A Technology Advancement
The video surveillance industry has turned to using tape to affordably store video
- By Jay Jason Bartlett
- Feb 01, 2021
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.
THE MULTI-TIERED STORAGE
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.
TAKING A STEP BACK
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
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?
ENTER LTO DIGITAL COMPUTER DATA TAPE
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
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
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.
This article originally appeared in the January / February 2021 issue of Security Today.