Tricks to Reduce Video Storage Costs—Before, During and After the Camera Rolls

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Researchers can’t seem to agree on exactly how much of a video surveillance budget is consumed by video storage. For example, a report by Gartner in February 2016 concluded, “Storage represents at least 40 percent of the total cost of a video surveillance solution.” While at a security industry webinar last month, researchers pegged the cost at closer to 30 percent. Whatever the exact figure, every estimate points to a similar conclusion: in today’s video-centric world, the cost of storage adds up.

But it doesn’t have to break the bank. There are strategies retailers can employ to reduce their storage requirements. These exist at all stages: during pre-planning, as cameras roll, and even after the video records.

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Opportunity starts with your approach. Retailers are mindful of video storage and its associated costs, but they may benefit from thinking about it “more dynamically,” according to Hedgie Bartol, retail business development manager for Axis Communications. “The world we’ve lived in for so long is, ‘Here’s the DVR, and here is its storage capacity.’ Now there is so much more flexibility, you can build the system you need based on the math.”

The key is to approach the storage dilemma dynamically. You may decide, for example, that you need 90 days of storage, and you need high resolution, but that you can sacrifice a little in frame rate. “And then you do the math to figure storage requirements,” said Bartol. “That way, instead of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, you can build the round peg you need.”

As LP teams look to build the storage system they need, there are some tricks that can help lessen storage demands and keep costs in check.

  • What’s the point? “Choose a camera with a purpose,” said Bartol. “First, what do you want to see? Second, what do you want to do with what you see?” The answers will guide you to select the right camera and to set it up in a way that serves its purpose but doesn’t unnecessarily add to your storage requirements. For example, “general situational awareness” is a legitimate reason to deploy a surveillance camera, but having that purpose in mind will help you make the right decision about how long to keep that camera’s video.
  • How important is the view? Video shot in lower resolution requires less storage, so retailers might consider where they need that 1080p view and where they can get away with a little less clarity. Video over the cash register, for example, may need to be in higher resolution than video down store aisles. LP teams might also examine where they can reduce frame rate without harming LP outcomes. “The general consensus, for when you need to make a concession, is to maintain high resolution but sacrifice frame rate,” said Bartol. A side-by-side comparison of video frame rates, available on YouTube or at Axis’ website, demonstrates how difficult it is to see a difference between 30fps and 15fps, for instance.
  • How bright is the light? Be careful to select the camera that fits your store’s lighting scheme, with attention to how it reacts to dimming light. Some cameras will get static in the image, which they can detect as motion, Bartol warned. “The camera doesn’t know the difference between that static and motion, so if you’ve got a camera that is not designed to perform in low light, and the level of light goes down, then you’ll be eating up hard drive space because you’re recording that static.”
  • Can you turn video on its head? If you have a camera shooting in 16×9 aspect and it’s looking down the aisle of a store, you’ll get a lot of unnecessary video coverage of shelving and endcaps and only have a view halfway down the aisle. Some cameras, however, allow you to turn the lens to provide a 9×16 “corridor format” instead, so that you have coverage of the entire aisle. By eliminating the need to position a camera at each end, a retailer can reduce overall camera count and associated storage.
  • How tightly can you squeeze? Compression algorithms reduce bandwidth and storage requirements, with the H.264 compression standard emerging as the most used. But there are ways to ‘squeeze harder,’ so to speak. For example, Axis’ Zipstream technology works with H.264 and filters out irrelevant parts of a video scene in real time, resulting in an average 50 percent lower bandwidth and storage requirements.
  • Who needs access? Multistreaming is another way to manage video smartly. Cameras that multistream can record different video streams at different compression and frame rates. “So for this stream, to this device, you can decide you want this frame rate,” while setting lower-quality parameters to a different hard drive, explained Bartol.
  • How long do you need it? LP teams may be able to keep costs—and risks—in check by working with legal and compliance leaders to align retention policies with regulatory requirements. “Grooming” recorded video—reducing its frame rate over time in order to save on storage space—is another good idea, said Bartol. Video management systems can be programmed, say, to groom a video after 30 days to reduce its storage requirements, and then again after another 30 days. This way you can keep a video record of what happened for longer but minimize the impact on storage, said Bartol.

Today’s video storage model places fresh demands on LP teams to allocate additional research to the storage equation and to do their due diligence, said Bartol. “But the good news about getting out of the box—the DVR box, so to speak—is that you put yourself in a position where you can scale,” he said. And by employing some of the tricks above, retailers are more likely to be able to set retention periods based on their requirements—and not in reaction to the cost of storage.

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