Why the cloud is not a panacea for all video storage needs

Oct. 19, 2015
Despite the much-touted benefits of the cloud, many misconceptions still persist

Editor's note: This article is sponsored by EMC.

Given the desire among many businesses and government entities in retaining video over longer periods of time for analytical and evidentiary purposes, cloud storage would seem like the perfect solution with the ability it provides organizations to scale up or down as storage needs demand. Also, with many companies now implementing “green” initiatives across the enterprise, cloud storage can help organizations eliminate the numerous servers needed to store video data, which can literally cost thousands of dollars each year to run and cool down in their IT closets.

However, while the cloud may seem at first glance to reduce or even outright eliminate some of the burdens of storing video on traditional appliances, there are several factors that many people fail to take into account when considering the cloud for their application. For example, the proliferation of high-definition cameras, which while they increased the value of video data they have also subsequently increased bandwidth demand. Most organizations simply don’t have the bandwidth capacity to support streaming hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of HD cameras, to the cloud simultaneously, which makes having some type of onsite storage solution absolutely critical.

To gain a better understanding of some of the things organizations need to be mindful of when they are thinking about making the jump to the cloud for video storage, SIW recently caught up with Steve Lewis, global video surveillance practice leader for EMC’s Emerging Technology Division (ETD) where he is responsible for business development, go-to-market strategy and managing technology alliances. Prior to ETD, Lewis served as global partner development manager for EMC Managed Services where he helped create and bring to market a Video Surveillance-as-a-Service (VSaaS) offering for the business unit.

Lewis’ roots in the surveillance industry run deeper than his experience at EMC, however, as he also formerly served as chief operating officer and vice president of sales for VMS provider ipConfigure. He has also held leadership positions at IQinVision and Axis Communications. In this exclusive SIW Q&A, Lewis discusses some of the biggest myths about the cloud and what EMC is doing to help organizations make the transition in a way that doesn’t comprise the integrity of their video data.

SIW: What would you say are some of the biggest misconceptions about cloud data storage?

Lewis: There are a few misconceptions about cloud storage, but the most common is that it is less expensive than on-premises storage.  The pitch purports IT departments won’t have to spend a ton of money on hardware anymore and an OPEX is easier on budget cycles than a large CAPEX.  What I have been seeing, particularly in cloud storage for body camera video, is that the OPEX is not predictable and significant investments have to be made to increase bandwidth capacity. I am not seeing the cloud being used as a primary storage target for enterprise surveillance deployments (i.e. 250-plus cameras per single installation); rather organizations are selectively storing video from particular camera(s) or exporting selective evidentiary video to a cloud archive.  The second biggest misconception is that cloud data storage takes fewer resources and is less of a burden on IT than local storage.  Although that may be the case with traditional “block” storage, it is certainly not the case with a product like Isilon. 

SIW: Despite the financial flexibility that’s often touted with cloud storage, what are some of the hidden costs that organizations can run into?  

Lewis: Bandwidth is the Achilles heel of any cloud deployment.  Although bandwidth costs have come down considerably in recent years, a big pipe and a fast switch is a necessity in order get all of that video in and out of the cloud.  Quite often I have seen bandwidth requirements underestimated due to the nature of compression technology and scene complexity.  Dedicated networks for surveillance require fast switches and network administration resource(s) to configure and maintain, in either case (cloud or on-premises) you still need network administration – a cost that is often overlooked.  Lastly, support costs from cloud storage providers have to be factored into the equation as they are certainly not free.

SIW: Does EMC offer any solutions that can help organizations address some of these issues? 

Lewis: Yes, EMC has a range of products in the portfolio that can address these issues; however, it is the company’s approach to a hybrid cloud strategy that is resonating with our customers.  Cloud storage for surveillance data doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach.  For surveillance data it becomes a question of how critical is the video, how quickly do we need to retrieve it, share it and extract intelligence from it?  How much do you care about safe-guarding it? EMC’s Isilon provides an easy to manage solution to centralize surveillance data that can scale out in seconds with enterprise features for auto-balancing, auto-failover and data protection. When organization are ready to run Big Data analytics to extract more actionable intelligence or make predictions based on historical and real-time sensor data from various sources (not just cameras), Isilon can support  that workload with its native HDFS support.

SIW: How should security integrators and end-users evaluate cloud-based storage platforms when considering them for a video surveillance installation?  

Lewis: Very carefully.  It is important to understand how long and how much capacity they need today and tomorrow.  Storing large volumes of ‘active’ surveillance data in the cloud doesn’t make economic sense when you start to consider the cost associated with transferring it in and out of the cloud.  For short-term archiving, cloud storage may make sense if the video is exported from the VMS and used as stand-alone media files.  Integrators and end users should consider how a change in retention requirements, say from 30 days to 60 days to 90 days will impact their cost.  Cloud storage looks less attractive the more the data you store and the longer you need to retain it.  

SIW: We’ve all heard about the built-in redundancies of cloud storage, but are there still issues that people can run into when attempting to retrieve that data?

Lewis: Depending on what class of cloud storage you pay for, it could take several hours to retrieve data (e.g. AWS Glacier).  When you are in a crisis situation or active investigation that is simply not practical.

SIW: One of the biggest concerns expressed by end users about offloading their video data to the cloud has been issues surrounding cybersecurity? How vulnerable is this data to hackers and is it something that organizations should be overly concerned about?   

Lewis: We all know that anything can be hacked so it should be a concern for everyone. Encryption keys for cloud data storage are not controlled by the user; they are controlled by the cloud provider. If someone steals an admin’s password all data can be wiped out.  Cloud providers typically don’t provide SLAs for data loss and make no guarantees that data can be undeleted. It is important to know if the cloud data storage provider maintains certifications for ISO27001 or SAS 70, SSAE 16.  When have they been audited by an independent third party to ensure that they are complying with these standards?  A few years ago, there was a company called Code Spaces whose AWS-hosted customer data was hacked and held for ransom. The company was then forced to shut down.

SIW: The massive outage suffered by Amazon Web Services in 2011 raised a lot of fears about the cloud’s susceptibility to technical issues and how businesses could be cut off from much needed data for a certain length of time. Just last month, Amazon suffered yet another large-scale outage of AWS. Given the criticality of access to video data, how concerned should businesses be about outages of this scale and the potential for data loss?   

Lewis: AWS experiences outages on a weekly basis, but only the big outages get press.  It is the nature of the Internet after all to be ‘best effort’.   In the case of AWS, you need to understand the distinction between “durability” and “availability”. Amazon’s durability is stated as 11 nines where their availability SLA is 3 nines.  By durability AWS mean objects (files) are copied in two data centers and you may lose 1 object in a million years. However as impressive at that sounds, AWS doesn’t prevent users (who may have obtained an admin password) from deleting the video,  Amazon’s numbers for availability are less impressive… 3 nines means that there will be 44 minutes of downtime per month.  For a casino, 44 minutes of downtime per month would mean that they have to shut down the casino (and consequently lose thousands of dollars) which is a non-starter. For law enforcement that is involved in an active investigation, that downtime could mean someone’s life is at stake.

SIW: Do you think there needs to be more education within the security industry about the benefits and potential pitfalls of cloud storage?  

Lewis: There needs to be more education not only about storage technology and cloud computing, but in IT concepts of virtualization and scale-out as well.  Although we are over the convergence hump as IP cameras and surveillance solutions are now out-selling analog solutions, that doesn’t mean the skill sets of surveillance integrators have made that transition.  I believe IT departments need to be educated as well on the unique requirements of surveillance workloads and their impact on networking and storage.

SIW: What are some things EMC is doing to help move the market along in this area? 

Lewis: EMC has had a surveillance practice for over 10 years.  The company has invested in teams of people in marketing, business development and engineering disciplines to educate the market and engage partners and end users. We have lab resources on two continents that validate joint solution architectures with our VMS partners and provide best practices and configuration guidelines to resellers and end users in order to reduce risk and speed deployments.  EMC understands the enterprise and is bringing this knowledge and experience to physical security market.

SIW: Where does EMC fit into this changing market for video storage? 

Lewis: EMC has been the leader in enterprise surveillance storage for the past five years (according to IHS Research) and there are no signs that is slowing down.  Right now we are educating our technology partners (VMS) about the latest in software defined storage and object storage technologies that are being deployed in the cloud and how supporting object storage in their application and cameras can be beneficial to their customers.  With EMC’s Federation of companies that include VMware and Pivotal Labs we are leading in virtualization and big data services which have made their way into the surveillance market and will continue to be key technologies in the future.