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Managing Intense Storage Needs

Working with major broadcast clients such as Channel Five and ITV has always meant that we at itfc are used to handling large volumes of content. If you also include the range of services we offer such as subtitling, digital asset management, audio description, and restoration, you can see that our workflow and our demand for storage is intense. If we add the impact of so much HD content, it has made it even more important for us to put in place a reliable and secure storage infrastructure.

Our challenge is always to be one jump ahead of our storage requirements; ensuring we have enough capacity to future proof our business.

In the summer of 2011, we increased our Final Cut Pro capacity from 8 to 12 units and our need to access high bandwidth HD streams increased substantially. We therefore decided to evaluate a range of solutions to increase our storage capacity that reflected the demands of our Final Cut editing infrastructure.

We’d had some workflow issues with accessing content on fibre shared storage with our TMD MediaFlex asset management system. It was crucial that any new storage solution meet our needs, and also work within the framework of our existing infrastructure. The ability to allow MediaFlex access to the content – and then to automatically move, deliver, purge, and restore content with ease – was forefront on our wish list.

One of the solutions we evaluated was GB Labs’ Space storage product range. To be honest, we’d not had any previous experience with the company when GB Labs’ equipment reseller Encompass approached us. It was almost by accident that I took the call, thinking that it was the playout company of the same name with whom we have a mutual client relationship.

Up to this point, we had been frustrated that some of the solutions we’d seen didn’t really seem to be designed for the broadcast industry; it was more a case of ‘storage is storage.’ Therefore I was intrigued – if a little sceptical – about the capabilities and functionality of Space.

With this in mind, we agreed to a test period to see how Space would cope in a post production ProRes HQ 4:2:2 environment. What really grabbed our attention was how quickly we were able to install the unit. Thirty minutes after we took delivery of our test Space, we had it working with FCP. Additionally, we were able to use our existing network cabling. And we didn’t have to install any new software or client adaptor cards.

An Ethernet-based solution was essential for us to enable flexible working with multiple sources. Space came with 10Gb uplinks to the dedicated switch, to which we added bonded 1Gb links to the LAN. This design enabled us to test not only its storage capabilities to the limit, but the integration with MediaFlex. During our two week trial, we achieved speeds of up to 4500 Mbps and the integration with our LAN was seamless.

We felt that GB Labs really ‘got it’ with regard to our requirements, and that they understood the post environment. It’s also important that the relationship we have with our suppliers is ongoing rather than ‘transactional’. Therefore it was good to know that Space came with a warranty backed by 24 hour support, should we require it. A combination of cost, service, level, and functionality meant that, after extensive evaluation testing of the unit along with four other manufacturers’ products, we chose to invest in a Space solution.

To meet our needs we purchased one Space central storage solution along with two Space Ex companion expansion units. We combined this with two additional RAID units to get as much capacity as possible. In total, this gave us 100 TB of usable and accessible disc space, which more than exceeded our requirements.

We’d originally had a target of 24 streams of ProRes (HQ) 4:2:2 at an average bit rate of 135 Mbps (target bitrate of 220Mbps) in mind. But with our current Space infrastructure, we could easily be working with 36 concurrent streams of Pro Res (HQ) 4:2:2. This certainly answered our need to future proof our storage capacity.

Should the time ever come to increase our capacity further, the Space Ex solution allows us to add whatever additional storage we require without disrupting our current set up or taking down our operation for the install.

For our editors, access to content is seamless and immediate. It really does come down to a click on the screen. This has meant that we’ve been able to harness the benefits of Space from Day One without any cumbersome training or integration work.

When we started this process, we were fully expecting to have to factor in new cabling, new client cards, and network tweaks. But Space came with none of these hurdles.

It would be fair to say that Space was the only solution that ticked all the boxes. Coming at the price it did, we were amazed that it exceeded the functionality of better known solutions at a fraction of the cost.

Adequate storage can be something that we take for granted. It’s fair to say that it might not be as exciting as some of our more creative tools, but it’s actually essential for content creation and a successful workflow.

Gez Quinn is Head of IT and Technical Services at itfc.

GB Labs