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Fact: the popularity of — and end user demand for — HD and megapixel video are increasing every day.
Fact: the detail HD and megapixel video provide drive up the file sizes of that video.
Fact: larger file sizes create greater storage needs.
Fact: regardless of application, from small to large to gigantic systems, video needs to be stored somewhere for some period of time.
The end result? Increased hardware demands in the form of hard disk drives (HDDs) and/or servers.
The nature of every hard drive (solid-state notwithstanding, but more about that later) is that it contains spinning parts that are precisely what keeps the drive up and running. So naturally, it takes a lot of energy to power all that hardware and keep those drives spinning. Factor in the internal fans and, one would hope, climate control technologies and systems to keep drives cool and prevent overheating, and you start to realize why servers and other hard disk drives have in the past been one of the largest — if not the largest — power hogs in a storage solution.
Thankfully, hardware has come a long way in just the last few years from an energy efficiency standpoint, says Robert Kramer, product manager, security products, Panasonic System Networks Company of America, Secaucus, N.J.
“At one time, hard disk drives were among the greatest energy usage components in a large server or storage solution,” he says. “Today, HDDs have achieved half the power usage compared to five years ago by adopting new technologies such as more efficient motors and better circuit-board technology.”
Software is part of the reason behind this greater energy efficiency, Kramer says. For example, some software technologies available today will monitor HDD efficiency, adjust settings and use smart controls to ensure that the drive only spins at full speed when necessary. When they’re not needed, the drives are either kept idle or are allowed to spin only at a slower speed.
Given technological advancements and an increased awareness of “green” in general, have environmentally friendly considerations and products impacted end users’ demands in terms of their video and storage systems? The answer is yes — kind of.
“We haven’t really seen it, except on large-scale installs where the power and cooling requirements are of the utmost importance,” says Daniel Johnson, surveillance systems engineer, Iomnis Surveillance Solutions, based in Houston, Texas.
Perhaps the greatest emphasis on and scrutiny of energy-efficient products comes from data centers or server farms, where hundreds upon hundreds of servers are deployed to store data from locations throughout the United States and even beyond.
“For data centers, energy efficiency plays into every decision,” says Bud Broomhead, CEO of Cupertino, Calif.-based Intransa. “They have a power budget that’s managed very tightly. If you’re in IT and don’t understand power budget and how to control power consumption on the system, that’s a real problem.”
While these data centers may host surveillance video, they’re considered IT applications, rather than security installations. But with IP expanding and IT becoming more involved in security, the industry could learn a thing or two from data centers, says Jeff Whitney, Intransa’s vice president of marketing. Already, some are paying attention and adjusting their mindsets about power usage. “The efficiency question has been effectively addressed in the IT space. In general IT, efficiency has been tackled in so many ways that are now reaching into security in general and video surveillance in particular,” he says. “IT has been under pressure for years to produce greener solutions in their infrastructure, and security is now catching up. As larger security projects evolve into integration or ownership by IT, the pressure to deliver green solutions continues to increase.”
In short, the security industry’s “green day” is coming.
“Green is a mindset and can have a big impact on the success of integrators, dealers and installers,” Whitney says. “Companies must have strategies to reduce equipment needs, shrink energy consumption, reduce environmental footprint and slash the amount of waste a system produces. So by properly planning, integrators can make large strides toward green solutions that will help them win ever more opportunities in the future.”
For now, however, power requirements and energy efficiency are not factors in the vast majority of installations. But to some extent, many installers and integrators are thinking green in choosing products for their projects. The more common green consideration integrators use in selecting products has to do with how they’re manufactured, Kramer says. “During initial screening of product suppliers, more integrators are considering which manufacturers have a proven green record as well as reliable products,” he says. “Factors such as eco-friendly manufacturing processes and material selection are considered, and integrators will favor use of existing wiring structures in order to reduce waste and save money.” (See related article on cable re-use, “Science Gone too Far,” on page 104.)
For manufacturers, Kramer adds, the consequence of ignoring the green trend could end up hurting the bottom line. “Manufacturers that can’t show an eco-friendly return on investment may not survive the initial screening process to be considered in the final selection,” he thinks.
Waste Not, Want Not
Another green consideration when you’re talking about HDDs and other hardware is their expected useful life, says Lee Caswell, founder and CTO of Pivot3, based in Austin, Texas.
“Standard warranties are three years, but drives get hit hard in security — they’re spinning 100 percent of the time, and they’re rarely installed in a data center-level environment,” he says. “The reality is that disk drives are the most cost-effective way to store video. But they will fail, so how do you protect against and prepare for that.”
With failure a given for drives, they’ve become viewed as commodity items that can be discarded and replaced, which is the polar opposite of green. Considering the increased hardware demands for nearly every security installation, the effect can be staggering.
There are a few ways this commoditization is being addressed within the industry (and beyond). Among them is centralization of storage. “With a centralized approach, you’re using faster and higher-horsepower servers, which use more power. But because you’re not installing them at each individual site, you’re using fewer of them to accomplish the same objective,” explains Steve Gorski, general manager, Americas for New York-based Mobotix, which specializes in centralized storage.
Another tactic that’s being used is servers that include a feature that will alert someone when they start to experience problems. “Selecting server and storage platforms that can ‘call home’ when they have an issue can dramatically reduce support costs, as well as energy consumption on wasted trips for problem analysis,” Whitney says.
Virtual storage is another trend that will help reduce power consumption for storage, Caswell describes. Virtualization allows storage and other functions to operate on a single drive while also enabling resource sharing across virtual servers. Because physical servers are powered and cooled separately from virtual servers, end users could save up to 40 percent on their power and cooling costs, he explains. “For a large retail chain, the ability to run these together could eliminate the need for additional A/C just to cool the servers,” he says.
Big Files, Big Headaches?
In nearly every facet of our lives, people are talking about the cloud, and why not? The allure of being able to back up data and other files easily and access that information from anywhere is too great to pass by. The main attraction of cloud computing in the security industry is the promise of limiting the amount of local resources required to maintain a video system by centralizing them in an IT data center or security operations center. That centralized storage also mitigates or eliminates the risk of frame loss, lost video or reduced image quality over time to retain more capacity.
“Cloud computing and storage will be one of the most disruptive technologies to the video security industry we’ve seen yet,” Whitney says. “Already growing dramatically in the IT world, the slower-to-adopt-new technology security space is watching closely, with several tentative applications offered.”
However, Caswell says, video — especially HD and megapixel — bears few, if any, similarities to your average data set. File sizes are much, much larger, to the point where networks simply can’t handle uploading it. “The nature of video data is that if you record in one location, it’s difficult to think about backing it up or replicating it offsite,” he says. “It’s just too big to back up, and too dense to send offsite.”
The ability to upload high-quality video to the cloud or to an offsite location does exist, Caswell says, but it involves expensive network equipment to allow for greater bandwidth, making it prohibitively expensive for all but the most mission-critical applications — primarily national security.
Cloud computing is being used today in non-mission-critical security video applications, Whitney says. Just not in very many commercial situations. “As bandwidth issues are resolved throughout this decade, we’ll see more and larger adoption of cloud technology in commercial and government.”
In the meantime, appliances like those offered by Intransa should play an increasing role in the storage and backup process. “Expect to see vendors offering low-cost, simple appliances that can be installed in a remote location, and support a range of cameras,” Whitney says. “Each appliance will have a small amount of storage to retain and consolidate video, then pass it up the line in a cloud system.
Speaking of devices, intelligence at the edge, particularly within cameras themselves, is also contributing to reduced hardware and power requirements, Gorski says. “The camera can be a very intelligent device, performing all the processing, compression and storage on the edge in the camera itself. The advantage is that you task the network less by cutting down on bandwidth and network infrastructure requirements,” he says. “You can also cut down on storage requirements, and fewer servers means less energy consumed. And less energy means less cost.”
Regardless of how installers and integrators look at green technologies, Whitney says, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve on technological advancements, especially when it comes to the cloud.
“Just as IP was inevitably moving into physical security for several years, we now see that cloud computing and storage is coming also,” Whitney says. “Successful integrators and installers embrace such new technology and become leaders in the eyes of their customers.
|The Role of VMS|
One of the most talked-about product categories in the security industry is video management systems. As prices continue to drop, and systems become easier to install and operate, and end user expectations for video quality rise, VMS play an increasingly more important role in video storage as well as management.
As Yoav Stern, president and CEO of DVTel in Ridgefield Park, N.J., puts it, a VMS is the operating system for a video network. “VMS is the enabler of everything to do with video — ever,” he says. “We’re starting to see a realization that a video network is not just about connecting cameras to a recorder.”
Whitney suggests that a change in mindset about software licensing by VMS providers could go a long way towards greater energy efficiency and lower equipment costs. “VMS systems may need to evolve in the future to change the common model of restricting the number of cameras licensed for use on an individual server, since servers and storage systems continue to evolve to be more powerful and at the same time more efficient,” he comments. “Writing their software and licensing it to support more cameras on a single platform will make sense in reducing the total number of server and storage systems required, and contribute to greener solutions.”