The Storage problem with IP Cameras
In this article, we will provide a short overview of the available IP camera storage systems and options, with a focus on IP camera FTP hosting solutions.
Setting up a simple camera for surveillance of a small office or a home quickly becomes overwhelming, especially, when the footage starts to accumulate after a few months.
With full HD cameras becoming the standard, and 4k cameras entering the market, storage requirements and prices continue to increase. The cost of a surveillance appliance such as a NVR, DVR, or NAS can quickly grow above the price of the camera equipment.
Setting up an IP camera office monitoring can be made on the cheap, but it requires some compromises. One of the cheaper ways is to re-use your existing hosting account (if you already have a website, you have a hosting account). But you need to check with your hosting provider, if they allow storing footage/pictures from IP cameras. There are hosts, especially ones that offer "unlimited storage" that disallow the storage of unrelated to the website files. ICDSoft offers clear limits on its hosting plans - 10GB for the Economy hosting plan, and 100GB for the Business plan. You are free to use the storage in any way, as long as it is legal.
Local Storage Options for IP Cameras:
Local storage is where it is at for 24/7 footage recording, advanced image processing and detection. The bandwidth requirements of modern High Definition cameras running 24/7 are huge and could overload any internet connection. For this reason, the main storage medium for most users is some sort of local storage solution. If you don't need 24/7 recordings, the remote options may be a better (and cheaper) choice. A significant drawback of all local storage solutions is that the data is stored in the same place where a security event may occur. This requires additional investments in protecting your storage appliance. Storing backups of the data remotely alleviates this problem to an extent, and many users use a combination of local and remote storage (cloud, FTP, or some online backup service).
Micro SD Cards
SD cards are а popular and cheap option. If the camera supports SD cards, the installation is also a breeze. A 64GB SD card recording at h.264@ 5736 Kbps could store approximately 24 hours of footage for around $20. However, SD cards are good only for temporary storage or buffering. Their long-term reliability is low and the harsh environments in which most outdoor cameras are placed increase their chance of failure.
SD cards should really be only a last-resort storage option. They have their applications though, for example, where internet (or any network) connectivity is impossible to have, or when the cost of the network devices for the surveillance setup exceeds the value of the items it protects.
When relying on SD cards, make sure to protect the camera itself as well, as this is where the security footage is stored.
NAS stands for Network Attached Storage. Commercial NAS installations may utilize high-powered servers with tens of HDDs, but in the context of IP cameras, a NAS is typically a small device housing 2-10 HDDs, running 24/7 with a low-power CPU. The main purpose of a NAS is usually backups, but they can also be used as shared storage, or a personal cloud.
A NAS is a very good storage option if you already have one, or you plan on purchasing one. NASes can be used both as the main storage for cameras, and as backup storage for them. Some NAS appliances also have software for managing cameras (like the popular Synolgy DiskStation products for example).
However, most NAS devices are quite underpowered for managing multiple cameras, and the cost for advanced ones rises quickly. There is also the concern that you are transforming your backup appliance into something else, which may in the long term compromise your backup strategy. In our hosting environment, for example, backup servers are totally separate machines and their only purpose is to create backups. This ensures that the server is utilized only for the task it was built to and minimizes the risk of corrupting the backups.
NVR / DVR / Surveillance Appliance
Once you get above a certain number of cameras, a proper NVR/DVR appliance becomes essential. NVR stands for Network Video Recorder. This is a specialized device (often a low-power computer system) sitting on your local area network. It can, and usually does include a PoE (Power Over Internet) switch for powering multiple cameras, and specialized video surveillance software. DVRs are essentially the same but work with analog cameras, which are increasingly becoming outdated.
The problem with these appliances is the cost and complexity. Unless you run a lot of cameras, they are overkill for small setups. Re-using your existing NAS, or re-purposing an old PC is a cheaper choice in these cases.
This is an option that could save a significant amount of money compared to commercial NVR setups.
Beware that you can't just use your existing PC for this task (or at least shouldn't). Live image processing and recording needs to be done 24/7, turning the PC in what is effectively a single-purpose server. For this task, usually a refurbished PC is purchased, whose only task is to run the NVR software.
Your best source for computer requirements and choice if you decide to go this route is the IP Cam Talk Wiki, and more specifically, the hardware recommendations guide for the popular Blue Iris software:
The power costs for operating a computer 24/7 shouldn't be underestimated. Some older computer configurations have very high power consumption. For example, a computer idling at 80W will consume 32kWh of energy in a month. Depending on your electricity bill, this could cost $100/year (if you pay 15c/kWh). Noise from an old computer system running 24/7 should be considered as well. Compared to home NVRs and NASes, old computers tend to be much louder and to consume more power.
Online Storage Options for IP Cameras:
Online storage options all share the same main drawback – they require a constant internet connection. That’s why online methods are mainly used as a secondary storage option for backup purposes, or for viewing your footage from remote/mobile devices.
The interfaces of security cameras and NVRs should be well protected behind a firewall, NAT, or VPN. Running your camera or NVR interface publicly on the internet is a huge security risk. Some of the largest DDoS attacks on the internet are performed by infected IoT devices, many of which are IP cameras. The Mirai botnet is probably the best example of this issue - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirai_(malware).
Setting up VPNs on every device that may need access to the event footage from a camera is burdensome and that's why hosting your footage on a paid web host or at some cloud storage provider is recommended.
In some cases online storage can be the only solution. For example, in remote locations, or when the surveillance equipment required for a full onsite install may be more expensive than the protected property itself.
Most big cloud providers, like Google, Dropbox, OneDrive, etc. don't offer the means for direct uploads from IP cameras. There are some dedicated camera cloud providers, but their prices aren't really comparable to the prices you may be accustomed to.
Some camera manufacturers (such as Xiaomi and Reolink, for example) have started offering their own cloud storage solution for some of their cameras. This greatly simplifies the installation of the camera and its storage setup, but comes with its own set of drawbacks. By using the camera manufacturer cloud offering, you are being locked into their product portfolio, as these clouds don't work with all brands.
Also, the free plan that is usually included as a starter is very limited, as its main purpose is to upsell you to the higher-tier plans.
FTP is a mature technology, well-supported by all IP cameras. Setting it up is easy enough even for beginner users. FTP hosting options are cheap and flexible. Our Business hosting plan, for example, with 100GB of disk storage is just $8/month after the first year, and can be get on sale for around $5/mo. It allows simultaneous uploads from 10 cameras. It is a very good choice for camera FTP hosting and is used by hundreds of our users for that exact purpose. In combination with the email service offered (which has full SMTP support and has large mailbox size allotments) it is a perfect solution for hosting IP camera footage and pictures.
A huge benefit of having your data stored online via FTP is that you can easily view your security footage from anywhere in the world, without worrying about the security of your cameras or NVR, and without setting up VPNs.
We don't have unlimited hosting plans. We advertise what we can offer, and every customer can use all the disk space they have purchased.
IP Camera FTP Storage Setup Example
This is the FTP configuration of a Dahua security camera uploading motion-triggered events to one of our servers:
As you can see, the configuration is very easy - you just need to configure the FTP server address and username/password combination to have your security footage accessible from the internet. We maintain the security of the web-accessible layer and have a team working 24/7 on this task.
This is a real camera protecting a remote property, which only has a metered internet connection. For this reason, the setup there consists only of the camera, a UPS, and a wireless router provided by the local 4G operator. An existing hosting account serving a live website was re-used as storage for the security footage, bringing the total cost of the setup to the cost of the camera and its cabling. The UPS was already needed, for the proper operation of the heating water pump.
ICDSoft's Business hosting plan, which is the most suitable plan for IP camera storage provides 100GB of disk space, 150 FTP subusers, and is regularly discounted.