At this year's NAB, it was clear that commodity technology borrowed from the computer IT world is changing the storage world of audio and video data. It has helped reduce prices of storage systems and led to some sophisticated, smart storage implementations that allow broadcasters easy access and reliable delivery programs to a variety of media platforms.

Specifically, this new trend in the use of IT storage has meant new camcorders (from such companies as Grass Valley, Ikegami, Panasonic and Sony). They record onto flash memory and large (and small) storage systems using dual-core Intel Xeon processors linked to parallel ATA and Sata ATA (SATA) storage drives. (The difference between them is in how the data is stored and accessed across the drives.)

SATA was shunned by broadcasters only a few years ago. Now RAID 5 and RAID 6 technology has the added fault tolerance required by IT managers at stations and large content delivery facilities. RAID-enabled SATA storage is now seen as more than adequate, and it costs less than heretofore more commonly used SCSI technology.

At the end of the day, however, it is not enough to simply store audio and video content. It must also always be online and instantly accessible.

Of course, this can be tricky when handling large HD files and multiple file formats in a single system. Broadcasters also need ultra-high throughput rates to enable real-time collaborative workflows.

On the show floor, there were a variety of options to fit virtually every production and content delivery application.

Small workgroup storage

For the single workstation and small workgroup user, Avid Technology now offers its Unity MediaNetwork 5.0 system, designed for real-time shared storage, with a new system architecture. By consolidating several hardware components into a single, integrated file management system and storage server, it delivers twice the performance of previous Unity systems, while maintaining data resiliency.

The system is available in scalable SD and HD configurations, both of which offer GigE connectivity and 4Gb Fibre Channel connectivity, PC and Mac compatibility, as well as storage capacity that can scale from 4TB to 40TB.

Archion Technologies' Synergy HD4 is a SATA II to Fibre Channel RAID storage system designed for networking digital video systems. It is available in units from 4TB to 12TB with two ports of 4Gb Fibre Channel storage. The storage array is fully compatible with Avid Unity versions 3.3 through 4.2.2.

The HD4 extends Archion's original Synergy HD abilities from 400MB/s to 800MB/s bandwidth with its dual 4Gb Fibre Channel ports and has increased its capacity from 8TB to 12TB in the same 3RU space.

Ciprico's rack-mountable MediaVault U320RX uses parallel ATA drive technology to provide up to 5TB of cost-effective, video-tuned storage that can be configured for RAID 0 or RAID 3 operation. It can be configured with up to 10 removable drives, two removable 300W power supplies and a dual-channel Ultra 320 interface to provide throughput speeds in excess of 400MB/s. That's enough to support the real-time, 10-bit HD applications commonly used in editing applications.

Ciprico also unveiled a direct attached storage (DAS) system using the new PCI Express external cabling standard, which is also used by Sony's new XDCAM EX camcorder. The system, based on the company's RAIDCore software RAID stack, allows users to add capacity within a single cell, creating a storage pod of up to 64TB. The combination of a performance switched DAS cell with a more scalable SAN-based network provides a cost-effective, secure, two-tier scalable storage environment.

DataDirect Networks offers NAS, SAN and tiered storage solutions as part of its Silicon Storage Appliance (S2A) product family.

At the NAB convention, the company showed a NAS solution, a high-performance computing storage solution, an active archive and nearline solution, and the S2A9550 system, which uses a CXFS SAN file system. All of the systems are designed to fit the requirements of broadcast operations that need fast access to the data among multiple users on a network.

Networked production communities

Large broadcasters with multiple locations and hundreds of users are also beginning to embrace these new levels of automatically managed storage.

The Isilon IQ provides multiple broadcast and production units with instant access to vast libraries of media programming regardless of physical location, enabling enhanced live broadcasts and the creation of new workflows for the delivery of programming through media distribution networks.

Powered by highly specialized OneFS software, Isilon's single-file system unifies and provides instant access to digital content via a clustered storage architecture. The company also provides a suite of software applications that leverage OneFS and clustered storage for data protection and automated data management.

SeaChange introduced its Broadcast MediaLibrary BML6000ex and BML24000ex transmission storage systems, which provide centralized online access to any A/V file on any device on a network. I/O bandwidth is guaranteed via specialized IP accelerator GigE ports.

Both systems can be expanded by adding nodes for incremental increases in bandwidth and storage. Based on the company's MediaCluster single-copy technology, the BML systems provide fault-resilience without mirroring.

Then there's the new MediaLibrary 1G (ML1G), which features a combination of low-cost media storage and high-quality play-to-air streaming capabilities for disaster recovery and backup applications. Also based on the Xeon processor 5100 series, the system's clustered NAS technology provides up to 500TB of open, shared file storage and backup broadcast-quality streaming from a single platform, eclipsing the constrained, traditional SAN and other NAS approaches to bulk storage.

Getting holographic

InPhase Technologies continues to pioneer holographic storage, which is gaining momentum across the industry. At NAB, InPhase showed the tapestry300r commercial holographic storage system for broadcasters. It is an archival write once, read many (WORM) system that offers high capacity, file-based data access and 50-year media life for archiving video assets.

The drive offers 300GB of storage capacity on a single disk with a transfer rate of 20MB/s, or 160Mb/s. The tapestry300r allows broadcasters to record 35 hours of broadcast-quality (19Mb/s) video on a single disk in 250 minutes (at 160Mb/s transfer rate).

Both Ikegami and Panasonic announced support for the format, whereby Ikegami will deliver archival holographic storage systems for the Editcam and Editcam HD professional camcorders. Panasonic said it will support the tapestry300r drive as the archive solution for the P2 solid-state camcorders and displayed the drive in its booth.

The first holographic video archive solution — from DSM, a jukebox systems developer — will store 1560 hours of HD (at 100Mb/s) or more than 6240 hours of SD (at 25Mb/s) on 234 pieces of Maxell holographic media in one library. DSM library systems can hold up to 2250 cartridges, capable of archiving 15,000 hours of HD material.

The 300GB drive and cartridge will ship later this year, and Rorke Data said it will resell it to broadcast and digital media customers.

The future on hold

The cost has never been lower and the capacity never higher. IT storage has arrived. It's reliable and powerful. And it is literally holding the future of program production and distribution, no matter what type of data you've got.

Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on the professional video and broadcast technology industries.