured Cybersecurity

Whitepapers

New Products

  • Camden CM-221 Series Switches

    Camden CM-221 Series Switches

    Camden Door Controls is pleased to announce that, in response to soaring customer demand, it has expanded its range of ValueWave™ no-touch switches to include a narrow (slimline) version with manual override. This override button is designed to provide additional assurance that the request to exit switch will open a door, even if the no-touch sensor fails to operate. This new slimline switch also features a heavy gauge stainless steel faceplate, a red/green illuminated light ring, and is IP65 rated, making it ideal for indoor or outdoor use as part of an automatic door or access control system. ValueWave™ no-touch switches are designed for easy installation and trouble-free service in high traffic applications. In addition to this narrow version, the CM-221 & CM-222 Series switches are available in a range of other models with single and double gang heavy-gauge stainless steel faceplates and include illuminated light rings. 3

  • Luma x20

    Luma x20

    Snap One has announced its popular Luma x20 family of surveillance products now offers even greater security and privacy for home and business owners across the globe by giving them full control over integrators’ system access to view live and recorded video. According to Snap One Product Manager Derek Webb, the new “customer handoff” feature provides enhanced user control after initial installation, allowing the owners to have total privacy while also making it easy to reinstate integrator access when maintenance or assistance is required. This new feature is now available to all Luma x20 users globally. “The Luma x20 family of surveillance solutions provides excellent image and audio capture, and with the new customer handoff feature, it now offers absolute privacy for camera feeds and recordings,” Webb said. “With notifications and integrator access controlled through the powerful OvrC remote system management platform, it’s easy for integrators to give their clients full control of their footage and then to get temporary access from the client for any troubleshooting needs.” 3

  • A8V MIND

    A8V MIND

    Hexagon’s Geosystems presents a portable version of its Accur8vision detection system. A rugged all-in-one solution, the A8V MIND (Mobile Intrusion Detection) is designed to provide flexible protection of critical outdoor infrastructure and objects. Hexagon’s Accur8vision is a volumetric detection system that employs LiDAR technology to safeguard entire areas. Whenever it detects movement in a specified zone, it automatically differentiates a threat from a nonthreat, and immediately notifies security staff if necessary. Person detection is carried out within a radius of 80 meters from this device. Connected remotely via a portable computer device, it enables remote surveillance and does not depend on security staff patrolling the area. 3