5 reasons law enforcement agencies should consider tiered storage

Departments are looking to cut video storage costs - here's how


The following is paid content sponsored by Quantum

By Tim Dees for PoliceOne BrandFocus

Police managers who have done their homework on body-worn cameras know that the bulk of the cost doesn’t lie with the hardware, but with storing and managing the video the cameras produce. Most camera vendors offer video storage and management packages to go with their cameras and docks, but most rely primarily on “cloud” (remote, offsite) storage to pull it off. There may be a better way.

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Image courtesy of Pixabay

One alternative to cloud-only or local-only data banks is “tiered storage.” Tiered storage leverages high-performance disk, high-capacity disk, file-based tape and cloud-based storage in combination for greatest efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Tiered storage manages the same amount of video as other, more conventional methods, but at a fraction of the cost and without losing ready access.

In a tiered storage system, video and other data can reside on four different types of media:

  • High-performance disk, some or all of which uses solid state (no moving parts) technology
  • High-capacity disk, or conventional spinning hard drives
  • File-based tape storage
  • Cloud storage

Video files are stored on one or more of the first three media types for near-instant retrieval or viewing (files stored on tape take less than a minute to retrieve). At the same time, all video is uploaded to the cloud to provide a disaster recovery backup and resides there even after the same recordings are replaced with new files on local storage.

Which files are maintained locally and for how long depends on the individual agency’s retention policy. In any event, the end user doesn’t have to contend with searching multiple volumes for the video segment he or she wants. The user sees a single drive letter, subdivided into folders according to the user’s requirements and preferences.

There are several arguments in favor of tiered over cloud storage of video from body-worn cameras. These include:

  1. Bandwidth can be expensive and unreliable

Many law enforcement agencies either can’t afford or don’t have access to high-speed broadband Internet. Cloud-only storage requires considerable bandwidth to make the system work. It takes bandwidth to upload video from cameras to the cloud, and more bandwidth every time someone wants to download or view a video file. A tiered-storage solution can provide faster and more reliable access at lower cost.

In New Jersey and parts of New York, multiple agencies lost access to their body-worn camera video (and a lot more) when their service provider collapsed multiple times because of a storm in June 2015. If your access to video depends on your Internet service provider, you have a single point of failure that is beyond your control to protect or restore.

  1. Tiered storage provides automatic redundancy

Most cloud storage services offer redundant storage. Your video might reside on multiple servers distributed over thousands of miles, but it’s still all in the cloud. With tiered storage, your highest-priority video is available from within your facility, but there is still a backup in the cloud. Ideally, video will be saved in multiple locations during the offload process from the camera.

  1. Tiered storage is usually much less expensive

One popular body-worn camera vendor offers a video storage and management plan that costs $1,000 per officer per year for all the video you care to generate. A 1,500-sworn agency would incur $3 million in storage costs alone over two years. Tiered storage can reduce that cost by 28 percent to 79 percent with no loss of security or reduced ease of access, depending on what options the user selects.

  1. You’re not tied to one vendor

Most body-worn camera systems all but require that their customer agencies use the company’s proprietary video management system. With tiered storage coming from a separate provider, you can negotiate with camera vendors separately and not be tied to a combination hardware/software/storage package. You can change camera vendors and still maintain access to video recorded by the old vendor’s cameras.

  1. Simplicity of operation

Some video management systems require that users keep track of multiple drive volumes and letters and employ an IT manager to track where information is stored. Effective tiered storage systems allow access to everything from a single drive letter. The system is engineered to be run by non-technical people and not require an IT manager to oversee and maintain the system.

The Quantum system can write video from a camera to four separate destinations, simultaneously. What video files are stored locally and for how long depends on the agency’s retention plan. Quantum can accommodate any retention strategy.

When the Calgary Police Service started their body-worn camera program, they realized they would quickly be required to manage almost a petabyte of video data over the course of a year, far more than the service’s IT infrastructure was prepared to accommodate. Using Quantum’s StorNext File System and a Scalar i600 tape library, they were able to leverage 240 TB of local drive storage to manage their entire petabyte of video at a savings of $300,000 per year.

Although the Quantum system moves video files between high-performance disk, file-based tape and cloud storage automatically to ensure fastest access to files in highest demand, the location never changes from the user’s perspective. No matter how much time has passed between accesses, the file will be in the same place you last found it.

A tiered storage solution maximizes the efficiency of several types of media to provide a much lower-cost solution than is possible with cloud-only storage and is supplied as a simple turnkey system. Even if you have a contract with an existing video management service, the cost of switching to tiered storage may be less than just staying where you are. 

Tim Dees is a retired police officer and the former editor of two major law enforcement websites who writes and consults on technology applications in criminal justice. He can be reached at tim@timdees.com

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