Ascent Media Group's new Digital Media Data Center

Ascent Media Group (AMG) launched a technologically advanced 100,000sq-ft facility that manages and delivers file-based and traditional media services.
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Ascent Media Group (AMG) launched a technologically advanced 100,000sq-ft facility that manages and delivers file-based and traditional media services. The facility, dubbed the Digital Media Data Center (DMDC), came about as a direct response not only to the company's clients' needs, but the rapidly evolving landscape of electronic media technology.

Consolidating eight existing facilities under one new roof also led the company to create an extensible and interoperable environment. At the new facility, file-based nonlinear workflows are supported with a secure infrastructure that streamlines production, enhances collaboration across all related departments and ultimately collapses the time-to-market windows for customers while reducing the risk of piracy.

The new facility allows AMG to more efficiently service clients' file-based and traditional media needs, with an emphasis on managing the convergence of the two. By consolidating a comprehensive list of services within one location, physical security is maintained and supported by advanced digital technologies. Workflows have improved by 75 percent to 300 percent in the new parallel file-based environment.

The highly secure production network ensures client content is protected throughout the life cycle, from the time of ingest to final delivery. Moreover, by adhering to global interchange standards with harmonized metadata dictionaries and MXF, AAF and GXF industry standard wrappers, content can easily move across the various production platforms.

Design

Ascent Media Systems & Technology Services, AMG's systems integration unit, provided project management, engineering and installation services for the facility and helped manage design changes driven by technology developments during the implementation of the on-site installation.

More than 600 system drawings for cabling, racks and consoles were produced for the project. Every cable in the facility was identified with a unique cable number label to allow for more than 2 million ft of coax, audio, control and network cable to be installed and tracked within one database.

The physical layout of the facility is articulated by the location of departments, personnel and equipment to maximize space and enhance the organization of workflows. This ensures technical areas are more readily configurable to future products or business model processes that the company may implement.

Equipment

The DMDC works in tandem with Atlas, a digital asset management solution created by Ascent Media Group and HP. This integration enables the ingest, transformation and creation of post-theatrical and broadcast elements and provides physical fulfillment and file-based distribution capabilities all the way through to DVD authoring, VOD or any other client-specified deliverable.

The facility features a Quantel iQ and Pablo control surface with 4K capability. The suite is used exclusively for feature restoration and digital source mastering, which are all supported by file-based digital intermediate (DI) workflows and managed through the company's ProdNET and Agility solutions.

AMG expands its offering in this space with considerable expertise, having already invested in multiple 2K and 4K DI suites at the company's post-production boutiques: Company 3 in Santa Monica, CA, and New York, and Encore in Los Angeles. As DI workflows explode into the marketplace, many companies have struggled to provide a solution, most of them adapting legacy equipment or adding new gear to an existing post-production pipeline. At AMG, DI suites are built from the ground up, with a new file-based infrastructure that maintains the master in the highest possible resolution and color space. The file-based master can then be moved through the network and repurposed based on client specifications.

In addition, services include editing, mastering, audio and video restoration, quality control, audio mixing, digital conversion, subtitling and closed captioning, data translations, watermarking, versioning for region, data asset management and distribution, and vaulting of both physical and digital assets.

At the heart of the facility is the production network, dubbed ProdNET, which serves as the foundation for all parallel workflows and processing. ProdNET currently stores up to 368 hours of uncompressed HD content, with all components designed to be scalable in order to increase that capacity as projects warrant. The system can rapidly move that content, relying on a robust network bandwidth capable of moving data at 1.2Tb/s.

The DMDC integrated technologies to build the foundation of ProdNET and then fortified it with a proprietary suite of software tools — all within an application named Agility. The tools provide customers and personnel visibility and real-time monitoring into the status of their work across multiple operational disciplines. Layered across the scope of the facility's business lines, this environment allows users to drive large-scale projects, monitor job status, estimate delivery dates and anticipate potential issues that may impact timely execution.

Enabling technologies forming the backbone of ProdNET and supporting Agility include more than 100TB of enterprise class, high-performance, Fibre Channel SGI InfiniteStorage TP9500's capable of being allocated from one department to another as needed. SGI Origin 350 metadata servers facilitate the I/O control system, deployed through redundant Brocade SilkWorm 24000 Director switches. The network features a storage capacity of 180TB plus additional HP-based ADIC storage.

Security and collaboration

One driving factor in the creation of the facility was industry-wide concerns over revenue losses due to piracy. AMG factored in security requirements of both studio clients and industry initiatives.

ProdNET's secure environment stands among the facility's most important features. The entire facility is monitored 24 hours a day by a file-based video surveillance system, which includes 32 high-res video cameras. Shipping and receiving departments are strictly monitored and controlled. All assets are bar coded and logged into the system upon acquisition and stored in a secure library vault when not in use.

Those assets are constantly tracked during operations, using bar code scans to and from all locations. To handle this media management load and seamlessly transition physical media entering the facility into the network's secure data environment, the company designed a real-time tracking system for physical assets, file-based assets and work in progress. This system assures strict security around client material at all times. To house the tremendous volume of finished file assets, AMG also built its proprietary Atlas DAM system technology directly into the facility's server room as a core component of the file-based, end-to-end solution.

Just as important, the company has strategically designed ProdNET to allow seamless collaboration across all departments within the facility, while simultaneously unplugging the entire infrastructure from the outside world. Therefore, no department can access the Internet; the facility has multiple intrusion detection systems; real-time heuristics map all normal production use; and access to functional areas is monitored and strictly based on login profiles.

Among the network's other protection protocols:

  • the SGI server and storage environment is Unix-based to mitigate virus distribution;
  • separate user names and passwords are required to distinguish operator logins from corporate logins;
  • advanced environmental monitoring is online around the clock;
  • and encrypted backups of client material for work in progres is standard procedure.

Such stringent measures, including adherence to strict user authentication procedures — every person logging onto any part of the network must be authenticated at least twice — makes ProdNET a secure post-production environment.

In addition to a BigIron MG8 switching system, Foundry contributed real-time network management controls in the form of sFlow network logging and monitoring technology. It provides complete visibility into the use of the network and enables performance optimization by creating and managing detailed data usage logs of any file movement, viewing or editing work anywhere in the facility, at any time, for any reason.

AMG engineers also carefully built into the facility a host of backup power options. Each server room has two independent power supplies, and the entire building is fed by two different power grids.

The scalability factor

The production network is scalable in virtually all respects — a necessity for any comprehensive media services facility.

Clients can securely distribute their content outside of the facility, using either their own preferred vendors or by capitalizing on the capabilities and capacity of Ascent Media Network Services' Global Interconnect. This international hybrid satellite and fiber network provides guaranteed quality of service and the reliable two-way transport of both real-time and non-real-time content between the company's North American, European and Southeast Asian facilities. It also enables seamless external connectivity by providing Ascent's clients the means to move content into and within the network using a variety of methods.

Kevin Sanders is the senior vice president and chief technology officer at Ascent Media Management Services.

Design team

Ascent Media Management Services
Kevin Sanders, CTO, VP eng.
Doug Mountain, dir. of operations
Rick Gross, dir. of eng.
Nick Mairose, eng.
Jeff Quinn, eng.

Ascent Media Systems & Technology Services
Dan Keenan, project mgr.
Randy Silverman, project eng.
Jim Redovian, design eng.
Jerry Stalder, design eng.
Larsen Cottrell, project leader/supervisor

Technology at work

Ascent Media
Agility suite
Atlas DAM
MediaXpress store and forward
ProdNET production network

Barco DP100 digital projector

Brocade SilkWorm 24000 Director SAN

Cintel C-Reality telecine

Cisco corporate LAN

da Vinci 2K color correctors

Digi-Delivery store and forward

Digidesign Pro Tools HD DAW

Digital Vision Valhall suite HD color corrector

DMDC Atlas archive interface

Doremi DMS 2000/DCP2000 digital cinema packagers

Evertz router and modular gear

Foundry
M8 BigIron production LAN
FastIron Edge switches

HP
ADIC storage
Server
StorageWorks E-Series tape libraries

Lasergraphics Producer 3 film recorders

NEC HD6K digital projector

Northlight II scanners

NVISION router, modular gear

Philips Spirit Datacine telecine

Quantel
4K Pablo surface suite color corrector
iQ digital intermediate

Qube QubeMaster/XP-D digital cinema packager

SGI
InfiniteStorage
Origins 350 metadata server
TP9500 and TP9300 storage

Smart Jog store and forward

StoragetTek SL500 data archive

Telestream store and forward

WAM!NET store and forward