Converging Technologies

Customers are constantly searching for new ways to gather, manage and store data to run their businesses more efficiently while maintaining budgets. This is especially true in the security industry where captured video surveillance footage and access control events are highly valued from a safety and compliance standpoint. With an influx in the number of cameras, especially high-resolution models, more surveillance video is being captured and analyzed today than ever before. At the same time, customers of all sizes and market focuses are finding new ways to capture and leverage information from multiple devices—video surveillance cameras, access control systems, video analytics and PSIM platforms—to develop reports and trends to enhance not only security but optimize internal operations.

The influx in the need for security data—from an increasing set of devices and systems—is driving a massive expansion in storage capacity, compute power and network bandwidth required to meet streaming video feeds. Using conventional IT designs, these new performance and scale requirements can only be met with the most complex and expensive legacy server, network and storage infrastructure. Emerging vendors offer a scale-out infrastructure alternative that distributes storage workloads over many appliances, integrates virtual servers into the same appliances and aggregates network performance to meet the functionality and scale needs of the application. The use of high-volume commodity server appliances as the underlying physical hardware simplifies system configuration and consolidates server and storage hardware to save footprint and power while tapping into the economics of high-volume commodity hardware. Therefore, it’s now possible to scale to petabytes of capacity with hundreds of virtual machines using common appliances and standard Ethernet interconnects.

Security experts agree that it is impossible to monitor multiple live video feeds on a real-time basis. The human eye and attention span are simply not able to maintain vigilance for live detection of events. As a result, most surveillance data is used as a forensic tool. There are high expectations from users and law enforcement that video data from installed systems should be available for later viewing, regardless of events that might compromise recording integrity, such as power outages, disk failures, network switch problems and even operator error. Surveillance operators also expect that the search capabilities they find on YouTube—such as random access to video, search capability and filters for relevant new content—will be provided in today’s systems. This use case is certainly not supported by traditional CCTV systems where single point of failure VCRs require interruption to record, are serially accessed and have no searchable identifiers. Much like audio CDs replaced eight-track tapes from the 70s, newer IP infrastructures are quickly replacing aging analog infrastructures because of the reliability, searchability and push-model distribution that match user expectations.

Leveraging standard Ethernet networks

All of this functionality required a new approach to meet the manageability and cost expectations of the video surveillance market. At the forefront of the revolution is the need for IP-based storage technology that could leverage standard Ethernet networks and provide unified storage and computing resources in a common appliance. This first wave of innovation cost reduced surveillance infrastructure to the end customer—up to 40 percent in power, cooling and data center build-out.

Now, we’re experiencing the next evolution. As more security systems embrace IP infrastructure, storage vendors are incorporating even more functionality in appliances so that IT managers can handle surveillance and IT systems in a common way. Management of these multi-petabyte systems is quickly becoming the next battlefield as surveillance and IT users look to manage sprawling systems with the same or even less people.

Introducing IT for surveillance: VMware

The addition of VMware technology into the surveillance storage solution provides exactly the IT management features that system administrators need. Managers can run both IT and surveillance systems from a common management console called vCenter and introduce IT features such as failover, site disaster recovery and maintenance modes into surveillance environments as they become necessary. Now, managers can leverage the investment in IT management systems to view, protect and even migrate applications that exist in the surveillance side of the house. This is a much-needed set of capabilities that benefits all security application areas including video management system software, host access control software and PSIM control systems environments.

The combination of VMware technology with an IP SAN is particularly valuable to large-scale surveillance customers working to solve storage needs for transport, government, casino and enterprise projects. IP SANs leverage existing IT standards such as Ethernet, Windows and x86 technology and recently adopted VMware as the latest standard in server virtualization. For the end customer, this addition of VMware to an IP SAN brings instant validation to IT managers looking to understand the unique requirements of security solutions. Other security requirements will continue to appear unique such as 100s of Terabytes of capacity, 100 percent write environments, streaming data workloads and always-on system requirements. But the introduction of IP SAN technology combined with VMware provides a well-understood infrastructure construct that addresses many IT concerns regarding manageability, reliability, performance and support. This is especially important for surveillance customers who do not have the additional manpower to manage the system. As is common in today’s market, more and more users are leveraging the same amount of staff within their surveillance and IT departments, and therefore, solutions need to seamlessly fit into an existing infrastructure and be easy to administer. Also, the surveillance customer is typically not a storage administrator or expert and some may not have IT departments to help manage the system. By offering a complete, user-friendly appliance, the user experience is simplified and more affordable.

In addition to management leverage, VMware systems help ensure that systems are open-systems-compliant. VMware requires that systems pass storage or system tests before being listed as VMware Ready. Newer solutions are listed on both server and storage compatibility lists that are published and available to industry partners. This compatibility testing serves as an independent checkpoint for integrators to confirm the open system model is functioning correctly. Standards certification processes, such as HCL, are a benefit to integrators who are looking to streamline installations and reduce overall deployment costs.

Overall, the combination of these functions allow security end users to get more ‘buy-in’ from internal IT groups when deploying IP SANs with VMware support. The recent introduction of VMware technology into IP SAN solutions should speed up the convergence of IT and physical security technologies while allowing the unique requirement of the security segment to be met. Reducing IT resistance to security-specific solutions will speed new product adoption and drive business for the systems integrator who is on the lookout for new revenue opportunities.

Customer expectations of video quality and storage reliability are rising and driving a huge increase in infrastructure needed to support security operations. The use of newer IP SAN technologies combined with VMware technology will simplify manageability of converged systems and reduce friction from IT staff who are unfamiliar with the unique requirements of video surveillance storage.



Lee Caswell is chief strategy officer at Pivot3. He can be reached at