Karl Paulsen /
09.03.2003
Planning for Storage And Asset Management
With video media server technology now well entrenched in the moving image industry, and storage costs per gigabyte much lower compared to five years ago, users now find one of the foremost topics is the management of an ever-growing quantity of content. To address the content growth issue, physical storage subsystems must continue to grow. Such stores can be configured as SAN, NAS or DAS; but to make the best utilization of these systems, a set of tools is required that deals with the management and structure of these massive arrays. These tools are being referred to, in the general sense, as "storage management' and differ from what we hear in the more general sense as "asset management."

Storage management, from the enterprise perspective, is a topic that gets a great deal more attention today in the IT field than in the media content industry. The elements in storage management control the orderly growth of content, the scalability of often proprietary elements and tools, plus incorporates the protection of that data enterprise-wide. Asset management, sometimes called "media asset management" (MAM), although closely associated with storage, is more formally aligned with workflow processes. The structure of a media asset management program sets the pace, accessibility, flexibility, usability and in turn the value of the media that is generated and stored throughout the enterprise.

To be valuable for the future, motion imaging content must remain readily accessible, easily cataloged, capable of being archived, and be uniformly retrievable in a suitable time frame that meets the needs and objectives of its users. Over the course of the past 25 years, many of us have probably dealt with the issues of storing (and finding) 35mm home slides, 8mm motion pictures and certainly hundreds upon hundreds of print images. With the advent of the personal videocassette recorder in the mid-1970's came a less expensive and more readily available medium. Managing personal content from the videotape side is probably as difficult a task for personal users as for the professional industry, with the scale of the problem orders of magnitude greater in size.

Although the "applications" employed by the professional media industry are thought to be much better than the crude and unsystematic structure where users scribed information onto a 3x5 index card, wrote onto a label or made a simple note on the outside of a VHS cassette sleeve, in many cases, there still remains little to no positive association between the tape media stored on the cassette, the written text on that sleeve, and any form of database or cataloging. This is where the need for media asset management has emerged, and with the concepts in metadata rooted in place, the issues become all the more important to the long-term integrity of this information.

Prior to video-based imaging, and still continuing today, frame-oriented emulsion-based film storage was the demonstrative method for permanent preservation of the moving image. Videotape offered a more flexible and reusable alternative to film, but the introduction of optical disc-based storage changed the metaphor, creating the ability to access content at a random location, permitting rapid accessibility and allowing for retrieve, exchange and storage of media on a relatively small form factor. This non-linear paradigm has since changed the media presentation forever; however, it has also opened an entirely new set of challenges in asset management.

EARLY INTERACTIVITY

Before compressed motion imaging, analog laserdiscs and magneto-optical (MO) permitted near-permanent storage of motion images and multimedia graphic content. In its heyday, the laserdisc with its indexing capabilities married to frame-based images carried its own set of metadata that provided annotation and in turn automation of the presentation. Using a predecessor to media management, images could be rearranged to produce interactive program sets extending the applications of the disc-based images to full-featured entertainment, instructional education and to a more long-term and permanent storage means for archival purposes. The audience could further influence the presentation through a set of interactive commands tailored to the application, presentation or subject matter. In its simplest sense, the data necessary to accomplish these tasks became the roots of early asset management.

Compressed imaging, coupled with the proliferation of the microchip, personal computer, server architectures and storage venues (including the DVD or CD-ROM), changed the focus of the media presentation and in turn opened up a new objective(managing that myriad data that is being collected, stored and repurposed in a never-ending fashion. Now that organizations can more economically store everything, they face the task of utilizing that data, both for the present and the future. As storage costs continue to decline and storage density increases, retention of that data requires a structure for both the content and the hardware associated with whatever storage method is selected.

UNDERSTAND YOUR BUSINESS

To be effective, media management must go beyond the manipulation of bits on SANs and servers; storage management involves conscientious planning so that the hardware and software investment remains extensible.

When dealing with asset management, storage management must also be considered. Begin by understanding the nature of the services to be provided, and in turn, the business you're in. From these foundations, a further understanding of how to utilize available storage, the kinds of data to be handled, the need for protection (backup or mirroring) and the architecture necessary to effectively address the current and future needs of the enterprise all become components in an overall system.

Once the general needs are agreed upon, a system design can be developed and then tested. The operation should be modeled as thoroughly as possible without any actual implementation and before committing to hardware or software purchases. Third-party integrators may get involved -- those who are familiar with a variety of systems and who are removed from the actual business or operations side of the end user's organization. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the organization to make or break the success of the plan, but in the development phases, it is accepted practice and a wise venture to utilize outside resources who can develop and test the plan from the systems perspective. Attempting to develop a plan solely "in-house" (i.e., in a vacuum) expectedly carries with it internal or excess baggage that can bias or adversely affect the ultimate success of the plan.

The successful program (for both asset and storage management) will require that an operational model be built around a new "process architecture." By putting aside the hardware/software issues from the onset and focusing on the processes, including workflow and operational issues, a more specific definition of hardware and software products can be molded to the needs of the business. We can certainly appreciate that old operational methods won't necessarily suit new models; thus, a well-planned new operational method should then lead to a successful new media management scheme.

Don't assume you can find hardware or software that only migrates existing operations' structure to new products or technologies-you'll only end up with the same problems with which you started. The old adage of "that's the way we've always done it" has no economical place in the information age.

Knowing where the bridges cross between storage management, i.e., the handling of the hardware/software solutions for storage; and the principle concepts of asset management-including processes, workflow and accessibility -- is important to successfully implementing a well -- thought-out media management program. Storage management is important when it comes to the growth and handling of physical content, yet it's the asset management program that ultimately pays off in the long term.

Here is some basic advice for developing a plan: Make sure that there is sufficient budget to handle all the issues. Prepare the entire organization for the transition with training. Seek the aid of outside professionals experienced in the industry who can help assemble effective packages for your particular needs. Compare alternatives, and don't make purchase decisions until you have buy-in from those who must use and those who must manage both the hardware and the content.


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