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Adam Bannister is a contributor to IFSEC Global, having been in the role of Editor from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam also had stints as a journalist at cybersecurity publication, The Daily Swig, and as Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
October 31, 2016


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Helium molecules and quantum physics: the future of surveillance storage, according to Seagate

Unable to offer the striking visual demonstrations of other security hardware like 4K or thermal cameras or video analytics software, surveillance storage might seem prosaic and unglamorous in comparison.

And yet, some of the industry’s most exciting innovations are happening in this field. Given the ever-growing storage needs of modern CCTV systems, it’s a case of needs must when it comes to finding ways to pack more data into the same area.

Veracity CEO Alastair McLeod recently pitched COLDSTORE, the company’s sequential data storage system, to IFSEC Global readers. Now we bring you a similarly fascinating Q&A with another major industry player, Seagate.

Andrew Palmer, UK surveillance manager at the American data storage company, talked to IFSEC Global about Seagate’s latest products, working with installers, the use of helium molecules to cram more data into the same space, and even how quantum physics is informing the innovation process.

Seagate Enterprise Capacity 3.5 HDD 8TB

Seagate Enterprise Capacity 3.5 HDD 8TB.jpg

IFSEC Global: Just to kick off, Andrew, have you got any new products out at the moment?


Andrew Palmer, UK surveillance manager, Seagate

Andrew Palmer: Since last year we’ve launched the 8 terabyte version of our surveillance hard drive, which is the world’s biggest surveillance hard drive that can be used in a RAID system.

IG: What is RAID?

AP: Very simply, rather than storing all the data in one location, it’s a box that stores bits of data across five disks. So if one disk drive fails you have backup somewhere else.

That ties nicely into our data integrity story. Our drives are RAID-ready – the only surveillance drives that are…

The drives are based on an enterprise-class platform, so it’s the same drive that goes into Google. We can ensure the drive is robustly built for this highly intensive, enterprise environment.

With Rescue services, if the data goes wrong – because of fire, flood, vandalism, accidental deletion – we can get the data back around 96% of the time

IG: Any other interesting products or services?

AP: Finally, we have Rescue Services, a value-added service you can add to the hard drive. You pay extra of course, but once you pay that one-off payment that’s it. Rescue is all covered.

What it means is that if the data goes wrong – because of fire, flood, vandalism, accidental deletion – we can get the data back around 96% of the time.

That’s good for an installer. It’s something they can add to a maintenance contract, to sell as a service – add a bit of value. And differentiation when it’s often hard to differentiate between one brand and another.


IG: Any other help for installers and other partners?

AP: We felt the traffic on Seagate’s main website was very IT-biased. They weren’t really answering the questions this [physical security] community was asking us.

So we built SeagateSecurity.com, where we have all our data, our data books and sheets, lots of imagery and banners for websites – the stuff you might need if you’re in marketing.

So whether you are specifying a system as a consultant or someone in marketing trying to sell something, you have all you need. Finally, we have lots of articles and features in there that you can deploy on your own website and promote your own SEO optimisation.

In our 10 terabyte desktop and enterprise drives we are using helium inside a hermetically sealed box. Helium molecules are much smaller than air molecules, so less friction, less vibration

IG: Higher resolutions and demand for data analytics means surveillance systems are incredibly storage needs…

AP: Here’s the thing. A camera has a lens. In one end goes light that converts to ones and zeros, which pump down the cable to an NVR or DVR, which lay it into the hard drive. Then on the other side you get some sort of video imagery on a screen with a control panel.

That all relies on a hard drive. If a hard drive goes wrong for any reason, all the other stuff you’ve invested in is redundant. So as an installer or integrator you’ve failed the system.

So we would say that although people might view the hard drive as a commodity item they can buy from eBay, you should put the same hard drive in that goes into a desktop PC. We would say the hard drive is the system.

Then we come to data integrity, reliability, that sort of stuff. That’s what we’re trying to educate the market to think about.

As the industry progresses, we see a lot more uses for surveillance footage – not just as security, but for this thing called big data. Although I don’t think we’re quite there yet, eventually they will start to make use of this stuff and add value to it.

Of course another thing as well is that if you look at networked cameras sharing the same network as a phone system, a computer system, the enterprise planning system, the manufacturing system. Suddenly your customer is no longer the facility guy or security guy; it’s the IT manager, who saying “woah: this is my system, back up!”

So I think Seagate are well used to that environment. We’re good partners to help with that conversation.

Of course,  what it does then is move the system from just a cost – so I can just bid a pound lower to get the job – to actually being an asset with a return. You can use that data, sell it on, broker it.

I think we’re well placed to take advantage of that.

IG: Is innovation particularly important in surveillance storage given the soaring rise in data demands? 

AP: The problem is the hard drive itself can only be a 3.5 inch disk platter. You can only get so many platters into a box that sticks into a standard size socket.

So how do you cram more data on there? If you think about a laptop with 320GB, we’re already selling 10 terabyte hard drives.

We’re already at the atomic level; data behaves differently. Quantum physics comes into it. Not to be too technical, but it changes behaviour. So the innovation is that deep so we lay data onto a hard drive in many ways.

In our 10 terabyte desktop and enterprise drives we are using helium inside a hermetically sealed box. Helium molecules are much smaller than air molecules, so less friction, less vibration. So you can move the platters closer together and therefore cram one more platter into the space.

Because its’ thinner with less air resistance, it takes less power to run.

IG: Can I just walk you back to a comment you made about quantum mechanics. There was something in the media recently about the prospect of a quantum computer that overturned the fundamental binary basis of computers…

A hard drive platter is very shiny, perfectly smooth on the top. On it are concentric grooves. On each groove, if I took a piece of paper, there are 1,200 grooves in that sort of space. So you’re talking extremely tiny tolerations.

So think about manufacturing: you have this thing that flicks over spinning discs. That ticking noise you hear in the computer. That is an arm flying over the platter, reading and writing data to the platter. So it’s got to go from zero to the place it will store data; it’s got to settle and to start writing. And that groove is one 1200th of that. That’s the level of engineering we’re at. That’s why I say atomic level.

And when you get down to the quantum level, atoms behave in ways that are unpredictable.

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