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City buses use Cloudian storage for video data

Cloudian object storage hops a ride on Montebello Bus Lines, helping the California city improve its storage system for surveillance camera footage that had proved challenging.

As the use of video surveillance cameras grows for security purposes, so does the importance of storage systems to keep up with the surge in data generated by the cameras.

The city of Montebello, Calif., in Los Angeles County struggled to deal with the increased storage needs from the surveillance systems on its buses. Montebello Bus Lines' 72 buses are each equipped with five surveillance cameras. With routes covering 26 square miles and an annual passenger count of 8 million, the recording, recalling and storing of all that footage was a cumbersome process.

After a traditional NAS system failed to meet demand, Montebello IT manager David Tsuen turned to Cloudian object storage to reduce the cost and stress of extracting and saving the bus cameras' footage. Tsuen revamped the city's storage using a combination of edge devices, Cloudian storage running on a Lenovo appliance and Amazon S3 cloud storage. He said the switch resulted in improved efficiency for storing camera data.

The problem and the solution

Using the old NAS system, Tsuen said captured video would sit in the cameras until the bus finished its route and pulled into a depot. There, a technician would plug in a laptop and download the footage. The footage would also be encoded to a format that could be replayed. The whole process took an hour to complete for each hour of film.

David TsuenDavid Tsuen

"We're tired of pulling videos out of the bus," Tsuen said. "We're tired of going out there and just extracting video and leaving our laptops there for hours and hours. We actually have to design everything from the ground up, basically, to work in a mobile vehicle environment."

Aside from the wasted hours just to pull the camera footage, it was impossible to watch the video feed in real time using the old system. Additionally, if the bus was involved in an accident that damaged the camera, that footage would be lost forever.

Tsuen wanted something that would allow a rapid response. He needed a way to get live feeds, similar to how surveillance cameras work for a building.

"The misconception is, 'I have this security camera. Why don't I just put that on the bus?' It doesn't really work that way. The mobile environment in itself is very challenging," Tsuen said.

The misconception is, 'I have this security camera. Why don't I just put that on the bus?' It doesn't really work that way. The mobile environment in itself is very challenging.
David TsuenIT manager for the city of Montebello

The bus is a harsh environment. Unlike in a traditional data center inside a building, a server on a bus has to deal with low space, high heat, inconsistent power, and constant vibration and motion. To upload camera footage, Montebello needed to put a device with compute power inside each bus.

Tsuen's new storage system consists of three interconnected components. First, an edge appliance on each camera encodes camera footage and sends it over a Long Term Evolution (LTE) network to an S3 cloud. Using the S3 protocol enables the transfer of large files without restarting the entire upload process if it encounters network interruptions, which aren't uncommon over LTE. Finally, a Cloudian storage device at Montebello Bus Lines' data center grabs the footage from the cloud. Once on Cloudian storage, the footage can be easily recalled and replayed on a worker's mobile device, thanks to metadata captured alongside the footage.

Object storage is better suited to transferring data over a wireless network than a NAS file structure. The Cloudian setup can store video locally and upload it wirelessly. Object storage breaks larger clips into smaller pieces and transfers them concurrently.

Why Cloudian object storage fits

Tsuen said he chose Cloudian storage because of its compatibility with Amazon S3 and its ability to tag metadata. S3 and the Cloudian storage device both use object storage, which includes metadata. This allows IT personnel to quickly find video clips by time, location or bus ID. Additionally, video stored in the Cloudian storage appliance can be played directly without going through an intermediate server.

Storage capacity was also a factor. Under the old system, footage could only be retained for 60 days. Cloudian storage's scalability gives Montebello Bus Lines room to grow. The Cloudian storage device the city is currently using has a 2-petabyte capacity.

Tsuen has worked closely with Cloudian for the past three years, and he said it will play an integral part as the bus line's camera project enters its next stage. While he could not go into exact details on how he will build it out, he plans to add features like facial recognition, the ability to identify objects on the road and backing up the data to Amazon Glacier.

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