Educating End Users

Underquoting a system will cause nightmares for everyone

As a provider of storage for video surveillance systems, the hardest part of my job is educating end-users, integrators and consultants on the best way to purchase storage for their systems. Very often you find that a request for quote or email requesting information on storage provides the vaguest level of information, which allows every storage provider to deliver a different quote on the storage requirement.

This is a recipe for disaster, an invitation for storage providers to under quote their systems in the hope of winning jobs, and all but a guarantee that the actual end-user will spend more time and money down the road bringing their storage up to par with what they needed in the first place.

Storage is a physical thing. It involves mathematics and physics; if every single storage provider was asked to quote a project with 100 cameras operating at 15 frames per second using three megapixel cameras with 100 percent motion, storing for 30 days, the numbers should be close if not the same. If the answer to the above was 100 TB, then every storage provider should quote approximately 100 TB.

This is unfortunately not often the case. It is more likely that you will see as a part of a storage RFP a requirement shown in the document as “we have 100 cameras and we’d like to store them for 30 days.” This allows the storage provider unbelievable latitude in determining what amount of storage will be provided. One company, conservative in its approach, might decide to quote that line by making assumptions—no motion, full frame rate, three-megapixel cameras.

Another company, desirous of winning the job and not caring that the storage they quote will almost certainly not be the storage that’s required, will quote the above request on 75 percent motion, 4CIF and one quarter frame rate. The end-user, seeing a price from the second quote tens of thousands of dollars lower than the price from the first quote, jumps on that quote and says “That’s the winner, that’s our guy because they’re so inexpensive.”

What they don’t realize is that when they fire up their system they will have awful video quality and the slightest change to those quality settings will suddenly mean that the 30 days of retention is reduced to 25. They will run their cameras at a higher frame rate and guess what. The retention time goes down again. The end-user goes to their integrator and says “Hey I told you I needed 30 days of retention and my systems only giving me 20.” The integrator responds “Well, you accepted the bid. The fact that you want something more or better is not our fault.”

See below for various camera manufactures and the impact various settings have on the bit rates.

For the end-user to be possessed of the right and proper storage calculations they must either deliver to the integrator a properly detailed RFQ or be taught by the integrator how to write a detailed RFQ when it comes to storage. As was written earlier it is a matter of physics; you can’t put 40 gallons of water in a 30 gallon bucket no matter how hard you try and the same thing applies to storage. So, the smart thing for the end-user to do when preparing to put out a request for quote on a video surveillance storage system? Make sure that the storage requirement is exceptionally detailed, leaves no room for interpretation, and allows every single storage provider to quote exactly the same things.

See below for the impact of storage required based on various bit rates.

Apples to apples, folks.

For example, if an end-user needs to have a quote delivered for 100 cameras and 30 days of retention, the way they should approach this is to provide significant detail. So, instead of “30 days and 100 cameras,” what they would say is “30 days, 100 cameras, 11 frames per second, camera manufacturer A, running in the crowded station scene, 100 percent motion, low light condition.”

This makes every storage provider look at this information and provide a storage calculation based on the same information. There is no wiggle room. Each storage provider should return to the enduser almost the same number. Any ambiguity is removed by providing of detail. Even if the end-user has not chosen a camera, it would behoove that end-user to pick a camera as a “baseline” device to be used to make sure that every storage quote is the same and that every proposal can be compared apples to apples.

The market for storage today is changing, and it is changing in a fairly dramatic way. Retention times are slowly but surely creeping up. What used to require 30 days of retention is now requiring 90. What used to require 120 days retention is now requiring one to two years of retention. All over the world, retention times are going up as legal authorities are issuing directives to security managers that require them to provide a longer history in the video record.

While retention times have increased, the technologies surrounding the compression of video data have simply not kept up in the same way. The net effect is that more storage is being required, and this means more physical storage. Networks are under strain, IT managers must determine how to move literally millions of bytes of data across networks that were never designed to support such data transfers, and all users are struggling to determine the most economical way to improve and increase retention without breaking the bank.

One of the surest ways to overspend is to be vague to the potential provider of storage about precisely what is needed. The world’s oldest adage is almost always applicable in these cases; if the price seems too good to be true, it most likely is too good to be true. If one storage provider says you need one petabyte, and the next provider says you need 500 TB, the first response should not be “The former is way too much and too expensive, let’s choose the lower number.” The first response should be “Why is there a 500 TB difference between the first provider and the second provider. What’s the difference in their quotes? Which interpretation did each provider use?”

The simplest methodology is often the best, easiest, and simplest way to buy what you need. Get the provider to answer one simple question: “What do you charge me for one terabyte of storage?” You can interpret cost per terabyte in a multitude of ways; it can just be the cost of storage with hard drives, it could include the server, it can include the camera, but there is an easy way to break this down and be able to determine cost per terabyte. Eliminate the server, eliminate everything else, and look at the cost of the storage box plus the cost of the hard drive. What’s the cost per terabyte? Such a breakdown gives you a really good idea of whether or not your chosen provider is expensive or not expensive.

Philosophically, storage should be less expensive and not very complicated. After all, all you really want to do is record your data and be guaranteed that you can retrieve the data once it has been recorded. System complexity is often used as a sales tool. You, the end-user integrator may not understand how complex my system is, and therefore you don’t understand why we must charge as much as we do for the system. Certainly different systems provide different benefits and carry with them advantages and disadvantages, including our own, but what you should be able to do is make a value decision.

Consider this, am I willing to spend more money to use a system provided by Company A over a less expensive system provided by Company, because I am convinced that the value of Company A’s system is worth the extra money? If you don’t take the time to force all storage providers to quote you based on the same specifications, you render yourself in capable of making a value decision.

The providers of storage systems owe it to the end user and the integrators that service them to provide the right system for the needs of that end user. You can play a major role in making sure that you get precisely what you need by forcing us all to play by the same rules. Instead of this being the hardest part of the storage sale, (determining what you are actually asking for) make the hardest part of the sale what it should be. Namely, showing you why my system is going to serve your needs better than anyone else’s and why my Company is a better choice as a partner than any other.

Do that and buying storage is easy.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Security Today.

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