You can afford to store your surveillance data: Storage management basics

The Boston Marathon bombing turned the klieg lights on surveillance video. More people were taking photos and videos of the race finish line than of possibly any other location in the world at that moment, so the Boston Police Department (BPD) requested...

Many industries with large data storage requirements maintain that tape has never ceased being integral to maintaining costs in enterprise backup and archive operations. For these businesses, tape represents a mature medium, one well suited to low-cost, long-term storage of large quantities of data, and, not incidentally, one that in orders of magnitude may be more reliable than SATA and enterprise disk.

Tape offers tremendous advantages, including cost savings. The Clipper Group did a study showing the total cost of ownership of a disk system is 15 times higher than that for tape for storing the same amount of data in both systems over 12 years. The energy need to store data on disk during this time period is 238 times higher for a disk system than it is for tape. It’s easy to underestimate the energy costs of keeping disk spinning continuously and cooling the disk system.

ROI of surveillance video

Prior to recent innovations, conventional wisdom held that “Surveillance is a cost that can never be turned into a profit.” Only five years later, this statement is no longer true. Today’s data analytics tools—some of which are even built into the surveillance camera itself—can extract information about customer behavior, internal processes, and trends, to generate or increase ROI.

Yet cost remains the top factor in IT decision-making about data storage system purchases. Among the many factors that can affect the cost of storing video surveillance data over time are:

The video management system and storage system architecture

The size of the video files generated, which depends on how the camera has been programmed to record video, resolution, recording speed and the compression algorithm used in reducing backup and archive file sizes

The storage medium

How often the video data needs to be accessed in the future

Given the many tools on the market today designed to extract information from data, the value of stored video data only stands to increase.

Preserving potential value by archiving video

If your organization is like many, you store many files that you view initially and seldom—if ever—need to view again. To take advantage of data over time, organizations often archive data, rather than discarding it or backing it up. An archive differs from a backup in that it keeps your data accessible. An archive that relies on a mix of disk and tape can best serve to control costs and keep the files accessible as needed: disk arrays ensure rapid access to the most-used files, and tape storage affordably ensures the integrity of the data over the longer term.

While designing a video data storage architecture for your organization’s long-term needs may feel like leaping onto a moving train, choosing the appropriate mix of information management and storage technologies for your organization can allow you to protect your video assets over time with a low total cost of ownership, and without having to discard video because of cost or space limitations. An archive keeps most-used files accessible, protects data, and reduces storage system bandwidth. VLM and data analytics tools are making it possible to extract additional value from stored video data, even when the value of the data is not apparent at the time it is stored.


Ray Heineman joined Spectra Logic in 2000 as director of business development and later director of library engineering. As of 2013, he serves as business development lead for video surveillance worldwide. Heineman has been involved in various industry committees and standards organizations for the development of storage product interfaces and protocols.