Storage offers investors intriguing opportunities

Published 9 January 2008

More and more surveillance cameras are placed around critical infrastructure facilities, above city streets, and long highways; these cameras generate mountains of visual material — and there is a need to store all this material; storage solutions will be a major business in the coming years

Here is one word for the savvy investor searching for lucrative investment opportunities: Storage. From securing the U.S.-Mexican border to searching city streets for possible terrorist threats, video surveillance is shaping up to be a massive consumer of storage this year. With IBM throwing down a rumored $350 million for digital storage specialist XIV two weeks ago, and Samsung unveiling a surveillance-specific hard-drive, the storage industry is gearing up for a flood of image-based data. Byte and Switch’s James Rogers discusses some of the key surveillance areas to keep an eye on during 2008:

* Border Security. Arguably the highest profile, and most controversial, surveillance project underway in the U.S. is the Secure Border Initiative (SBInet), an ambitious DHS project to lock down the country’s borders. Boeing was awarded the 2006 contract to build the SBInet technology infrastructure in a deal said to be worth an initial $2 billion, rising to $8 billion. At almost 6,000 miles, the United States has some of the longest land borders in the world, making SBInet potentially one of the biggest surveillance projects around. Boeing’s program will generate vast amounts of image data for tackling illegal immigrants, criminal activity, and potential terrorist threats north and south. “We’re integrating all the off-the-shelf systems for the northern and southern borders,” says Boeing spokesman Robert Villanueva. “It’s high-volume storage.” As well as data from surveillance cameras, the SBInet project also uses data from sensors to detect movement in border areas. This information is then used to alert Border Patrol officers or federal agents.

Boeing was unable to reveal how the storage infrastructure supporting SBInet will work, or how much data it will generate, although the firm is partnering with a slew of other vendors on the project. These include Perot Systems and the public sector division of Unisys, which is providing the IT infrastructure for SBInet. It is still early days for the rollout of SBInet, and the first pilot phase of the project across 28 miles of the Sonoran desert outside of Tucson, Arizona — called Project 28 — is still being evaluated. As the U.S. enters an election year, both homeland security and defense are high on the national agenda, ensuring an explosion in storage-intensive video surveillance efforts.

* Municipal Security. Probably the best known example of municipal video surveillance in the world is in London, where more than half a million cameras have been deployed to fight terrorism and support the U.K. capital’s congestion charge. Faced with the realities of the post-9/11 world, U.S. cities are now ramping up their own video surveillance efforts. “You think of federal government doing video surveillance, but I think that the bigger opportunity is local government,” says John Webster, senior analyst at the Data Mobility Group. Despite some ongoing squabbles over privacy issues, U.S. cities from Chicago to Long Beach, California, are rushing to deploy storage systems capable of handling feeds from hundreds or even thousands of video cameras. “We’re seeing a big surge in municipal safety — since 9/11 there were a lot of policy changes made,” says Bud Broomhead, CEO of vendor Intransa. This can be traced back to late 2001, when the White House began issuing the Homeland Security Presidential Directives (HSPDs), which aim to establish policies to identify and protect potential terrorist targets. “Budgets around implementing these things have started to hit,” adds Broomhead, although the exec would not reveal which U.S. cities Intransa is working with. Rival Pivot 3 was somewhat more forthcoming, and the vendor is currently working with the city of Long Beach as part of a major roll-out of surveillance cameras.

Under the terms of the recently announced deal, the city will deploy more than a hundred Terabytes worth of Pivot3’s RAIGE iSCSI hardware, which serves as a central storage hub for video data. Long Beach is also using a specialist software vendor called Video Net to catalog and manage the data stored on the RAIGE devices. With the city of Long Beach’s cameras sending data at a rate of six to eight frames per second, bandwidth is a key factor in the storage deployment. “You have to have enough capacity, and you also need a lot of bandwidth so that the storage can ingest the video streams as they are coming in,” says Jeff Bell, Pivot3’s vice president of marketing, highlighting the vendor’s use of memory caching to boost its IO performance.

Note that it is not just American cities that are driving massive video data growth. Intransa’s Broomhead told Byte and Switch that two of his firm’s biggest customers are in Latin America. The vendor is also involved in a project called ‘Peaceful City’, which is a Chinese government initiative to put video surveillance in the country’s second tier cities.