Networking for the digital facility

At Sunday's "Networking for the Digital Facility" session, presenter David Bigelow, owner of Gray Matter Entertainment, discussed why post facilities should have a network. He pointed out that Sneaker Net -- moving files between systems with your sneakers -- is obviously wasteful and takes editors away from the next task they could be doing. In addition, Sneaker Net is prone to clutter and technical damage, and it is disorganized because it leaves copies of content all over the place.

A network, on the other hand, is more organized and provides central repositories. A network is flexible as it provides multiple access points to all material, and it is always faster than Sneaker Net. Furthermore, it is efficient because routine editorial tasks can be done at assistant/offline edit stations on the network. Finally, a network brings editorial, graphics, compositing, color correction, audio, finish and mastering into a concurrent workflow as opposed to a typical linear approach.

Bigelow then turned to networking foundations. He said that with Ethernet, 10/100 Base T is a good start but limited to simple networking uses, resulting in slower speeds. With Gigabigt Ethernet, 1000 Base T is fast enough for compressed editing over the network and provides faster transfers. He said that Fibre Channel is the marker right now for the fastest throughput and is capable of supporting uncompressed HD.

Next, Bigelow discussed the advantages and disadvantages of NAS, DAM and SAN. The benefits of a NAS are many. In addition to lower costs, a NAS makes project backup easy and reliable, creates a central drop location for all to work from, saves on burned media costs and improves workflow immediately. On the other hand, a NAS is not capable of higher bandwidth demands such as editing. Also, it's slow to move larger media onto a NAS. And, Bigelow said that a NAS is "dumb" because it's really just another hard drive on the network and not much else.

Turning to DAM, Bigelow said to "think of it as a post-production multimedia juke box." With DAM, finding media is easier and faster, it's more organized, and it allows for collaborative editing work. On the down side, DAM requires time and training to implement. It also needs an initial database to be developed (but not in all cases).

With a SAN, there is a true collaborative editing workflow. It allows every edit system to have access to all media. Projects can be easily passed through a nonlinear process, and all departments can access sequences as they are locked. The biggest disadvantage of a SAN, Bigelow said, is that it's expensive. Most SANs require Fibre Channel cabling, switches and HBAs for every computer. Likewise, a SAN requires more robust installation steps. But, Bigelow pointed out that "you'll never want to work without it once you have it."