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Re-thinking the storage question

Storage has never been the sexiest part of a surveillance deployment, but it’s increasingly become the most important and potentially the most costly. Customers are sitting up and taking notice, especially as green initiatives become part of the equation.


December 22, 2010
By Jennifer Brown

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“People are starting to understand the importance of storage because it’s such a huge part of the cost of any installation,” says Lee Caswell, founder and chief marketing officer of Pivot3.

Pivot3 provides failover-protected virtual machines inside an IP SAN (storage area network), eliminating the cost, power and rack space of physical servers, as well as dedicated failover hardware.

Due to the higher camera count and higher resolution cameras in many video-intensive organizations today, and because of longer retention times, storage is costing more.

“You’re still looking at storage being 40 to 50 per cent of the cost of new installations and even higher if you think of the cameras already in place,” says Caswell.

So while there has been considerable innovation in the last decade on the surveillance camera front and new feature sets from video management software, storage has typically been the headache an integrator deals with at the end of a project.

“There’s a lot of appetite to figure this out,” says Caswell. “I usually bring it back to what I call the ABCS –Availability, Bandwidth, Capacity and Simplicity.”

The way he starts the conversation is to ask: What fails in these systems? The answer is things that spin.

“You have disk drives spinning all of the time because like with a desktop you’re writing to these drives all the time  — there’s incoming data all the time. It’s a really different workload that is strenuous on the disks themselves and with disks being mechanical things it’s not a question of if they will fail but when they fail,” he says.

So the question becomes, how can a system protect against the inevitable failure of a mechanical device?

“If enough drives fail inside one box that box could go down, and if that storage appliance goes down I can’t record, I can’t access video and I may have lost data, in the worst case,” says Caswell.

Pivot3 developed RAID Across Gigabit Ethernet.

Pivot 3 has integration of server virtualization, which allows the product to have the servers running on the storage that you’re buying anyway.

“Virtualization sounds scary to people, but I talk about it like it’s anti-lock brakes — with one touch you can redistribute the load across the car and it happens fast without manual intervention,” he says.

“If you need 100 Terabytes of storage we sell that and it comes with 10 free servers and those free servers — that’s instant ROI — about $40,000 in physical servers you don’t have to buy. From an availability standpoint I can now provide failover in our system.”


Pivot3 got into the surveillance market through casinos – the product is in 45 casinos across the U.S.

“If you look at the biggest markets for external storage gaming was the largest market but since the meltdown in Vegas it’s now transportation that is the largest single market for external storage,” he says.

As airports and other transportation hubs have increased their camera count and increased resolution, the need for storage has become immense.

For example, the Sea-Tac airport in Seattle, Wa., was undergoing a security upgrade and wanted its new system to be cost effective and green.

“They were very interested in this idea that you could consolidate and save rack space, power, cooling,” says Caswell.

The project involved a full upgrade of the transportation security system from analogue to digital with a minimum impact on power and cooling needs.

It also had to meet the requirements of the Transportation Security Association (TSA) for availability and resiliency of video and protect the current investment during planned future additions to the system.

The Port of Seattle selected 120 terabytes of Pivot3 Serverless Computing storage with embedded virtual servers to support more than 1,100 cameras. Virtual network video recorders (NVRs) eliminated the need for standalone physical servers, which saved the Port 40 per cent in power and cooling. The virtualization strategy also delivered failover for video applications to meet the stringent requirements of the TSA for reliability during failure scenarios. The system supported the upgrade to digital storage while preserving the existing investment in analogue cameras.

They started with six servers and are now moving up from there. A server is roughly 500 Watts of power and it takes almost the equivalent amount of power to cool it and run chillers to extract the heat. That’s a kilowatt of power per server so you could spend as much powering and cooling a server as the server itself costs over three years.

“We have casinos that have taken our 40-50-100 servers and that is racks of powered gear that doesn’t have to be built out, cooled, powered and ultimately you don’t have to buy support agreements on those either,” he says.

As you collapse and consolidate servers and storage it’s a system becomes more reliable and higher performance, you can add more Ethernet ports — availability, bandwidth.

It can also simplify larger scale installations.



“The one thing you know is all of these systems are going to grow — you’re going to add cameras, and footage and archive events,” says Caswell. “Up until now it’s been expensive. When you move to a model that is based on standard server hardware, it gives you shared storage and you have a platform that has really changed the cost profile as well as the management profile.”

Pivot3 is sold through integrators and partners — sometimes more vertically focused ones such as the casino market. They also work with large building integrators such as Siemens, Ingersoll Rand or Johnson Controls where they are taking on broader responsibilities for surveillance may be one part of the installation.

“In the channel either the customer or integrator is deciding on the camera types and video software they’d like to manage — the open systems model where you get best of breed and are not forced to take something that is integrated by a manufacturer,” says Caswell.

“We also have smaller integrators who have learned this is pretty simple. It used to be the configuration problem meant there was a high risk of being incorrect. At the Sea-Tac airport before we came in they were using fibre channel EMC products and there’s very few resellers who have the technical training to configure and install something like that.

“As a result, because the risk of being wrong was so high it meant a single large scale deal could take down a reseller — so resellers were really cautious and left a lot of bigger deals to integrated manufacturers who would come in and say they would take the risk such as Pelco or Honeywell or Bosch.”

It means Pivot3 can go into smaller resellers doing things like retail and education projects and configure a 100 Terabyte deal because the risk of being wrong is pretty low.

“We’ve qualified and certified — we call it the HD storage alliance — software from Genetec, ONSSI, Milestone and 40 other companies and cameras from Arecont, Axis, Sony, Panasonic. We make sure that not only have we tested it and proven interoperability and provide support so when it’s installed in the field we have guys who know the Genetec product and can provide that level of support. So the resellers in this space who often know a lot about cameras and lighting and access control but don’t know what a layer 2 switch is, we can tell them how to set it up.”

Pivot3 has a representative in Canada – Toronto and Vancouver-based Source AV named the Canadian market representative effective Aug. 2010.

“There is significant demand for new server and storage technologies that are optimized for video surveillance in the Canadian market. Our relationship with Source AV enables us to search out new opportunities for the deployment of Pivot3 Serverless Computing and build upon our success in this dynamic region,” says Caswell.


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