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As one of the most watched PBS affiliates in the nation, at Minnesota-based Twin Cities Public Television (tpt), we were grappling with the storage and retrieval of burgeoning digital video data volumes. We produce our own television programs and broadcast thousands of hours each year from PBS and other distributors.

With a large, wide variety of content, our data set increases rapidly and must be retained anywhere from one week to perpetuity due to various industry program rights. The challenge of managing this rapid sizable data growth prompted us to search for a large, efficient storage system to accommodate our 180TB of data today — and to plan for future growth.

Our previous robotic tape library was pushing its capacity thresholds at a 60TB limit and was configured with older, antiquated SAIT drives. We needed a higher-density storage solution. As part of a thorough technology review, the station considered both tape and hard disk systems. The hard disk systems we evaluated didn't offer the low cost, high capacity and reliability we needed, so we turned our attention to an updated Spectra Logic tape library that offered reliability, high performance and smooth integration with our Masstech software.

DAM: Why tape?

Tape libraries have an excellent reputation and have been well-tested thanks to their widespread use in the media and entertainment industry. While robotic tape library operation is easy, ensuring middleware interface integration with the tape library, server and automation requires a high degree of expertise for a broadcast environment. In fact, the middleware software integration was one of the biggest challenges we faced.

My advice to peers is to address this issue early in the process of a major data center equipment refresh. Once you've determined your hardware components, focus on your middleware software package. Do you need a new one? Must you upgrade your current software to ensure that all of the components in the network will work well together?

Like many broadcasters, tpt is legally required to delete programs if we don't have legal long-term retention rights, hence the need for a strong middleware platform. In fact, some of our distributors and affiliates require an affidavit confirming that video clip use has been discontinued once rights expire. Despite the terabytes we reclaimed when we defragmented existing tapes once our rights expired, we were still running out of space and desperately needed more storage capacity.

Based on the results of the technology review and our past positive experience with the vendor, we upgraded to a high-density Spectra T950 tape library with LTO-4 tapes and BlueScale 11 management software. The tape library offers high availability, capacity and density; proactive drive and media heath checks; detailed reporting features; proactive notification and tracking; data integrity verification; and ease of use. The unit arrived well packed and easy to unload, install and commission. The only hiccup was that we neglected to order enough fibre channel cables to support the new unit, as one cable is required for each LTO-4 drive, but the minor setback was quickly remedied by an overnight cable shipment.

The tape library is being used for the nearline storage of all of our broadcast television programs. Data resides on the library and is transferred to the archive daily. Then it is retrieved as historical programs are needed. The station is taking advantage of the tape library's exclusive Global Spare option, which enables a spare failover tape drive to be configured on-site, and ensures that all necessary drives are always available to the MassStor software to retrieve and store content in required time frames.

The results

The Spectra T950 offers triple the capacity of our previous SAIT-based library. While it's difficult to believe, before implementing robotic tape libraries, we used a video tape storage system that consumed 3600sq ft of data center floor space. We've experienced a dramatic 99.7 percent reclamation of space over the years, as our current library consumes just 9.2sq ft. Since installation, we've improved time management and streamlined staffing efficiencies, thus saving money as well.

The space efficiency and high capacity of the tape library with LTO-4 drives combined with the reliability of BlueScale 11 software meets all of our requirements. It's ideal for anyone managing large data sets — either within or outside of the media and entertainment industry.

Bruce Jacobs is CTO of Twin Cities Public TV.