Storage capacity: Just can’t get enough sometimes

Asking the right questions and getting the calculation right
 - 
Wednesday, September 26, 2012

In certain industries such as gaming there are very specific, mandated rules about the length of time that video needs to be retained. That should make calculating storage needs easy, at least for that vertical market, right?

Not necessarily.

Bill Hansen, video surveillance product manager at storage provider Iomega, said that recommended or mandated retention times “are often not accurate estimates of true storage requirements because an end user's liability is often longer than the mandated retention time.”

Then there are math miscalculations, unanticipated upgrades and certain end-user business needs that can affect storage requirements.

Jay Jason Bartlett, VP business development for Soleratec, a provider of video life-cycle management and storage software, said he’s seeing RFPs with much longer retention requirements. A year ago he would hardly see any requests for retention longer than 90 days, and now he sees a much larger number of requests for one year, two years and even five years’ worth of video retention.

Bartlett said that end users are starting to understand that recorded long-term video is a business asset. It can be used for “business intelligence needs, marketing analysis needs, additional analytic analysis, and also re-purposing the video for other business purposes,” he said.  

Aside from math errors, three factors lead to mistakes in capacity or performance calculations, according to Lee Caswell, founder and chief strategy officer for Pivot3, a unified storage and compute company.

“First, motion estimation is a guess—hence the name,” he said. “How do you know how much motion is going to be in a warehouse, bus terminal or prison that hasn't been built yet?”

In a warehouse, for example, Caswell said he’s seen cases where 30 percent motion was expected “but actual motion was 80 percent because of security rounds, cleaning crews, inventory checks, maintenance activity and activity visible through a window.”

In fact, the norm is that motion is underestimated and, as a result, storage is under-scoped, “which leads to less capacity than desired [fewer days retention] or lost frames [weaker disk performance],” he said.

Second, resellers sometimes forget that raw capacity is not the same as usable capacity for storing camera channels. “Raw capacity is simply the capacity/drive [multiplied by] the number of drives, but advanced storage systems use some of the raw capacity for high-speed file system access and for protection against inevitable drive failures. End users know these features as RAID protection, drive sparing and file formatting, which typically trim 20 to 30 percent from raw capacity,” Caswell explained.  

Third is that cameras that were specified in a bid might be swapped out during the construction or upgrade phase. “We have seen this when higher-resolution cameras are substituted during the build-out phase to improve resolution, zoom capability or field of view. Any of these changes can dramatically affect both the capacity and the performance needs of the recording system,” he said.

Todd Flowers is CEO of Surveillance Systems Integration, a systems integrator based in Roseville, Calif., that does a lot of work in gaming. “It is an unfortunate practice for integrators/manufacturers to under-calculate storage because they base their calcs on minimum requirements without leaving room for change,” he said.

While Flowers said that the cost of storage has decreased significantly, he said it’s “a very competitive environment” out there and some integrators will undersell storage as a tactic to be less expensive. “SSI doesn’t play the change-order game and never will,” he said.

With all this said, a competent integrator should be able to get the calculations correct.

“It is only more challenging if the integrator is guessing,” Flowers said. “SSI engineers are well trained and use the correct tools to properly engineer the job and calculate storage. It does require the job to be well defined, however. A well-engineered job creates the best possible customer experience, and that is what we are all about.”

“Many manufacturers use different types of compression so storage calcs must be done based on the specific manufacturer and the specific type of compression,” he said.

What about when more storage needs to be added? It shouldn’t be a big deal. Storage providers don’t necessarily agree on what the best answer is product-wise, but they will tell you that not all storage can scale easily or affordably.

“With the convergence of IT technologies to the security market, storage technologies such as SAN, NAS, removable hard drives and digital data tape bring new-found capabilities for extended retention to wanting organizations,” Bartlett said.

Storage should “manage risk and maximize margin [for integrators],” Caswell said. “Scale-out storage minimizes configuration/installation risks since performance and capacity can be flexibly changed in the field; minimizes maintenance risk since a single SKU appliance is used; and minimizes open system integration risks since the system is based on Ethernet, Intel and Windows standards.” Certain scale-out storage can also “maximize reseller margin opportunity because it eliminates external physical servers,” he said.

Bartlett said that integrators need to understand “more IT-oriented storage systems [such as SAN, NAS and digital data tape]” and how to integrate these scalable solutions to provide an affordable pay-as-you-grow solution.

He also said integrators need understand how recorded video that can be easily searched, played back and re-purposed can be used for business intelligence, marketing analysis and training.

Flowers said SSI believes that “strong communication with the end user, combined with clarity of the products we are selling, helps us achieve the best possible customer experience.”