Granada Bristol selects Studio Network Solutions

Granada Television installed Studio Network Solutions’ SANmp in 10 of its editing suites at its Bristol loca- tion. The multi-platform, volume- management software enables multiple workstations with different operating systems to concurrently access and share information on a workgroup Storage Area Network.

Granada Bristol is a new state-of-the-art production center in Bristol, UK. Granada Media is part of ITV — a popular commercial television channel in Britain. The center comprises a production office infrastructure. It includes 12 editing suites and three audio suites producing programs transmitted to many countries. Programs vary in content and include wildlife, science, history, drama and popular factual productions. Media formats include DV, SD and HD, and can be required to be delivered at both SD and all HD frame rates.

The facility uses creative applications such as Apple's Final Cut Pro, Discreet's combustion and Adobe's After Effects to create its programs. Most applications are available in all suites, but the production center tends to make the rooms application-specific.

With nearly 30TB of storage, the facility needed to find some way of sharing the media between suites that was non-proprietary, because no one manufacturer of software was used throughout the office. It uses Gigabit Ethernet or 1000MB to network the suites, but even at this high speed, moving high volumes of data could take days, and that was just from one suite to another. Literally, it was quicker to disconnect the disk array and physically move it down the corridor to another room.

It seemed that a SAN may not work either because in order to share SD or HD media at the data rate required, the center would need bandwidth of 30GB using a file-based SAN. Data rates such as this can be notoriously difficult to control and also prove unreliable. It also seemed that one huge disk array would be a single point of failure should a problem occur, even if robust raid technology was used.

The facility chose to use Apple's Xserve RAID enclosures, Vixel 9200 Fibre Channel (FC) switches and Studio Network Solutions' SANmp software. It could host many Xserve raid units with the SANmp volume sharing software and then allow each room to access files on a read/write or read only basis as required. By switching around the required partitions in this way, the facilty could effectively deliver upwards of 36GB of bandwidth to the suites. The limiting factor would then become the disk partition bandwidth of the speed of the fiber connection to the room. Seven disks striped would yield 172MB in a raid 5 configuration or 344MB in a raid 50 configuration. FC bandwidth is 200MB or dual FC 400MB, so clearly the production center could use single or dual FC as required.

Installation was easy. Glass FC needed to be installed, which is not easy in a Georgian building such as the one Granada is housed. Nevertheless, it was achieved in good time. The Apple Xserve raid enclosures did provide some difficulty at first, but when a firmware bug was released, all became stable and worked reliably. Installing the volume sharing software couldn't have been easier. The resultant SAN system delivers bandwidth and storage to each edit area on demand for either DV/SD or HD. The use of QuickTime as a wrapper format enables the QT media to interchange between workstations and applications easily and simply.

Over the past several months, additional storage has been added. With nearly 60TB of media storage in total, the operations personnel are out of hard drive chaos and now are in a position to handle large projects easily and simply. They no longer have to worry about media interchange as they once did.

The introduction of the volume sharing software has meant increased accessibility, stability and efficiency. This flexibility was important to the creative team, which demands access to the best creative applications available.

One of the production center's biggest concerns was that its SAN system must support a range of operating systems to ensure that the creative staff has access to files through their chosen application. The volume sharing software satisfies all these needs. In fact, with access to such a flexible SAN support system, costs have been reduced, while the standard of support and overall reliability has improved.

In an effort to continue to use converging IT technology in the media environment, the facility looks forward to continuing to expand its SAN system with SNS globalSAN components to leverage more value from the existing infrastructure. This will enable its clients to access existing FC disks via IP. In user benefit terms, any production team that wishes to edit DV material on a laptop, for example, and has access to the facility's LAN could easily retrieve their content that is hosted on the FC network. This will allow more creative freedom, flexibility and overall cost benefits.

Dave Blackham is Granada Television's Bristol operations manager.