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Ending A Storage ‘Soap Opera’

At Lime Pictures, we’ve achieved many ‘firsts’ with Hollyoaks, Channel 4’s popular soap opera. Amongst these was being the first continuing drama or scripted ‘soap’ to shoot and deliver in HD. Additionally we were the first UK soap to produce five x 30-minute episodes each week. That’s a large volume of content, which needs to be stored and accessed simultaneously. Therefore our choice of storage partner was key to the success of our rigorous workflow.

We’ve worked in a tapeless environment for about ten years now. But it was our current need to ingest and make content available for multiple users simultaneously in a secure environment that drove us to look for a more dynamic workflow.
It was with this wish list that we turned to Quantum. We’d had previous experience with Quantum’s Scalar tape library, which enabled us to back up and recover data in our existing systems. That worked fine in its time. But now Hollyoaks was in HD and requiring 500 GB per episode.

We operate four dedicated galleries within our studio operation – two 2-camera and two 1-camera operations. Quantum’s StorNext File System enables us to record directly from each gallery on to our SAN.

The ability to ingest directly is a major time-saving benefit. The software has been proven in the market and its open architecture gives us the flexibility to choose whichever technologies we want to work with both now and in the future.

With SD, we operated in a PC environment. In HD, we work with a mix of Apple, PC and Linux. Therefore it was important that the solution we chose could work across a range of systems without problems.

To make sure that we are managing our content effectively, we also invested in Quantum’s StorNext Storage Manager combined with a Quantum Scalar i2000 tape library. If you consider that we are working with 10 TB of new content each month then it’s important to be able to use our storage effectively.

The StorNext Storage Manager provides us with a tiered storage infrastructure that is completely scalable. All content is migrated to the near line LTO4 in the Scalar i2000 tape library.

After a period of time, determined by the policy we’ve set up, content that is not actively in use is verified and then automatically archived from the production disk. This really helps our storage capacity planning, and makes sure we are using our SAN in the most efficient way.

One of the additional benefits of working with Quantum’s StorNext is the disaster recovery/business continuity capability that it offers us. To ensure our operation is as robust as possible we write to LT0-4 tape drives as our near-line storage solution within our tape library. We can use up to ten units of media each week as content is stored in full native HD.

These are then duplicated off site on a quarterly basis. We are also able to use the offsite vaulting facility as a deep storage archive for long term retention and re-use. It’s great for us as we don’t have to invest in costly backup hardware as we know we have the security of separate geographical storage locations. I t ’s important for our editors to be able to access archive content, as this is quite often required for ‘flashback’ sequences. Our proprietary metadata naming protocol makes access to a specific episode and specific scene almost immediate. Furthermore it’s a transparent process to the user who can call upon material without having to worry about where it’s located.

Last year we increased our SAN holding of 50 episodes to 110, which could have presented some operational challenges. To date, we have not lost a single shot and we still have additional storage bandwidth. In fact, we are probably working to 70 percent of our one hundred TB capacity, which is a comfortable position for us to be in.

Multiple user access to content is another key factor of the Hollyoaks workflow. We can have up to thirteen editors needing access to the same files, and of course material is also required for dubbing and the final mix. Having multiple direct access to material on our SAN is the only way we can achieve this. It would be impossible to imagine how we could manage such a high throughput in a traditional nonlinear set environment.

John Robertson is PSC Manager at Lime Pictures. Channel 4’s Hollyoaks is produced by the company.