Enhancing Surveillance

Enhancing Surveillance

How intelligent storage enables effective campus surveillance


When it comes to safety on college campuses, video surveillance is a critical tool. It has a force-multiplying effect, and campus security officers rely on the technology to help them monitor activity and stop violence, crime, and other threats, which are important considerations for prospective students and their families.


Picking a college can be stressful. So much information is available to prospective students that the evaluation process can feel overwhelming. Although the relative importance of each factor will vary by student according to their preferences, all are important to the institutions.

One factor, however, that ranks high on nearly every list is safety. According to a 2015 survey conducted by Noodle, 74.5 percent of parents ranked a safe environment as “highly important” when evaluating college options. In addition, the higher education information website CollegeAtlas.org lists safety and security among their top ten factors to consider before making a college selection.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education, Campus Safety and Security (CSS) survey, a compilation of statistics based on information supplied by participating institutions, the number of criminal offenses reported on college campuses has decreased steadily since 2005. Though the trend is good news, there were still 36,248 criminal offenses reported on campuses in the U.S. in 2015.

Shocking news incidents and social media have heightened our awareness of campus violence. While improving security is a top priority for university officials, so are student privacy and freedom. Those in charge of keeping people safe strive to maintain a delicate balance between increasing security and creating an environment that is perceived as being “over-policed.”

Protecting students, staff, visitors, and property is the mission of campus security departments, but given today’s campus settings and societal expectations, it’s not an easy job.


Today’s college campuses resemble small cities. Many are sprawling environments, covered with housing units, recreation areas, and academic buildings, with many footpaths and public use spaces. There are high traffic areas and low traffic areas. Every building has multiple entrances and exits to monitor. At night, there are well-lit places as well as dark, secluded spots. Change is a constant with street maintenance, building renovations, and new construction taking place. There are people milling around during all hours on campus, so activity must be monitored around the clock.

Similar to cities, campuses are gathering places for large numbers of people. Demonstrations, concerts, and sporting events are common and draw diverse crowds. Events like these create a burst-motion effect, similar to what happens during class changing periods, where a large amount of movement takes place suddenly, creating a monitoring nightmare for security officers, before finally trailing off.

These challenges, along with newer technology, are prompting university officials to make changes to improve their surveillance systems.


One way university officials seek to improve security on campus is through better video surveillance. By installing more cameras, they hope to increase viewing coverage across campus, without hiring more security officers to walk the grounds, creating the force multiplier effect mentioned earlier.

In addition, older analog cameras are being replaced with high resolution digital units to improve image quality and enhance performance in varying light and weather conditions. Dome units with 180/360 degree high-definition, network-attached cameras are the preferred type for new installations. Cameras today can also include other sensors such as infrared, thermographic, and audio, all creating additional data to be managed.

The push toward high definition network cameras is not unique to higher education; it’s happening in every industry. But the education sector as a whole leads other markets in the rate of adoption of network surveillance equipment. According to the Education Video Surveillance and Security Report from IHS (dated February 2016), 50 percent of video surveillance cameras installed in the American and EMEA education markets are network cameras.

What does this mean for data storage? In a nutshell, it means you need more capacity. As camera counts go up and more digital units are installed, you need more storage to handle the volume of video produced. Determining how much you’ll need depends on a number of factors, including the number of cameras that are installed and the camera specifications.

Regarding the impact cameras are having, consider this example: One two megapixel 1080p 30 fps (frame per second) camera generates approximately 10 gigabytes of data every day (assuming H.264 compression at 1024 kbps). An installation of fifty of those cameras would generate roughly 183 terabytes of data per year. Upgrading those fifty cameras to Ultra HD 4K would produce about 730 terabytes of data per year.

Another factor impacting storage is retention time. Like other industry sectors, retention policies in education are changing, requiring video to be kept longer in order to protect against litigation and to aid in prevention and prosecution efforts. In fact, administrators at a university in Texas last year changed their retention policy from thirty days to two years, which forced their IT department to evaluate a new storage strategy to accommodate the expected increase in storage capacity that will be needed.


To get optimal performance out of a traditional information technology (IT) system, you select the components based on the nature of the workload. The same is true for a surveillance system. The combination of camera types, video management software (VMS), and storage makes a difference and has a direct impact on the performance of the system.

Traditional IT-centric file systems are designed to handle transactions and are optimized for read operations. That works well for documents, email, and other IT applications but not as well for surveillance workloads.

Surveillance workloads consist of high volumes of streaming video. They are not based on transactions. At times, the streaming can be nearly continuous. For good performance, the file system supporting the surveillance workload must be optimized for write operations, not read operations. It must be capable of ingesting streaming video from many cameras and performing many simultaneous write operations without incurring input/output bottlenecks or bogging down the network.


The cost of storage, in a typical video surveillance configuration, can account for as much as 60 percent of the project budget. That creates a problem when upgrading or expanding your campus surveillance system.

More cameras means adding more storage, but adding storage takes a bigger slice of your budget. That leaves less money available for cameras and other tools. It can be a vicious cycle - making trade-offs to stay within the budget can keep you from realizing the full potential of the system, unless more funding is secured.

Multi-tiered data storage is a good way to save money and increase capacity at the same time. Tiered storage combines high-performance disk for real-time monitoring and analysis with lower cost options, such as cloud storage and tape, for archival and retention. Files are moved between tiers based on policies.

Typical data management solutions require a separate application outside of the video management software (VMS) to move data between tiers. Bouncing between applications can be cumbersome when working with video files. It’s best to use a solution that provides more control and allows you to move data between tiers based on user-defined criteria, not usage-based policies, without leaving the VMS interface.

With respect to cloud storage, weigh your options carefully before jumping in. Prices vary depending on the provider and length of contract. Most offer a low price-per-gigabyte rate to store data, but separate charges apply for activities such as data movement operations, file access/retrieval, deletion, and support. Make sure you know how your data will be used, so the costs don’t surprise you.


Institutions of higher education are diverse places to learn and grow. Students are best able to broaden their knowledge and experiences when they feel safe. Creating a safe environment is a top priority for university officials. It’s their responsibility to their students, and it’s essential to their school’s image, reputation, and marketability.

New video surveillance technology is playing a prominent role in helping security professionals improve security on campus. Switching to higher quality cameras, and installing more of them, is driving up the demand for storage capacity. Make sure your storage strategy will deliver the capacity and performance you need without limiting your ability to deliver better safety.

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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