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Considering the NVR option

If it’s clear DVR technology won’t do the job, the question is what will?

Steve Hunt, founder of Hunt Business Intelligence, an Evanston, Ill.-based security advisory firm, says the answer for many security integrators should be the Intransa Video Appliance, which is essentially the NVR’s answer to the DVR.


August 4, 2009
By Jennifer Brown

The product combines a server and a storage-area network (SAN) in one
box and is based on the company’s video data management and retention
platform. It comes with video management software loaded and
pre-configured, and is modular, so it can scale up as the user’s needs
grow. As well, it features hot-swappable disk drives, power supplies
and key components for fault resilience.

“Intransa has figured out a way to overcome the inhibitors of folks who
were afraid to deal with IT and afraid of complex networking,” says
Hunt. “They (customers) still get many of the benefits of the networked
storage solution.”

Intransa CEO Bud Broomhead explains that the company’s all-in-one
device was designed to simplify the many steps involved in buying,
configuring and maintaining video retention systems.

Integrators using IT-based storage have to first pick the right pieces
of hardware, including NIC cards, host bus adapters, CPU, memory and
storage-area networks. Then they have to know how to configure them.
The Windows operating system has hundreds of tuning parameters, he
says, so putting those together in a package and managing them over
time is a huge challenge.
“These all draw on IT skills that the security integrator channel is developing” but most don’t yet have, he says.

As well, standard commodity servers, he explains, are “tuned” for IT
applications, not video retention.  That means they are more compute-
than input/output (I/O) -intensive, he explains.

“They’re (commodity servers) really built for e-mail and web
applications, databases and that kind of thing, whereas video
surveillance is all about capturing video data coming off live
real-time feeds,” Broomhead says. “That’s a very different animal from
a computer technology standpoint. We’ve taken all the guesswork out of
that and put the two together in a single box to make the installation
more like the DVR days.

“We’ve premixed, premeasured and prefabricated the platform they run
the software on so the customer gets a consistent experience because
there are no tuning mistakes and things are optimized around I/O.”


The technology also enables end users to get the most out of their
existing DVR technology, he adds, and reduces the potential for data
loss when the DVR fails. The DVR can record directly to the Intransa
box using iSCSI protocol over Ethernet, bypassing the disk drives in
the DVR. “We insulate the impact of drive failures; we can run even if
there’s a drive failure.”

It also prevents video from falling into the wrong hands, he says. When
a DVR drive fails and breaks, the DVR is usually sent to the
manufacturer for repair, since it can’t just be swapped out. That means
your video data is “one click away from YouTube, because they ship it
back to the manufacturer and there is some guy on bench looking at the
video,“ says Broomhead. “If it’s hospital data, that’s illegal, and if
a camera over a cash register picks up a credit card, that’s a
Sarbanes-Oxley Act violation. When recording to our appliance, they can
swap out the DVR but the data stays in-house.”

It sounds simple enough, and it is, compared to competitive SANs, says Hunt.

“Storage-area networking is a headache of the highest order,” he
observes. “Once you understand what it means, it’s a nightmare, and
compared to that, Intransa is a cakewalk, but it is still an IT
deployment and you still need some IT savvy. You still need to tell the
IT department what you are doing, and even that scares some security
people away. Many are intimidated by the ponytails and the bad
attitudes.”

But Broomhead sees the video appliance as improving the relationship between security professionals and IT departments.

“This makes it really easy for IT people to manage this application
because we haven’t burdened them with becoming experts on video
surveillance I/O,” he says. “It’s challenging and it’s unique; it’s not
like anything IT people have seen before, so knowing they can buy an
appliance tuned for IT is a huge win for IT folks.”


New products, new approaches

Fortunately for the security professional, vendors are providing many flavours and approaches to video retention technology.

Samsung Techwin, for example, recently debuted its SNR-6400 iPolis
network video recorder, which simultaneously records up to 64 video and
audio streams at 1280 frames per second at full D1 resolution. It
supports up to 20 TB of data.

Dave Smith, senior vice-president at Samsung Techwin, says unlike many
NVRs, Samsung’s product is not a PC. Instead, it uses an embedded
operating system, which is not on a hard drive. That means it’s less
likely to experience breakdowns and viruses, he says. As well, Samsung
Techwin doesn’t charge licence fees for cameras or connections.

“That makes things a lot simpler for users when they have to change cameras or have to transfer the licence,” Smith says. 

It has three connections: one autodiscovers cameras and assigns them IP
addresses, another is dedicated to storage, and the third is connected
to the user’s network for viewing.

“The installer doesn’t have to be concerned with dividing up networks,
programming smart switches and things like that; it’s all done” he
says. “The purpose of doing that is to ensure that the bandwidth load
is primarily between cameras and storage, not between NVR playback and
viewing.


“The tricky task is making sure you segregate all that high-volume
traffic from the company’s regular network and that’s where a lot of
configuration and design has to be done, so that’s what makes this
product a lot like a DVR in terms of how the installer thinks.”

Vicon, a designer and vendor of IP-based security products, is also
taking a new approach to its IP video storage products. It recently
announced it is replacing its line of RAID storage devices with new
iSCSI RAID models that use newer networking and storage technology.

Guy Arazi, digital product manager at Vicon’s Atlanta office, says the
commonly used SCSI (small computer system interface) protocol to
connect storage boxes, although efficient, was limited by the length of
the cables (a maximum of 15 feet); fibre channel allowed for much
longer distances and high bandwidth, but was much more expensive, he
explains.

iSCSI uses Ethernet protocol over the Internet, which is considerably cheaper than fibre channel.

According to a 2008 Forrester Research report (Cost Comparison Of iSCSI
Versus Fibre Channel SAN Components), “it is generally accepted that it
is cheaper to deploy an iSCSI SAN … The cost advantage of iSCSI is so
significant in terms of server side and switch network costs that you owe it to your budget to determine which applications would be a good fit for this technology. “

 “If you and I have a network between our offices and that network is solid and has enough bandwidth, we can start sending storage information in that iSCSI format over that network," Arazi says. “I can be in Atlanta and streaming from my server to your office or wherever over the internet or a leased line or a satellite link.”

iSCSI also increases flexibility, he says. By using iSCSI, organizations can spread their storage over different locations to maximize real estate.

 “If (I’m using) direct attached storage, I have to run a direct pipe between my servers and the storage unit,” says Arazi. “By creating the network and putting them on the network cloud, I can get to more units from more servers at the same time; I can share and take advantage of more storage units per server without having to run dedicated lines.”


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