Modern casino surveillance systems need to be designed with multiple layers of data security, redundancy and reliability
By David Aindow
Casinos are the largest users of surveillance cameras in single location sites, with camera counts often totaling in the thousands.
Footage from those cameras help operators guard against fraud, staff collusion, security threats and theft. However, losing footage (even momentarily) opens them up to regulatory penalty, forced closure and profit-crippling revenue loss.
With an increasing reliance on sophisticated integrations that enable video, alarm and transactional data to be combined and analyzed for enterprise-wide situational awareness, the gaming industry is experiencing the perfect storm of data dependency. It also means the risk of data loss and downtime is greater than ever. Increased adoption of high-clarity IP-based solutions, for example, has exposed casinos to network failure issues that previously were not a consideration. So, protecting access to and securing storage of that data is becoming more and more business critical.
Crucially, the measures that casinos can take to safeguard data, and ultimately its profits, are extensive. From specific elements of network architecture to intelligent, software-driven failover and data retrieval solutions, there are numerous tools operators should be aware of to ensure their surveillance system operates as a valuable business asset, leaving no opportunity for data disasters.
DIALING IN THE NETWORK
Network design has an enormous impact on how a surveillance solution performs and presents an opportunity to address redundancy and system resilience from the ground up. There is little point employing sophisticated measures to protect data without the right foundations in place.
In casino environments, a hierarchical “mesh” network topology is preferable. This is where key components in the core, distribution and access layer are all interconnected to facilitate multiple pathways for data relay. While this topology mitigates risk against a single point of failure anywhere in the network, it can be seen as too costly to implement.
By contrast, a “star” topology tends to be the more commonly chosen network design among casinos based on affordability. In this architecture, devices are directly, but only, connected to the core which presents a greater risk of data loss. If the central switch goes offline, the entire network could fail. One way to mitigate this risk is to design a single core switch with dual supervisors. There are also other solutions that can be employed, depending on the facility security budget.
Bandwidth requirements are also a concern. Taking care to calculate bandwidth requirements or “network load” as it is also known is another crucial aspect of network design to ensure high quality, high availability surveillance data. Camera count, bit rate, routes through the network and more, all impact on bandwidth saturation levels which need to be within specific parameters to avoid data loss. The process to determine these requirements can be complicated, but all good surveillance solution providers will offer a network consultation service to help customers get it right.
RELIABILITY THROUGH REDUNDANCY
The right network architecture provides an all-important backbone for reliable, high-availability surveillance coverage, but a multi-level approach to redundancy is essential for casinos to truly guard against single points of catastrophic failure.
Building in measures that span across the core, distribution and access layers ensure that, no matter the circumstances, cameras will keep recording. The right mix of edge device data replication, server virtualization and intelligent hardware failover solutions can make the difference between business as usual and a coverage crisis. Here are some items to contemplate when looking to improve surveillance system reliability:
Consider core failure. When it comes to the core, server virtualization is an important mechanism casinos can employ to eliminate downtime and data loss.
There are two main routes casinos can take, though they are by no means mutually exclusive. One is to create a secondary virtual server, or Virtual Machine (VM), by replicating data across multiple hardware components – should server “A” fail, server “B,” a perfect replica, takes over.
However, the switchover to a VM (when needed) is not always immediate and can take up to a couple of minutes which is why casinos are increasingly interested in faster, software-driven server virtualization. In the case of our own Synergy 3 command and control solution, for example, “hot swap” server replication ensures that – in the event of a primary server issue – continuous data access and control capability is maintained, through failover to a virtual backup platform, until the primary server is brought back online. At this point, all data captured is copied back to the primary server for complete synchronicity, therefore making the user experience seamless for the control room operator.
It is important to point out that hot swapping does not simply guard against core server failure. With an integrated security management solution driving the data capture and storage “decision process,” any hardware malfunction – such as a primary storage server or encoder problem – will automatically divert recording to the most appropriate temporary location while maintaining full viewing, control and playback capabilities.
One trend we are starting to see, particularly in Asia, is for footage from cameras covering high-risk zones to be recorded to a primary storage server, a hot swap location and a secondary (JBOD) hard disk drive recording location. As well as offering an additional layer of redundancy, this setup also enables the hard disk drive to be removed and plugged into a drive caddy for immediate video playback with no impact to the primary recording. This is especially useful in cases where security teams or third-party officials may need rapid access to footage during an ongoing incident.
Focus on continuous coverage for cameras. In most cases, a combination of core redundancy measures will provide the comprehensive protection casinos need to guard against coverage loss. However, when a momentary drop in video capture or failure to retain footage for a specified regulatory period can lead to enforced closure or fines that wipe hundreds of thousands of dollars off total earnings, 99.99% reliability is not sufficient.
What happens, for instance, if a vital camera goes down? A useful, but often overlooked measure in this instance is to employ a redundant camera framework based on presets programmed into the command and control solution. Should a specific camera fail, this set-up automatically detects the issue and ensures that particular field of view is covered by repositioning the redundant PTZs accordingly. This is not a failsafe suitable for all cameras in all settings, but it is a useful and proven safety net for protecting high-risk areas such as cash cages and specific gaming tables.
Another option to guard against camera connection or network switch failure is “edge recording,” where recording takes place at the camera itself. Even for casinos utilizing high-quality HD IP cameras, the storage capacity of modern SD cards is now large enough that it is possible to record significant timespans of footage using this method. In this scenario, it is important to ensure the camera has an alternate source power.
As a cautionary note, edge recording can become an issue if not paired with an appropriate mechanism for “backfilling” footage to the normal storage array once connections are fully restored, thus resulting in disjointed data pockets. A credible video and security management solution will be able to keep track of any localized edge recording, automatically retrieve the information from its temporary location and seamlessly piece it back together as soon as normal service is resumed.
While edge recording and backfilling can be a vital failsafe, it can also be a problem – most notably in terms of live incident tracking. With the right cameras and management software, viewing, recording and backfilling should be able to take place simultaneously without affecting image quality or speed. The wrong combination, however, can result in image latency and leave operators on the back foot when it comes to watching the action unfold.
Utilize smarter storage to create safer data. Safeguarding gaming surveillance is not simply about having the right backup in place. It is also about making the right choices; choices that can only be made by understanding system capability and business needs. In other words, it is important to prioritize what really matters and make sure protection measures are in place.
Redundant storage is one protection measure that can be implemented with the only limitations being budget and available rack space. With the adoption of HD IP and 4K cameras and other evolving technology requirements for large scale casinos, storage space requirements are growing and the safeguarding of this space needs to be considered carefully. In the event of a major issue, what gets sacrificed and what gets saved?
The best way to overcome storage issues is to make those decisions in advance. With the right management software, casino operators can prioritize storage allocation to ensure, should the worst happen, footage from critical cameras is always at the front of the queue.
PROTECTING TOMORROW TODAY
Monitoring vast but crowded facilities, in low-light conditions where massive amounts of cash constantly change hands, creates a distinctly challenging security environment where surveillance downtime, or data loss, is unacceptable.
But there is reassurance to be found in this absolute because it is the demanding nature of gaming security that has also driven surveillance technology to be better, particularly in relation to redundancy and system resilience. There are many measures casinos can adopt now to protect its business and there will be many more in the future that will evolve from what is being learned today.