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Technology Seminar - Storage

At this year's NAB Show, there was an abundance of technology choices and system solutions, from standard disk drives and solid-state, to optical discs and magnetic digital linear tape (DLT). Identifying the correct solution lies in fitting the form factor to the application. Again, capability and flexibility are everywhere, and capacities are soaring.

In the area of hard drive storage — commonly found inside video servers, large archive libraries and digital disk recorders — the latest version of SATA drives are SATA 3Gb/s running at 7200rpm. These are a vast improvement over first-generation SATA 1.5Gb/s drives, seen for the first time two years ago. The new versions include faster clock speeds (with a transfer rate of up to 300MB/s), hot-swap capability, improved MTBF and Native Command Queuing (which enables the drives to internally optimize how commands are executed for better performance).

These new SATA drives, which are sometimes half the cost of previous drives, have become practical not only for video editing and small playout applications, but also for multichannel distribution (e.g., VOD platforms and content distribution networks). Seagate, which supplies a large number of drives to the broadcast and video production industry, calls them business critical drives. They represent a new category of drives between enterprise SAS drives and the low-cost, lower performance and less reliable PC drives.

Because their business depends upon it, broadcasters demand that their storage systems be reliable, yet also serve as many functions as possible. Although Fibre Channel technology was initially the most commonly used among high-end facilities, broadcasters with limited budgets have embraced the new SATA storage drives. SATA technology is now proving to be more cost-effective than Fibre Channel SCSI technology and offers similar performance, without compromises. And because of the emergence of clustered storage that uses multiple levels of data protection technology in the media industry, the reliability is there.

One-stop shop

Looking around NAB at the latest trends, vendors are offering single storage solutions that target broadcasters' entire file handling processes. This allows users to easily (and without bottlenecks) move data from one tier to another. And they want to do it in real time or as fast a possible.

With HD production quickly emerging as commonplace, the most critical system attributes in a storage system are dual- and quad-core CPU processing and caching horsepower, and secure networkability in order to reliably get the data on and off the disk drives. Depending on the types of content being produced (e.g., HD compressed, uncompressed, SD, etc.), storage capacity requirements can range from 3TB to 6TB for a few simultaneous users to well into the petabyte range to support hundreds of users connected locally and remotely.

Clustered storage

For digital news production, the emergence of clustered (shared) storage has brought new efficiencies and speed. These systems, widely shown at NAB, can cost-effectively scale up as the need arises (up to 1TB in a single 7200rpm drive). Yet speed isn't beneficial unless you have an architecture that can tie all of the production processes together. What's required is the proper CPU networking and caching horsepower to get the data on and off the disk drives quickly and without limitations.

Therefore, clustered storage was popular at NAB. A wide variety of vendors showed it, including Data Direct Networks, Isilon, Masstech, Omneon and SeaChange. (Avid's ISIS system offers it as well, but the company didn't exhibit at NAB). All of these companies recognize that the main storage problems faced in the newsroom today are tying together the different processes involved in production — ingest, browsing and editing — and then handing it off to programming for playout. This has typically been accomplished on islands of storage, where each tier is designed for a specific application, but isn't necessarily the best fit for the overall workflow — which involves multiple people doing different tasks.

If not set up correctly, this type of storage infrastructure can be very error-prone and hard to pass files around. This causes bottlenecks and sometimes dropped frames. It also wastes a lot of time waiting for others to be finished with their piece. Therefore, a more collaborative workflow makes people more efficient.

A clustered system allows users to ingest content into the storage system and then immediately begin working. At NAB, Isilon showed the ability to ingest content in real time, enabling editors to begin working before the content is finished uploading to the server. Simultaneously, producers, reporters and others can log and browse a low-resolution version of that file, without having to wait for the editor (working on Final Cut Pro) to finish. The finished file is then handed off to a newsroom computer system (in this case an ENPS system) for insertion into the newscast using metadata and text files.

Again, time is not wasted making duplicate files. Everyone works off the same file. And, depending on the storage capacity available, this works the same with SD files as it does with bandwidth-intensive HD files. (Most systems can now scale from 6TB to 1PB of storage today.) For stations, the value of clustered storage means faster time to air with stories.

Isilon's approach is to be nonproprietary and work with all types of applications without the use of special drivers. This allows the company's systems to reach across the entire workflow. Its IQ clustered storage systems provide a single pool of shared storage that addresses all of the various production and playout tasks. And it's scalable to handle the massive influx of content.

The company offers large systems, used by major media companies like the NBC Olympics, as well a three-node cluster for small station environments, which can be used in news production as well as for promotional and administrative departments.

Solid-state storage

Looking forward (and all around you at NAB), the future appears to be in solid-state storage. The technology is virtually maintenance-free (no spinning disks), dramatically expandable in terms of capacity and can store any type of file in a more compact space. These are all important attributes to broadcasters. Of course, the technology is still in its relative infancy and thus tends to be very expensive. That's why it's emerging rapidly in cameras and small server systems, and not so quickly in large libraries and shared storage production systems.

SeaChange is helping lead the way in large solid-state storage systems with the introduction at NAB of its new Broadcast Flash Memory Library FML200. The company says this flash memory-based ingest and play-to-air solution is 100X more reliable, less noisy and consumes 10X less power than spinning disk-based arrays.

Due to cost, the new flash memory library is targeted at nearline storage, whereby only the most critical content — that will be accessed immediately and often — is stored. Combining flash memory with SeaChange's patented MediaCluster server architecture, the FML200 also offers IP-centric connectivity for easy integration with the file-based workflows.

The FML200 is housed in a compact 2RU frame and features an array of 24 flash memory drives available in either 32GB or 64GB configurations. At full capacity, a six-node FML200 cluster puts 144 flash memory drives online, delivering more than 6.6TB of clustered RAID-5 protected storage.

Holographic hangs on

Last year's fascination with holographic data storage took a back seat to solid state this year, though Ikegami and InPhase Technologies demonstrated a joint solution using Ikegami GF Media Manager software. This allows content captured with the company's GFPAK removable storage device to be stored on InPhase's Tapestry 300r library.

Panasonic also showed a Tapestry 300r box integrated into a video workflow using a P2 camera and an Avid Adrenaline server running NewsCutter editing software. Panasonic Broadcast recommends the Tapestry 300r as an archival solution for its P2 solid-state camcorder.

Turnkey file-sharing

A mainstay of NAB shows past, the ability to share files among workgroups of editors across a network (both in a post house and in the field) was in full view this year. Companies like Archion, with its new Node arrays, and EditShare, with its EditShare Storage series and Field mobile storage solution, were two notables.

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

Camera storage packing it in

The slow but continuing move away from videotape inside a production facility is clear, but in the field the picture gets a bit fuzzy.

In terms of removable storage media for cameras, there were a number of advances this year. Thomson Grass Valley showed new 70GB REV Pro disks that now provide the option of either greater storage capacity of increased (dual stream) performance. The company's Infinity camera also records to a CompactFlash memory card.

Panasonic announced a 64GB P2 (PCMCIA) card coming later this year for its solid-state recording system cameras, virtually doubling capacity of currently available cards, while Sony unveiled a prototype 32GB version of the S×S PRO solid-state memory card (PCI Express).

Perhaps most interesting in tapeless camera recording at this year's NAB was the serious emergence of the SDHC flash memory card, previously used for still photography. The technology is still too slow, in terms of getting data on and off the card for high-end video applications, but for event videographers and (perhaps) small market stations, products by Panasonic and JVC, offering 6Mb/s to 18 Mb/s, could have a huge potential for manufacturers in the coming years.

Finally, Ikegami showed its GigaFlash (GF) camera and proprietary GFPAK storage cartridges. The Flash memory-based GFCAM system was developed in cooperation with Toshiba and comes in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB versions and feature a convenient “memory paper” meter on the side to show how much capacity is left on the cartridge. The GFPAKs also include a USB connection for direct connection to laptop for editing image monitoring. The 32GB version appears to be the “sweet spot” for stations, as it offers 1 hour of HD recording at 50Mb/s.