Video Storage: Go to the Tape

Sept. 10, 2015
Digital tape-based storage is an emerging technology choice for video surveillance retention

Video surveillance is among the fastest-growing industries in terms of data generation and adaptation of new technologies. As security dealers and integrators know, hosts of industries now use video surveillance on a regular basis, and each end-user must find a way to manage the exponentially growing amount of data generated on a daily basis by this burgeoning technology.

Britain reportedly has one surveillance camera for every 32 citizens, with an estimated 1.9 million cameras. Oakland, Calif., reportedly used $7 million of federal money to create a citywide surveillance system. In the United States, there are more than 30 million surveillance cameras shooting 4 billion-plus hours of footage each week. With private and public support, video surveillance is not going away and industry experts expect the global video surveillance market to grow past $37 billion in 2015 with global storage requirements reaching more than 3.3 exabytes (3,300 petabytes).

Regardless of the organization or industry, data storage — now more than ever — will always be essential. From an operational perspective, the challenges are unique: where to store all this video, for how long and at what price? Security dealers and integrators have quite a few challenges to overcome and technologies to choose from when answering this question for their clients. Digital tape-based storage — while not new in other industries — is an emerging technology choice for storing the rapidly growing data capacities needed for digital video surveillance footage.


The increasing use of body-worn and fixed cameras have resulted in massive amounts of data. At the same time, requirements have increased mandating the length of time this data must be retained. These storage mandates trickle down from corporate compliance, city and state governments.

One year appears to be the new norm for minimum retention; however, organizations now face tremendous pressure to retain data for even longer periods of time, affordably. As legal and regulatory requirements bump up retention requirements, camera resolution and number of cameras increase as well.

To make long-term storage affordable, security integrators are sometimes forced to make compromises for their clients — including reduced retention, lower resolution, storing only a single copy of critical video and in worst cases, deleting video to make space for new incoming video. As we know, the value of surveillance video is often unrecognized until the point where it is needed for legal purposes and is no longer available. There is increasing awareness that surveillance video has inherent value that increases as time goes on.

“Technology achievements have surpassed infrastructure and now command massive storage requirements,” explains surveillance industry expert John Convy of Convy Associates. “Storage options for the industry are complicated and expensive to meet current needs. It makes sense to examine some of the tried and true storage methods, such as digital tape, to hold onto this data for longer periods of time.”

Digital Tape Emerges

While digital tape storage has been around for years, finding a new application for use in video surveillance storage makes sense. Because of digital tape’s intrinsic reliability, scalability, accessibility, and cost benefits, it is proving a failsafe method to retain long-term surveillance data. It helps organizations strike a balance between budget restrictions and escalating retention requirements with a low cost per GB.

With a technology roadmap that meets and exceeds camera technology advances, digital tape provides a sound investment that can scale at the same rapid pace of camera technology and retention requirements. It allows for affordable, high resolution retention with full frame-rate video with no spinning disks to power and cool. Video can easily be accessed within a digital tape library for rapid on-demand retrieval.

Digital tape media has long been praised for its reliability for long-term retention, compliance and analytics. It touts reliability that exceeds two orders of magnitude greater than SATA disk drives, meaning surveillance video will be there when it needs to be accessed – now, or years down the road. With a shelf life that extends beyond 30 years, digital evidence can safely reside on digital tape for the long term.

Digital tape media roadmaps depict doubling capacity as it evolves generation over generation (LTO media). The current LTO generation — LTO6 — can hold 2.5TB (native). The LTO roadmap extends out to generation 10 (release date TBD), with a staggering capacity of 50TB (native) per tape. IBM’s current TS generation, TS1150, enterprise media capacity currently resides at 10TB (native). Digital tape media provides a platform that is conducive to increasing resolution, frame rates and especially, to lengthening retention times.

With small power consumption, digital tape libraries require less energy and cooling costs in comparison to spinning disk. Digital tape requires less physical space than disk. While spinning disk provides needed benefits to surveillance applications, a tiered approach to storage alleviates storing massive amounts of video on expensive disk.

All too often, when RFPs are written, the bulk of mindshare is focused on camera technology, while little to no budget considerations are made for video retention. This is a massive oversight, as the bulk of a surveillance budget will likely be consumed by storage requirements, not camera technology or infrastructure.

Ray Heineman is Vice President of Business Development for Video Security and Surveillance Products at Spectra Logic. To request more info about the company, please visit