Technology seminar: Storage

In the area of video storage, perhaps the most noteworthy development at this year's NAB convention was the fact that it marked the first show in 50 years that a new videotape format was not introduced. This paved the way for several new removable storage options that store video as data on hard drives, optical disk, or solid-state media and quickly load into a camera or an external player or recorder.

Next-generation, networked storage (either as NAS or SAN) was also prominent in the form of new enterprise-wide shared RAID storage systems and highly intelligent holographic storage.

Also noteworthy this year is that the major computer industry storage suppliers, such as HP, IBM, SGI and Sun Microsystems, are now working closely with broadcasters to build out their offline storage systems and get everybody at a station working on the same network. Some broadcasters seemed wary of them only five years ago.

Nearline storage systems — products that store content as it comes in to the facility and content that is prepared for distribution — are still the domain of such industry stalwarts as Avid (with its new ISIS family), Thomson Grass Valley (with its new K2 media server and client system), Harris (with its Leitch NEXIO server family) and Omneon (with the Spectrum media server and new MediaGrid system).

Broadcasters are recognizing the potential that file-based storage systems offer and are implementing them with increasing regularity. For example, the CBS television network has contracted SAVVIS to deploy a digital media archiving and retrieval system supporting the entire network's content archives and its approximately 250,000 reels of content (and that number is expected to grow significantly over the next five years). The project includes implementing a digital archive, retrieval and distribution system for the CBS television entertainment library, which will allow the network to search, manage, store and repurpose assets.

As another example typical of today's use of IT storage by broadcasters, FOX is using Sun Microsystems' Solaris 10 operating system for the network's new centralized sales, traffic and programming management system. With the Sun equipment — and Pilat Media's sales, traffic and program management software — FOX can monitor and manage the entire business process, from sales to billing, for all revenue streams. The IT server and storage project will be rolled out across all FOX television stations over the next three years.

Due to its acquisition of StorageTek, Sun showcased a hierarchical storage management solution based on the Sun StoreEdge and StorageTek FlexLine, which includes the SL500 and SL8500 tape systems, the 6920 mid-range disk system and NAS systems.

Pappas Telecasting, a large, privately held, U.S. commercial television broadcast group, is installing a holographic storage system from InPhase Technologies in its new automated master control facility for KAZR-TV and KREN-TV in Reno, NV. The InPhase Tapestry offers a 300GB write-once, read-many drive that enables broadcasters to record 35 hours of broadcast-quality video on a single disk with a transfer rate of 20MB/s in less than 4.5 hours. InPhase showed the system in the Maxell booth at NAB2006.

Other new options

SGI displayed its new shared-storage solutions, which allow customers to create content via a collaborative workflow. The SGI Altix 4700 server is a 64-bit Linux system with a blade design that allows users to configure any combination of blades, including Intel Itanium 2 processors, co-processors, memory, storage, I/O and graphics.

SGI's InfiniteStorage 6700, a 4Gb Fibre Channel storage system, provides 2.5GB/s throughput, while the SGI InfiniteStorage 10000 provides terabytes of storage arrays per square foot and fast retrieval of archived data at a price per terabyte that is comparable to a tape library, according to the company.

Omneon launched its new MediaGrid active storage system at NAB, which is also designed for multiple employees to simultaneously work with large digital media files within broadcast and production facilities. The system combines grid storage and grid computing through the use of multiple intelligent, interconnected-yet-independent storage servers.

The main components of the system are ContentDirectors and ContentServers. ContentDirectors act as the overall file system controllers, managing the distribution of data throughout the system and providing data maps for easy retrieval of media.

The MediaGrid architecture uses a file segmentation scheme that employs file slices as the unit of storage, instead of the traditional blocks used by conventional data storage systems. Every file is divided into slices, which are stored in multiple locations across the ContentServers. Redundant ContentDirectors manage the distribution of slices and maintain the database of slice locations.

Quantum showed its new SDLT 600A professional video drive, a data tape drive and NAS system that's specifically enhanced for professional video and is “MXF-aware.” This enables VTR-like access to clips by time code along with metadata.

Each 300GB-capacity tape cartridge is designed to hold more than six hours of HD content (recorded at 100Mb/s) and carries its own file system directory. Each tape cassette also allows direct drag-and-drop access by applications on a network without the need for other software. With built-in Gigabit Ethernet capability, the SDLT 600A is also network-attached, permitting direct access by every workstation and server on the network.

IBM demonstrated its Digital Media Center storage solution at NAB, showing how stations can use it to reduce cost and improve operations. The system allows real-time access to incoming video and the seamless sharing of content among users. It also enables content to be accessed by multiple clients as soon as the first bytes of content are recorded on the disk, as well as simultaneous real-time read and write of files.

Principal storage components of the Digital Media Center include the DS6000 and DS8000 storage systems. These redundant arrays work in tandem with the TotalStorage Enterprise Storage Server, pSeries servers, the xSeries servers, General Parallel File System; the IBM Tivoli Storage Manager (which helps protect data integrity); and the LTO Ultrium tape drive.

Along with its ISIS system, Avid showed its new VideoRAID product line, offering 5TB of storage with guaranteed real-time access for multistream SD and HD content. Both the VideoRAID RTR320 and RTR320X are designed for use with Avid's NLE systems and are the first in a series of low-cost parity RAID storage products that the company is introducing as a result of its acquisition of Medea last January.

Clearly, this year's NAB proved that there's a single storage system or networked platform to fit every need. The challenge is finding the “bandwidth” to research which one is right for you.

New removable media for acquisition

At NAB2006 the industry began to see the tapeless future in earnest. With all of these new recording formats — unlike videotape — a variety of frame rates and compression schemes can be stored on the same media.

The price of solid-state storage has begun to come down, resulting in reduced prices for Panasonic DVCPRO P2 cards, which cost half of what they did last year. The secure digital memory cards provide approximately 35 minutes of DVCPRO 50 recording on a 4GB PCMCIA card, and a variety of frame rates can be stored on a single P2 card.

Professionals continue to embrace Sony's XDCAM optical discs. The same Professional Disc media used in the SD version of the XDCAM system is also compatible with the new HD version. Users can record up to two hours of HD content on a single 23.3GB optical disc, with a data transfer rate of 72Mb/s per optical head.

The Thomson Grass Valley REV PRO cartridge (manufactured by Iomega) was introduced to the United States this year. The new IT-immersed media is offered as part of the new Infinity series camcorder and digital media player. It combines the portability and cost-effectiveness of videotape with the speed, flexibility and ease of use of nonlinear, random access media. The product line also offers solid-state (SanDisk) and USB storage.

Along with its existing 80GB FieldPak2, Ikegami introduced a 120GB FieldPak (removable hard drive) for its HDN-X10 EditcamHD and standard definition DNS-33W Editcam3 camcorders. The 120GB FieldPak records 90 minutes of 145Mb/s HD video or nine hours of 25Mb/s SD video. The FieldPak weighs less than 9oz. The company also announced a 16GB RAMPak solid-state Flash memory that holds more than 70 minutes of DV25 video.

Finally, Hitachi introduced new solid-state Mediapac cartridges for its Z-DR1 dockable digital recorder in 8GB and 16GB versions and also showed a prototype 160GB hard disk storage drive. Hitachi's Z-DR1 recorder, introduced last year, was developed in partnership with nNovia and Audavi to provide an affordable field acquisition system. The Mediapacs are aluminum-encased Hitachi hard disks, ranging between 40GB and 120GB capacities, offering up to nine hours of recording time per disk. An optional accessory for Mediapacs incorporates hardware encryption for secure content transport from camera to the intended destination.

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