Solving Surveillance Storage Woes with the Cloud

There’s no doubt we’re in the midst of a gold rush for surveillance products and services – and while too much surveillance is problematic for obvious reasons – there’s no doubt it remains a critically important part of the security strategy for governments and private enterprises.

 According to IHS Markit, the surveillance market grew at almost three times the annual rate compared to previous years in the period 2016-18, reaching a worldwide market revenue of $18.2 billion by the end of that year and market growth is only set to increase worldwide. From the public sector organisations looking to improve public safety and help catch criminals, to companies building new customer experiences that rely on surveillance systems to work like Amazon’s futuristic grocery store Go, this market is projected to grow to more than $68 billion by 2023. 

 A lot of this growth has come from further migration from analog to Internet Protocol (IP) based video surveillance systems and digital upgrades on already existing hybrid systems – 62% of all cameras shipped in 2017 were network cameras which jumped to 70% in 2018 –  and this will no doubt continue growing over time.

 Surveillance has led to an explosion of data

 The amount of data stored globally is anticipated to reach 163 zettabytes by 2025 according to IDC research – the primary driver of this data explosion is imaging, and video in particular. Today, a single 4K video camera running at 30 frames per second and compressing video with the H.264 codec will generate, in the best case scenario, around 255GB of data per day that needs to be stored. 

 Extrapolating this for the estimated 420,000 cameras present in London would mean 150 petabytes of data generated a day. Moreover, the 700 million surveillance cameras estimated to exist globally are generating an estimate of more than 100,000 petabytes a day – and that’s if you assume we’re using the newest codec (H.265) for optimum video file compression, which won’t be the case across the board.

 The generation of data from these new higher resolution cameras has vastly outstripped most organisations’ storage budgets. Surveillance firms are coping with these massive amounts of data by reducing frame rates and storing data for only a few days.  Neither of these solutions is desirable. The industry clearly needs much less costly storage options than the typical on-premises hardware solutions in general use today. 

 An increase in the usage of body worn video cameras (BWVs) is a great example of how this evolution is increasing data demands. A pilot scheme by the London’s Metropolitan Police in 2016 saw a 93% reduction in the number of complaints made against police who were wearing BWVs, and has led to wider rollout all over the UK. In the last couple of years, UK supermarket Asda has begun to equip its security guards with BWVs as well, with other businesses no doubt eyeing this equipment with interest.  

 A typical BWV camera generates around one to two hours of footage per day, or around 3GB of data a day, and this will grow significantly as these cameras move to higher resolutions and greater capabilities. Further to this is the advancement in associated technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, which are being applied to this surveillance imagery to obtain better insights – and need ever larger data sets. Indeed, this factor may have played a significant part in the Metropolitan Police’s decision to go with an unlimited data contract as part of their surveillance contract with their provider Axon. 

 Stricter regulations are also forcing businesses and public sector organisations to keep the video footage they capture on file for longer. Today, airport guidelines mandate that footage of on-camera injuries, thefts or conflicts be kept for at least seven years. And if an incident is captured from multiple angles and cameras, that amounts to hundreds of gigabytes of data. The need for sufficient storage capabilities becomes even more pertinent with the increase of 4K cameras (some cameras today are even 8K or 10K) as well as 5G capabilities increasing the scope of wireless data transmission.  

 Adopting the right storage strategy

 Making the decision to move to cloud storage can be tricky. There’s often two ways of doing it – either going with a single vendor solution which covers you for everything – that’s cameras, software and storage – or taking the systems integrator option, where you purchase a bespoke solution via a third-party.

 If you opt for a single vendor for your surveillance solution, you risk being locked into using their cloud storage provider which can cost you in the long term. For a hundred police officers for example, a five year commitment for body cams will cost in the region of half a million dollars or pounds, with around 65% of that covering the storage alone. 

 Each camera will produce around 500 GB of data to be stored in the first three months alone. Typically, such data will be purged and the storage reused unless it’s footage of a criminal activity, in which case, it should be stored for an average of four to five years. After speaking with one police department last year, I was surprised to find out they only kept body cam videos for two weeks before reusing the storage. They would ideally keep all footage for at least 2 years but currently can’t afford it.  Sometimes they don’t even know a crime has occured for several months, and by then the video has been erased.

 Within the five year timeline of typical usage, another 500GB of data is generated, bringing the total to around a terabyte. So you’re paying around $350,000 to store just 100 terabytes of data annually for the lifetime of your contact. It might be hard to make the argument to your CFO to go for this solution when independent cloud storage solutions can store the same amount of data for less than $40,000!

 The hybrid cloud is also a solution that is becoming increasingly relevant for data storage needs in a surveillance context. Some concerns relating to a pure cloud solution for surveillance applications could include uncertainty related to operational effectiveness (e.g. speed, if the internet goes down), bandwidth issues due to the scale of camera equipment on site, in addition to legal requirements that may require data retention for significant amounts of time. Not everything needs to be in the cloud.

 Using a hybrid cloud solution can enable organisations to keep some surveillance video storage facilities on premise whilst moving others to the cloud. Most recent videos would be stored locally for sake of speed – where it usually only needs to be stored for a day or two, subsequently being copied to the cloud where it can be kept for as long as the organisation needs it. In doing so, security and surveillance solutions can become more cost-effective and allow companies and governments to safeguard the information they need to do their jobs effectively.

 With increasing amounts of data being generated, avoiding becoming locked into a surveillance vendor’s cloud storage solution is key to prevent future costs spiralling out of control. While all-in-one solutions have their benefits, with so much data needing to be stored, analysed and managed, companies should be mindful to research a cloud storage solution that fits their individual needs. With an easy way to take care of all that data, government agencies and security decision makers can carry out their duties as efficiently as possible.

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