Greg Rogan shares some of the considerations to take into account to ensure data is protected when designing a casino security and surveillance system.

Casinos are one of the largest users of surveillance cameras in single-location sites, with camera counts often in the thousands. Footage from those cameras helps guard against fraud, staff collusion, security threats, and theft. However, losing footage (even momentarily) opens them up to penalties, forced closures, and revenue losses. Crucially, the measures casinos can take to safeguard their data and their profits are extensive. From specific elements of network architecture to software-driven failover and data retrieval solutions.

Here are some of the tools and best practices you should be aware of to ensure your surveillance system operates as an invaluable asset.

Get the network dialled in

Network design enormously impacts how a surveillance solution performs and presents an opportunity to address redundancy and system resilience.

In casinos, 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.

A ‘star’ topology tends to be the chosen network design among casinos based on affordability. In this architecture, devices are only connected to the core, presenting 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.

Understand your bandwidth requirements

Calculating bandwidth requirements, or ‘network load,’ is another crucial aspect of network design to ensure high-quality, high-availability surveillance data. Camera count, bit rate, routes through the network, etc., all impact bandwidth saturation levels that need to be within specific parameters to avoid data loss.

The process of determining these requirements can be complicated, but all good security and surveillance solution providers will offer a network consultation service to help you get it right.

Reliability through redundancy

A multi-level approach to redundancy is essential for casinos to guard against single points of failure. 

Building in measures that span across the core, distribution and access layers ensures that 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.

Considering core failover

When it comes to the core – server virtualization is an essential mechanism that casinos can employ to eliminate downtime and data loss.

Casinos can take two main routes, though they are not 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 is not always immediate and can take up to a few minutes, so casinos are increasingly interested in faster, software-driven server virtualization.

Some command and control solutions can 'hot swap' server replication. This ensures that – in the event of a primary server issue – continuous data access and control capability is maintained until the primary server is back online. All data captured is copied back to the primary server for complete synchronicity, making the user experience seamless for the control room operator.

In addition to 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 on 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.

Continuous coverage

A useful, but often overlooked measure is to employ a redundant camera framework based on presets programmed in the security and surveillance solution. Should a specific camera fail, this set-up automatically detects the issue and ensures that a 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 utilising 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, ensuring the camera has an alternate power source is important. Another even more powerful tool to mitigate data loss is Intelligent Edge Recording. Intelligent Edge Recording extends the life of SD cards by using the built-in camera memory to store video footage. The camera's SD card will only be used to store footage if the connection to networked storage is lost. This delivers several resource and cost benefits, including minimised camera downtime, decreased engineering labour costs and reduced expenditure for replacement SD cards.

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, resulting in disjointed data pockets.

A credible video and security management solution will be able to keep track of any localised 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 vital failsafe, they can also be problematic – notably in live incident tracking. With the right cameras and management software, viewing, recording, and backfilling should occur simultaneously without affecting image quality or speed. However, the wrong combination can result in image latency and leave operators on the back foot when watching the action unfold.

Smarter storage

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 (for example, dedicated channels for digital slot machine monitors), storage space requirements are growing, and the safeguarding of this space needs careful consideration.

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 security and surveillance software, casino operators can prioritise storage allocation to ensure that, should the worst happen, footage from critical cameras is always at the front of the queue.

Prioritising storage allocation does not have to be driven by camera type and location; it can be driven by the footage itself. For example, during a live incident (or in the immediate aftermath), all pertinent surveillance footage can be encrypted and transferred from a primary storage server or edge-recording location to a dedicated ‘evidence locker’. Once there, it can be securely viewed and held for years, if necessary, but cannot be deleted or recorded over. It remains safe and secure until needed – in many ways, the definition of effective data redundancy.

Protecting tomorrow, today

Monitoring vast and crowded facilities in low-light conditions where massive amounts of cash constantly change hands creates a challenging security environment where surveillance downtime, or data loss, is unacceptable.

But there is reassurance to be found in this absolute. The demanding nature of casino security has also made surveillance technology better, particularly regarding redundancy and system resilience.

Casinos can adopt many measures to protect their business, and many more will evolve from what is being learned today.

Casino operators must be clear about their specific priorities and objectives. From this information, the right surveillance solution provider can design a tailored system that meets exact requirements, building in the right redundancy and resilience measures at all levels to ensure that data loss and downtime are never an issue.