An Archive System

A broadcast archive system, more accurately referred to as a media storage management (MSM) system, is a middleware solution allowing an almost infinite amount of storage to be added to file-based broadcast devices. MSM systems are typically deployed in broadcast, media and entertainment facilities, or just about anywhere file-based media asset storage, transcoding, replication and repurposing is required.

MSM systems provide storage capabilities encompassing nearline, archive and offline storage tiers while also enabling interoperability between different workflow “silos” within a facility. They allow a facility’s on-air video servers, newsroom system, post-production editing platforms and other such equipment to be connected into a single unified storage infrastructure providing near-infinite storage capacity and facilitating file-based content sharing and repurposing.

The predominant benefit of implementing an MSM solution is that it supports the fundamental shift from the reliance on videotapes, allowing the broadcaster to realize the significant benefits offered by a true file-based media workflow.

Videotape, by its nature, is a realtime media format, meaning the duplication of a tape-based video asset or ingestion into a video server or nonlinear editor will take (at least) the duration of the content. In the file-based world, leveraging an MSM system, media restore and duplication operations can be accomplished at rates of 10 to 50 times faster than realtime with no human intervention or quality checks necessary. Furthermore, with the ability of advanced MSM solutions to transcode media, facilitate browsing of digital assets from the desktop, and carry out time-code-based partial restores, content owners have the tools necessary to digitally repurpose their valuable assets.

Videotape libraries located in the basements of most broadcast facilities around the world are susceptible to damage or even total loss should a facility fire, flood or other disaster occur. Through the content lifecycle policies supported by advanced MSM systems such as DIVArchive, duplicates of all (or selected) assets can be turned into inexpensive archive media (i.e., data tapes) in the local archive library and simply moved offsite or even automatically replicated to an IP-connected remote library. This provides advanced disaster recovery or business continuance without any additional labor costs. And again, because these duplicates are byte-by-byte copies of the original asset, no additional quality assurance checks are required.

The only prerequisite to implementing an MSM system is that the facility must have already started the transition to a file-based infrastructure. Content source and consumption systems must include file-based broadcast devices such as video servers, digital newsroom systems, or nonlinear editing systems. MSM systems do not handle the actual encoding and decoding of content, but they do provide a complete backend solution for facility-wide media storage, protection and asset repurposing.

Today, broadcasters and other media companies can leverage MSM solutions for basic storage expansion to support nearline (spinning disk), archive (data tape or optical libraries) and offline (shelf storage of digital archive media) storage for their file-based media systems.

In addition to this basic archive and restore functionality, advanced MSM systems offer in-path transcoding of media assets as they flow between non-heterogeneous media devices allowing powerful interoperability between unlike systems and file-based exchange of content. In addition, through frame-accurate proxy transcoding and time-code-based partial restore functionality, advanced MSM solutions can also allow Web-based asset browsing from the desktop, as well as EDL definition for content repurposing. Advanced content lifecycle policies, facility-to-facility connectivity between MSM systems and incremental storage and bandwidth expansion are among the options available in DIVArchive.

The MSM solution is typically deployed on standard IT platforms and connected into the nearline spinning disk and archive libraries via high speed networks for physical storage of file-based media assets. The major benefit of systems like DIVArchive is that customers can start with a very small system and incrementally scale in both bandwidth and storage capacity as their needs grow and capital budgets allow. Adding features, storage and functionality does not typically require any system downtime, so even if it is operating under a heavy load, expansion of the MSM system is still possible.

Specifications and features that potential buyers should look for relate both to the MSM vendor and to the product itself.

Buyers should ensure their vendor of choice has a proven track record with an extensive install base that can yield the opportunity for onsite evaluation of operationally similar solutions. The willingness of the provider to work with clients in identifying and integrating the right solution for current and future needs can be critical in making a cost-effective decision.

Spending time with the MSM vendor is a sure way to get a good feel for their experience base and comfort level in the workflow specifics of the target facility. Customer references also are valuable in determining how the MSM system will benefit an organization and whether a particular vendor and product is the correct choice. There is no better way to evaluate an MSM solution than to find out what others have done and delve into their experiences and lessons learned. From a relationship point of view, it is important to realize the MSM solution will likely store your valuable media assets for many years to come. Longevity, experience base and specific focus of the MSM solution provider are other key evaluation criteria that should be examined.

On a technical front, the MSM solution should feature a redundant (N+1) and distributed architecture with automatic load balancing and incrementally scalable bandwidth. Time-code-based partial restore functionality is essential for the fast repurposing of digital assets, and advanced content lifecycle management policies for tasks such as transcode control can also help to streamline media handling processes necessary for the movement, management and sharing of media. For long-term content preservation, broadcasters should look for automatic background storage media migration capability, which ensures the ongoing viability of assets by migrating them to new storage or essence formats as required over the inherent long life of the MSM system.

Support is another key consideration in the evaluation of MSM providers, likening the MSM system to a bank vault containing the real value of the organization. Near 100% system uptime and quick and professional response is mandated. The MSM vendor should offer true 24/7/365 live customer support via a fully staffed network operations center with experience dealing with advanced broadcast clientele.

MSM system pricing can vary greatly depending on the features, bandwidth, storage device types, nearline/archive capacities, etc. On the positive side, the addition of a full MSM solution will likely represent a significantly lower capital expenditure than would be required to expand online storage for all file-based broadcast devices. Simply examining the labor and videotape stock savings gained from moving to this file-based infrastructure alone will likely cover the investment in the MSM system.

High-quality MSM systems add value in a broad range of applications. Automatic content repurposing, content sharing and distribution across multiple facilities, long-term digital asset preservation and media replication for content protection and disaster recovery are but a few. MSM systems can also enhance system-to-system interoperability and provide support for emerging revenue models such as VOD and content delivery to mobile platforms.

MSM solutions like the Front Porch Digital DIVArchive system offer enormous improvements to the operations of media companies while also ensuring that their most important assets are protected and available. Hundreds of global broadcasters have already implemented MSM systems, successfully capitalizing on the real potential of their digital assets and a file-based workflow.

Brian Campanotti is the chief technology officer of Front Porch Digital.