What I Learned about Video Surveillance Storage Challenges from the Chiefs of Police

David Friend
Wasabi Technologies, Inc.

Advances in video surveillance technology have been a boon to law enforcement. Facial recognition and other machine-learning innovations help to narrow the time between crime and capture. Body-worn cameras, or bodycams, provide more transparency and legal protection for citizens and officers alike. But as I learned in recent conversations with chiefs of police and surveillance solution providers, these advances are also creating enormous pressure on already strained budgets.

Video is an increasingly important tool in every municipality’s arsenal for preventing and solving crimes. Police typically use three different types of video surveillance: fixed surveillance on city streets, buildings, and parks; dashcams in police cruisers; and bodycams worn by officers. These devices generate a tremendous amount of data, and the cost of storing that data is quickly becoming the most expensive line item in police IT budgets.

More Cameras and Higher Resolutions Equal Larger Data Storage Bills

Camera resolution continues to improve every year. That’s good news when you need to zoom in on an image for facial recognition, or to read a license plate. But it’s bad news for the budget because higher resolutions equate to larger data files. Every time you double the number of pixels along the x and y-axes, you quadruple the number of pixels in the image and the amount of space required to store it.

Video Resolution File Sizes

In addition to increases in image resolution, the widespread public pressure to deploy bodycams is adding exponentially to the volume of video being generated. This is creating a greater burden on midsized departments that don’t have the IT budgets afforded larger departments, yet still have a substantial number of officers to equip with cameras.

Dealing with the High Cost of Storage

So, how are departments coping with the growing cost of storage? The same way they did in the analog days of VHS tapes: they delete stored data and record over it. It’s a compromise between controlling costs and losing potentially valuable evidence. For the longest time, this strategy worked fairly well. As crimes were committed, officials could quickly put a hold on any relevant data to make sure it wasn’t erased. Reviewing older footage to determine if a suspect had been casing a particular crime scene, for instance, was not an option. Today, however, with the rise in terrorist attacks and mass shootings, many government agencies and municipalities are mandating that surveillance videos be stored for much longer periods of time.

Why Storage Should Be the Surveillance Buyer’s Biggest Consideration

To illustrate the importance of storage in the purchasing decision, let’s examine the two models by which surveillance systems are bought and sold today: single-vendor solutions, where the cameras, software, and storage are bundled together at one flat rate, or purchasing each component separately through a systems integrator.

Single-vendor Solution

A leading bodycam vendor charges a flat $80 per month per bodycam, which includes the necessary software and cloud storage. If you have 100 officers, that’s $96,000 per year.  The contract that I saw was for a 5-year commitment, so that’s a total of $480,000. The cameras they provide retail for $800, and they provide a new camera every three years. That means $1,330 per officer, approximately $130,000 of the $480,000 contract goes toward camera costs. The remaining $350,000 is for storage and other cloud server costs.

While you benefit from a one-stop shop with everything coming from one vendor, you are also locking yourself into whatever storage solution that vendor uses. And as you can see, storage is by far the largest expense—and one that is sure to grow.

Purchasing Through a Systems Integrator

By purchasing through a systems integrator, you open yourself to more options when it comes to choosing the right data storage solution. With recent innovations in cloud storage technology enabling services such as Wasabi hot storage to deliver data storage that is 6x faster and 80 percent less expensive than all the premium tier services from Amazon, Google, and Microsoft,  the benefits of such flexibility of choice are obvious.

Let’s take a look at the math

You buy 100 cameras for about $800 each.  They should last for 5 years, but let’s be generous and add another ten percent to replace failures. That’s a total of $88,000 for the hardware and another $20,000 for the software.  Each camera produces about 500GBs of data to be stored in the first 90 days.  That storage is purged and reused unless there is a crime where the storage needs to be preserved, usually for 4-5 years.  After 5 years, the average officer accumulates about another 500GBs of evidence video, for a total usage of about 1TB.  1TB of storage with Wasabi costs $3.90 per month or about $47 per year.  Times 100 cameras, the total storage cost would be about $4,700, or about $24,000 over 5 years.  A server in the cloud to run the management software costs an additional $500 per year or $2,500 over 5 years.

The total for 5 years would be:
Cameras $88,000
Software $20,000
Wasabi storage $24,000
Server $2,500
Total $134,500 (vs. $500,000 for the closed bundle solution)

Of course, the system integrator is going want to make a profit, and there will be some additional maintenance costs, but this clearly shows how the new economics of cloud storage 2.0 solutions like Wasabi hot storage can help solve the storage crisis facing government, law enforcement, and the video surveillance industry.

We’ll be at IACP 2017 in Philadelphia, October 21-27th.  If you’re a systems integrator, video surveillance solution vendor, chief of police, or IT leader, and are planning on attending, we’d love to show you how you can save money and save more video with Wasabi hot storage. We’ll be at booth #2152.