Intransa vs Dell - Surveillance Storage

By Ethan Ace, Published Nov 15, 2011, 07:00pm EST

Recently, an integrator member asked about using Intransa vs Dell for video surveillance storage. This note provides our feedback to the integrator based on my previous experience as an integrator specifying and deploying both product lines. We contrast based on time savings, operational differences, pricing, longevity risk and technical support.

Time Savings

Intransa's first claimed benefit is time savings for users, on multiple counts:

  • Software Preload: First is their "preload" of the user's choice of VMS system. This term is somewhat deceptive. What the preload actually consists of is a USB key with all required VMS software on it, up to current versions. When you boot the Intransa appliance and plug in the USB key, software is loaded. It doesn't skip the step of installing the VMS. However, it does remove the need for integrators to download (and subsequently keep up-to-date) VMS software. For some VMSs, it is quicker than installing all prerequisites, followed by the software. How much time this saves will vary by VMS. Integrators using VMSs requiring SQL or IIS will see more time savings than those using VMSs which do not.
  • Ordering Efficiency: The second point Intransa makes is that there is no quoting process which must be dealt with, such as with Dell e-quotes, for example. Since they have a limited number of models, it is likely simpler for integrators to know which ones fit their common applications, which may speed the design process.
  • Fast Shipping: Intransa has also tried to speed deployment by making a number of models available for fast shipping, which they refer to as "combos". These consists of commonly-ordered configurations, and are intended to be in stock at distributors or available in 1-2 days, instead of 1-2 weeks for built-to-order configurations and most COTS hardware.

Operational Advantages

Intransa provides multiple technologies with their Video Appliances which they claim are operational advantages. Their VDMR [link no longer available] (Video and Data Management and Retention) technology is a suite of tools for installation and management, intended to increase performance and simplify deployment. There are two technologies which they especially highlight as advantages:

  • VSOP, which stands for Video Surveillance Optimization, is intended to remove fragmentation from video streams written to disk, as well as reduce the amount of space required. Fragmentation is pointed to as a cause of video frame loss, which could lead to video not being available when required.
  • VSA Energy Manager is used to spin-down disks when they're not being written to or read from for a settable period of time. When the disk is required again, for instance to retrieve archived video, it's spun up again. Intransa claims this may save energy costs, since obviously a spun-down disk requires no power.

Our issue with these claims is that they sound great on paper. Who would not be alarmed that fragmentation may cause frame loss? What user would not want to save disk space or energy? However, the only testing we have seen, and likely the only testing which exists, was performed by Intransa. We have seen no third-party verification of these claims. We have also never heard complaints from users about frame loss due to fragmentation, and we would be curious as to how exactly VSOP reduces disk space requirements, and by how much.

How does pricing compare?

One concern users have shared with us about Intransa is that it is substantially more expensive than COTS hardware. This may indeed be the case for many users, but it's difficult to say how it will compare for everyone, since it depends on many factors. The size of the server required, amount of storage required, and discounts on COTS and Intransa hardware all would need to be considered.

Integrators who are part of the Dell Premier program, for example, will see Dell pricing as more competitive. Intransa pricing will also vary heavily based on the partner level of each integrator. However, in general, we would imagine integrators paying retail prices for major-name COTS hardware would see much less difference in pricing between Dell and Intransa.

Longevity Risk

Another concern with the non-COTS providers such as Intransa is their longevity. While HP and Dell have a long history, with little concern of the companies failing, Pivot3 and Intransa are relative newcomers, funded by venture capital. There's really no risk of Dell or HP 'going away' but there certainly is one for Pivot3 and Intransa. Factoring in potential support and replacement issues 3 or 4 years from now is often an important factor.

Tech Support

Intransa currently maintains a list of preloads for nearly 30 VMS, access control, and analytic providers. These companies have all been recognized through Intransa's Video Appliance Certified partner program. As such, Intransa's technical support staff must be prepared to provide pre-sales and post-sales support for their products when used with all of these platforms. With different VMS platforms supporting different amounts of cameras per server, based on architecture, it would seem challenging, at least, and impossible, at best, to be able to provide in-depth tech support for all of these. 

That being said, to our knowledge, neither Dell nor HP have any sort of design assistance or tech support specific to surveillance projects, and surely they do not have knowledge of nearly 30 different platforms. Intransa is likely a step up in this respect. All-in-all, however, integrators would be wise to confirm server requirements with the VMS manufacturer, instead of the hardware vendor.

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