As cities, companies, and other large entities begin to rely on video surveillance, they face an important issue: data storage. A fleet of mounted surveillance cameras, for example, can produce hundreds of terabytes of data or more every year. While many agencies still use traditional in-house servers, more and more are storing video evidence in the Cloud. How do you decide which storage system works best for you? We discuss this below.
Moving Data to the Cloud
You’ve undoubtedly heard of the Cloud, but in case you don’t know what it actually is, we’ll clear that up. Put simply, the Cloud is a fancy term that refers to software and services that run over the Internet, such as Dropbox or Google Drive. For example, instead of storing data on your computer, you can share and access it through applications on the Cloud. (For a more in-depth overview, check out this article from Recode.com.)
In recent years, there’s been a push to move data (including video surveillance) to the Cloud instead of traditional servers. In addition to saving space and reducing IT labor, the Cloud can be scaled to meet your storage needs. Having said that, there are potential drawbacks, though their impact will depend on different factors.
Pro: Data on the Cloud can be accessed by any authorized device with an Internet connection.
One of the greatest benefits of using a Cloud-based server is that data can be accessed by any authorized user from any Internet-connected device. This advantage allows you and other team members to access the data when it’s needed. This is especially useful when presenting or reviewing evidence because you can retrieve it from any device within moments.
Pro: Your data is automatically backed up to prevent data loss.
It’s always important to backup your data, and it can be done automatically through the Cloud. Especially since your video evidence is critical data, you’ll want to make sure that it can be accessed following disasters or unexpected incidents. Because your files will be stored online, your data will typically be backed after a predetermined period of time. So even if your computers and other devices are destroyed or damaged, your data will be safely stored in the Cloud, resulting in minimal data loss.
Con: There are hidden costs that could potentially make it very expensive.
Since the Cloud is a service rather than a product, don’t expect to pay for everything at once. While most hosts claim that you only pay for what you use, there are also some hidden costs. The costs and associated fees will vary from host to host, but here are some possible costs to consider:
- Fees for retrieving more data than the assigned limit (check out Microsoft Azure’s outbound data pricing sheet)
- Increasing your bandwidth to move and retrieve your data (if it’s not already sufficient)
- Costs to leave your current Cloud host (if applicable)
Con: The Cloud is 100% dependent on your Internet connection.
As we stated in our above definition of the Cloud, it’s a service that operates entirely over the Internet. So if you or your Cloud host lose Internet connection, you won’t be able to access your data until the connection is restored. While this may not be a frequent issue, you risk being unable to access your video evidence when it’s needed.
If Internet connection is an issue your area, you should seriously reconsider moving to the Cloud.
Storing Video Evidence In-house
Until recent years, video evidence was overwhelmingly stored on large, physical servers kept on an agency’s property. While in-house servers are still common, they require an IT team and lots of space, especially as more are added. Yet they provide advantages that might make them worth the investment, depending on your preferences.
Pro: In-house servers aren’t dependent on your Internet.
We mentioned this before, but we can’t stress it enough: you need the Internet to use the Cloud. If your Internet is spotty or runs at low speeds, then you definitely want to consider an in-house server. Because your server will be on-site, your data can be uploaded, downloaded, and managed at any time.
In fact, if you lost connection while using a Cloud-based server, you would temporarily be unable to access your data. Without a reliable Internet connection, the Cloud isn’t even an option.
Pro: Your data is kept in-house, away from outside parties.
Video evidence is vital data that must remain secure at all times. While many resources indicate that the Cloud’s secure (just ask the CIA), your data is still potentially accessible by third parties. By keeping your data on an in-house server, you’ve essentially removed access from outsiders. More importantly, your data will be monitored by people you trust.
However, like any evidence, this does not guarantee that the data won’t be tampered with by personnel or others with inside access.
Con: More susceptible to data loss in the event of a disaster.
One of the main drawbacks with in-house servers is that the data has to be backed up manually. Unlike the Cloud, which automatically backs data using the Internet, an in-house server has nowhere to back the data. Instead, you’ll have to copy the data and transfer it to a different server in a secure location off-site.
The issue is that this must be done frequently, possibly every single day. Since your video evidence is vital, it must be copied constantly to prevent a massive loss. If a storm, fire, or other disaster were to destroy your main server, you’d lose all of the data since your server was last backed up.
Con: You need a lot of capital upfront to purchase in-house servers.
Another drawback with in-house servers is that they cost a lot upfront. Whereas the Cloud is a service priced at a monthly or annual rate, a physical server is paid for immediately. Also, you’ll have to purchase additional servers or upgrades as you reach capacity or your technology ages. While we acknowledged that the Cloud has hidden costs that possibly make it more expensive, on-premise servers generally require immediate capital whereas the Cloud is paid for over time.
Choosing Where to Store Your Video Evidence
Even after weighing some of the pros and cons of the two storage types, the decision can be overwhelming. So when you’re deciding where to ultimately store your data, you’ll want to at least consider these three factors:
- Overall Cost
- Storage capacity and frequency of use
- Data accessibility
Cost is an important factor for most purchases, and servers are no exception. With servers, however, it’s difficult to calculate the true Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), though most hosts (such as Amazon and Microsoft) offer tools that show the price differences between your current server and the Cloud (for that particular host). Consider hidden costs, however, which aren’t shown by these tools.
Considering Data Capacity and Use
While both the Cloud and in-house servers can handle large bundles of data, you need to consider how much and how quickly you’ll add new data, as well as how often you’ll retrieve it.
If you plan to frequently add new surveillance cameras or other solutions to your existing security system, you may want to consider the Cloud since it can quickly adapt to the data influx. However, you’ll spend money increasing your bandwidth to support the data moving to and from the Cloud, plus outbound fees if you exceed your retrieval limit.
On the other hand, you could simply purchase additional in-house servers to keep up with storage demands. While this is simple to do, you’ll consume more power and space, plus you risk paying for an entire server that you may only partially use.
Considering Data Access
If it’s absolutely vital to retrieve your video evidence at any time, then this section is very important. We can’t stress it enough: you need a strong Internet connection if you want to use the Cloud, particularly because you’ll be dealing with large volumes of critical data.
If you’re intent on storing video evidence on Cloud, but your Internet connection is inconsistent at best, you’ll need to invest in a stronger service and perhaps more bandwidth. Otherwise, your best bet is an in-house server, which doesn’t need an Internet connection at all.
There’s no one answer that applies to everyone, so your storage unit of choice will depend on your unique situation. If you have additional questions about storing video evidence, comment in the section below.