Convergence Channel: Storage Strategies, the Final Chapter

The third in a three-part series on storing video data covers flash storage and how it is advancing security technology. Virtues like greater speed, smaller form factor and cooler operation are enabling new approaches to system design such as edge-based topology.

One of the biggest advances in storage technology has been the introduction of “flash” memory. How does flash memory affect the security industry and its markets? In several meaningful ways that will be detailed here as we wrap up a three-part series on storing video surveillance data.

As a reminder, Parts 1 (Video Security Storage Strategies) and 2 (Storage Strategies, the Sequel) of this series took us through current storage technologies, looking at everything from the basics through the more advanced types of systems you might run into in large applications. Now let’s look at some of the newer concepts of digital storage, and at what the future might hold.

Flash Floods the Marketplace

Flash memory chips were invented in the 1980s and first brought to the commercial market by Intel more than 20 years ago. Flash memory is a nonvolatile memory (it doesn’t lose its condition when the power goes out) that can deliver large storage capacities in a small form factor. It doesn’t have spinning platters (or any mechanical moving parts for that matter) like hard drives. It has very fast read/write times, and can come in all shapes and sizes.

These chips have taken many forms through the years. Some of the earliest flash formats were CompactFlash cards, SD cards (including Micro and Mini), and even Sony’s Memory Stick.

While these formats were somewhat proprietary in nature, flash really took off with the introduction of USB-based thumb drives. These drives are very small and their standard USB connectors mean they don’t need special readers. They can usually also be connected to multiple computers, even if they have different operating systems (assuming the storage file system the drive was formatted with is readable by all systems).

The ubiquitous nature of flash memory has caused all kinds of changes in the computer industry, even eliminating the need for CD, DVD or other removable media drives on newer laptops and netbooks.

Rules of Thumb Drives

The most common use today in the security world for flash memory is exporting or archiving clips of video. While many people use optical discs (CD, DVD, Blu-Ray) for archiving, the use of thumb drives is increasing in popularity. The speed of writing video clips to flash memory is much faster than the optical disc process. Better still, the capacity of newer flash drives is far greater than even the best optical disc right now.

These benefits along with the small form factor of most USB thumb drives make them an appealing alternative to optical disc recording.

Another use for flash storage devices is being found more and more inside the recording boxes themselves. In previous generations of equipment, the recording device’s operating system was stored on a portion of one of the hard drives. Sometimes it would be one of the same drives the video was stored on. This could cause issues if the operating system (OS) needed to access areas of the drive while the video was in the process of being written. Or at the very least it would use space on the drive that couldn’t then be used for video storage.

There are a couple of solutions to this. One is to add a separate hard drive to the box, just to hold the OS. However, there are several drawbacks to this approach. An additional drive takes up more space, uses more power and generates more heat. All of which are not good in a high performance recording box.

A more appealing solution uses flash drives to store the OS. Most storage array devices don’t need a lot of elaborate video and data processing. They generally only need a scaled down version of the OS, with just enough info for basic operations like indexing and cataloging video files. Such an OS fits perfectly onto a flash drive. Combine this with low power usage, almost no heat generation and fast startup times (no waiting for a disk to spin and be read), and flash OS drives are hard to beat.

Living on the Edge

Traditionally, video systems have consisted of cameras spread around a facility with video being sent back to a central location (or even multiple, centralized locations) for retention. Even in a distributed network architecture, the storage boxes would be in a central data center or phone room. Either way, the topology was a “home run” or star, essentially.

Now, however, some video manufacturers are turning tradition on its head by taking that storage out of its centralized location and pushing it to the “edge.” In a standard network architecture, the edge means the endpoints of the network where the user/client PCs are connected. In a video system, the concept is essentially the same, only the edge is where the cameras are connected.

One example of this edge recording concept for cameras comes from VideoIQ. The Massachusetts-based video system manufacturer’s iCVR Line of IP cameras, both standard resolution and high definition, offer NVR-like storage capability inside the cameras.

A similar approach to edge recording can also be used for analog camera system upgrades and retrofits. Germany’s Dallmeier offers onboard storage in its DIS-2/M StreamerPro video encoders.

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