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Surveillance Hard Drive Shoot-Out: WD And Seagate Square Off

Introducing Surveillance-Specific Hard Drives

When you look at the video surveillance market, you find a wide array of products and solutions. At the high end, there are companies serving large business applications that can include dozens, or even hundreds of cameras. Naturally, they need hard drives by the truckload for implementations selling for six figures. At the other end of the spectrum are all-in-one home surveillance kits that you can buy online for a few hundred bucks. What both systems share in common is a need for dependable storage.

Surveillance, like many other storage applications, is all about the scale and usage. What I mean by that is most home security systems follow a write continuously/read rarely model. One compressed, 1080p stream has a ridiculously low data rate (<2 MB/s) compared to the performance of a typical hard drive (50-150 MB/s). Even when you increase the number of cameras, you still have ample headroom to record data. In more enterprise-oriented systems, the requirement is for simultaneous record and playback. And when you think about how a mechanical, rotating drive works, performing both tasks at the same time can be incredibly difficult, depending on the physical location of data on the disk. These sort of challenges are why we are seeing the major hard drive manufacturers introduce products aimed specifically at the surveillance market.

So what can a disk vendor do to streamline the types of transfers typical of surveillance? The main lever available to pull is a full implementation of the ATA Streaming Command Set. When a drive is formatted, multiple zones are created that include a varying number of sectors per track, based on location. The Streaming Command Set includes tables that describe these zones and the average seek time from track to track. By knowing exactly how long it will take to access data, the surveillance system can optimize its transfers. There is also a Configure Stream command that allows the host to set the number of simultaneous read or write streams. This knowledge lets the drive configure its buffers accordingly.

At the end of the day, surveillance customers don't care about how ATA commands are implemented. They don't care about access times or data rates. They care about recording and, in turn, playing back video. Not to sound too dramatic, but the difference between a bad guy getting caught and him getting away can be a few frames of a capture. If your surveillance system cannot keep up with every single frame of video, you are taking on risk.

As part of our surveillance hard drive showdown, we're matching the Western Digital Purple against Seagate's Surveillance HDD. Both drives sport almost identical specifications and target markets. With roughly 90% of the rotating disk space split between the two, there aren't many moves that one company makes without the other one matching.

The surveillance market is no different. In a case of one-upmanship, Seagate announced its Surveillance HDD one day prior to the WD Purple announcement. But before we crown a surveillance champion, lets take a closer look at each drive.

  • CaptainTom
    Didn't even know these existed...
    Reply
  • coolestcarl
    Excellent article. I was doing research into building a custom surveillance system for our shop and this is exactly the kind of material that would help me make an informed decision.
    Reply
  • coolestcarl
    One thing that was unclear... obviously WD recommends no more than 8 in a system because of the lack of RAFF. I was wondering:
    Are there any demonstrable effects on performance of having these drives in a small external raid array (of perhaps 4 drives)?
    Reply
  • AndrewJacksonZA
    "As I noted earlier, those Seagate models are in there as a performance reference; they wouldn't normally compete in the same space as the Purple and Surveillance HDD."

    If you're going to wander into the USD1/GB+ territory, even just for informational purposes, please include an SSD in this mix to be fair. SSD performance/price just might validate people buying them for surveillance drives.

    Thank you.
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    I would have whacked a WD Black in there to see how all these specialty drives compare against a standard performance-oriented desktop drive.
    Reply
  • mapesdhs
    I would have whacked a WD Black in there to see how all these specialty drives compare against a standard performance-oriented desktop drive.

    Indeed, or any typical Enterprise SATA model (Hitachi HUS, Seagate ES2/NS, etc.)

    Come to think of it, given the consequences of not being able to identify a suspect or
    obtain other relevant visual information due to dropped data, as AndrewJacksonZA
    says it would be interesting to know how these drives compare to various high-capacity
    SSHDs/SSDs, eg. the Seagate 4TB ST4000DX001, Samsung 840 EVO 1TB (which includes
    AES), and (high-density option, power saving) the Samsung MZ-MTE1T0BW 1TB mSATA.
    The higher cost/GB of these products is surely more than worth it given the intended task.

    Ian.

    Reply
  • CaedenV
    Great article! I had no idea at just how huge the performance gap was between the cheap consumer drives and their more industrial cousins in the enterprise market. Have to say though; with enterprise SSDs starting to come down in price with such better specs, it is going to be difficult to justify enterprise hard drives that still cost $1+/GB. I think we are going to see SSD adoption grow like crazy in those enterprise markets the next few years, especially with drives starting to have 5-10 year warranties.

    Article idea: No offence to the writers at Tom's but this is the first interesting article I have read in a long time. Could we get some more articles like this? Maybe some articles comparing onboard Intel RAID with different popular card options? Or comparing how different drives perform in different RAID configurations and workloads? I get the feeling that these drives would perform quite differently as they are really made to work as a team rather than as solo drives.
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    13537984 said:
    Come to think of it, given the consequences of not being able to identify a suspect or obtain other relevant visual information due to dropped data
    You would need one grossly under-engineered surveillance system for this to really be a problem since there is nothing happening 99% of the time and those drops would need to conveniently happen during the 1% of the time where you need data and your system administrator would need to have somehow failed to notice and fix the issues in-between events if they were so bad as to render the system unusable for its intended purpose.

    Most of the time though, surveillance recordings are merely a nice convenience in case something goes wrong but are not considered critical outside of casinos, banks and few other (very) high security applications that have their own IT departments or dedicated vendors working on their video archival needs and are unlikely to take their hardware recommendations from enthusiast sites like THG.

    I doubt any normal company would waste SSDs or 10k/12k/15k RPM HDDs on video surveillance storage. They would be more likely to use standard HDDs like WD Black / Red / Green / Blue.
    Reply
  • Amdlova
    seagate in enterprise sector is better than WD. i See these little boys working on a PC and DO such amazing job. Running windows and a old Surveillance card with 32 cameras and you can see the videos and edit at same time.
    Reply
  • drewriley
    13537984 said:
    Come to think of it, given the consequences of not being able to identify a suspect or
    obtain other relevant visual information due to dropped data, as AndrewJacksonZA
    says it would be interesting to know how these drives compare to various high-capacity
    SSHDs/SSDs, eg. the Seagate 4TB ST4000DX001, Samsung 840 EVO 1TB (which includes
    AES), and (high-density option, power saving) the Samsung MZ-MTE1T0BW 1TB mSATA.
    The higher cost/GB of these products is surely more than worth it given the intended task.

    Ian.

    I really debated on whether to include SSDs in the evaluation. The problem is that because of $/GB and write endurance, it would only make sense to use them on a smaller scale setup, which is where their benefits (simultaneous high speed IO), are greatly reduced. Also, their performance would skew the graphs to the point where it would be hard to interpret the results of the HDDs.
    Reply