Edge Storage / Recording Tutorial 2012

By: John Honovich, Published on Aug 13, 2012

UPDATE: Go to the new / current edge storage / recording tutorial. This is old and is left only for historical record.

In 2012, interest in edge storage surged, making it one of the surveillance industry's hottest emerging trends. In this tutorial, we examine what edge storage is, how to make use of it, what cameras support it, what VMSes support it and what issues / limitations one may face using it.

Compared to Central Storage

Almost all surveillance systems today make use of centralized storage, whether it is a VMS server or a DVR recorder. Video is captured in a camera and transmitted to a 'central' location where multiple video feeds are recorded in the same PC, server or appliance.

By contrast, with edge storage, the video is captured, encoded and stored right inside the camera itself. Video does not need to be sent out of the camera unless someone wants to view live video or review recorded video. However, only IP cameras support edge storage; This is not possible in analog or HD SDI cameras that need to transmit their video to stand-alone recorders. IP cameras that record to their own local edge storage are often called 'single channel DVRs" as they combine both video capture and recording in one.

While video can be recorded to many storage mediums, the most typical are SD cards:

  • SD card slots are frequently built into cameras allowing storage to be plugged in.
  • One manufacturer (VideoIQ [link no longer available]) builds hard drives into their cameras (though this requires a significant size increase).
  • A few manufacturers allow an external hard drive to be connected directly to the camera.
Though multiple mediums can be used, the far most common and most likely choice is SD cards, which we will focus our attention in this tutorial.

Common Applications

Three potential applications are most likely for edge storage:

  • VMS Server elimination - This is the controversial and 'exciting' one: Instead of setting up a server or deploying an NVR, just record inside the camera using edge storage and connect to those cameras directly using a client. This has the most appeal in sites with small number of cameras as VMS servers represent disproportionate cost and complexity here.
  • Network Load reduction - For low bandwidth networks, like wireless, recording inside the camera radically reduces the demands on the network. Instead of streaming continuously or whenever their is motion, now video only is transmitted when someone wants to watch live or do an investigation.
  • Recording Redundancy - Edge storage can be used as a back up to recording centrally, ensuring that no video is lost even if the network connection goes down temporarily or the VMS / NVR is offline periodically. When the connection to the recorder is reestablished, the recorder can request video missed during the downtime to be sent from the camera to it (note: must verify VMS support for this feature and integration with specific cameras).

Camera Support

Increasingly, SD card support is commonplace for IP cameras, even on low cost, low end models at no additional cost. There are two important limitations frequently encountered:

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  • Storage size
  • Playback / Recording Compatibility

Storage Size Limitations

While SD card storage sizes continue to increase with options up to 128GB commercially available, most IP cameras today only support a maximum of 32GBs. This is because of a format restriction, specifically only supporting the older SDHC format but not the newer SDXC (for background and details, review our SD card tutorial). We expect cameras released in 2013 or later to broadly support the higher capacity SDXC format but today, the practical max for edge storage is routinely only 32GBs.

Third Party Compatibility

Even if you can record video inside a camera, it does not mean you can easily retrieve it. Many IP cameras support SD cards but only allow for rudimentary opening of individual video files. Even for those that allow playback in a traditional VMS client, most lack 3rd party VMS support. For instance, today users expect to connect dozens of manufacturer's cameras to a VMS and record them all. However, with edge storage, most VMSes support no cameras and the few that do support 3rd party camera manufacturers, typically only record Axis.

Storage Reliability

Storing video on SD cards for years, including repeated re-writes of the drive, raise reliability concerns, especially since such use has little track record. On the plus side, SD cards are typically viewed as more reliable than mechanical hard drives. However, hard drives on servers allow for RAID while redundancy is not available for SD cards inside cameras.

Edge Storage Alternative - Direct to NAS

One alternative, direct to NAS, should be considered for those who want to eliminate VMS servers but desire less expensive and/or greater amounts of storage. See our Direct to Storage tutorial for the pros and cons of that.

Stealing Storage

Since cameras are widely distributed inside and outside of facilities, using edge storage means leaving the recorded video wherever the cameras are. Clearly, this makes it easier for an adversary to destroy video evidence. All they need to do is access the back of the camera and pull out the card. How much of a practical risk this is and whether users will accept it will vary based on the security concerns of the organization. We expect many high security facilities to view this as unacceptable while the rest of the market to be less concerned about this.

The Business Case for Edge Storage

The key financial driver for edge storage is that cameras are giving away the 'hardware' for free. Since SD card slots are increasingly ubiquitous, one does not need to buy a server for recording - each camera becomes its own server. This can save $1,000 as it eliminates the cost of the PC, the VMS software and the installation and maintenance labor involved.

The biggest financial barrier for edge storage is that SD cards are much more expensive per unit of storage than hard drives. For instance, buying (30) 32GB SD cards for 30 cameras could cost ~$1,000 more than buying a 1TB hard drive. While the actual differential will depend on ever changing storage prices, the steep difference in storage costs will remain for many years to come. Though eliminating servers saves money, the premium for SD card storage may often offset it.

Barriers to Edge Storage Use

The financial barriers for edge storage use are most painful when:

  • Large numbers of cameras at a single site: If a site only has 2 cameras, edge storage may provide great savings; at 20, it might be close but at 200, edge storage would cost far more as the economies of scale in using a handful of hard drives would far outweight using hundreds of SD cards.
  • Long storage duration: Even when cameras routinely support SDXC storage, the availability and pricing of large SD cards will be especially unattractive. For those seeking full frame, continuous recording or multi-monthly storage, edge storage may be financially infeasible or logistically impossible.

Future of Edge Storage / Recording

We see two use cases that will become common:

  • Free but Proprietary Camera offerings: Increasingly, camera vendors, following Axis, Bosch and Mobotix existing offerings, will give away VMS clients / edge storage management as an incentive to buy their cameras. This will be much more effective than camera manufacturer's historical approach of free VMS server side software as now, with edge storage, the recording PC is eliminated. We see this becoming a major force for customers with small number of cameras and basic surveillance needs.
  • High End Additional Feature to Open VMS platforms: Traditional server based VMS providers will position edge storage as a secondary option for enhanced redundancy and lower cost support for small camera sites that are part of larger systems.

UPDATE: Go to the new / current edge storage / recording tutorial. This is old and is left only for historical record.

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