Collaborative video post-production is employed by Corporate Media organizations to increase the volume and quality of video materials, allowing multiple editors and graphic artists to work on complex multi-part projects. The solution required to support collaboration in post-production starts with shared storage, though shared storage of source content is just the absolute minimum requirement for an efficient Corporate Media department. A truly collaborative editorial infrastructure must go beyond shared storage and solve the problems of large groups of contributors working from the same source materials using non-linear workflows.
This article reviews solution requirements for Corporate Media environments, and reviews the Harmonic solution and its benefits.
From a broadcast or generic video post-production perspective, there is a set of baseline requirements for a suitable shared storage system:
- ·Support high capacity to contain all of the materials that may be needed for currently active projects, and also for completed projects that might be used as sources for current or near-future projects.
- ·Extreme scalability, to be able to effectively support new workloads that will be addressed in the immediate or near future.
- ·Satisfy access requirements imposed by the non-linear editing applications and tools used by the collaborative group.
- ·Adequate, sustained, consistent performance (in terms of bandwidth and low latency) is critical for the toolsets used in the workflow. Shared storage for video workflows requires extreme levels of bandwidth that exceed what traditional Enterprise storage can provide.
- ·High reliability and availability, characteristics that are critical when the work of an entire organization depends on common infrastructure. Outages are costly and extremely impacting to the organization's overall mission.
- ·Simplicity is highly important, as many organizations have concluded that the costs and complexity of Fibre Channel SANs are very taxing in a post-production environment.
Once the basic source material centralization requirement is satisfied, more complex management requirements must be addressed. These requirements solve problems that are seldom addressed by the typical post-production solutions in the market.They include:
- · Asset management, for materials contained in the shared-storage environment and going through the workflow
- · User management to properly identify and enable the environment's users
- · Process management for the discrete units of post production work that go through the workflow supported by the system
- · Resource management to properly control how the shared physical resources in the system are used or consumed by the group
Active Management in Collaborative Post-production
As the industry and supporting IT technologies continue their evolution, companies can now address other group post-production requirements via their technology infrastructure. The additional functional requirements can be satisfied by implementing the following four discrete management disciplines in an environment already enabled for effective centralized shared storage:
The unmanaged use of a large number of assets by a large number of users over any extended period of time is a perfect recipe for chaos. Companies that adopt shared storage for post-production quickly discover that it requires considerable discipline, effort, and overhead to maintain the production environment in a state that is conducive to productive work. Managing assets through a post-production workflow requires life-cycle management, access control, and in some cases, asset instantiation management.
In a collaborative production environment, not all the members of a group have the same responsibilities or require the same access to the facilities and functions available in the environment. A solution for collaborative post-production must provide the mechanisms for enforcing the permissions granted over the environment according to the role played by each member of the team. Failure to manage users and their capabilities over the environment may lead to accidental material deletions and stoppages in the workflow.
In addition to using the basic post-production tools, users need to interact with other members of the group. At the basic level, these interactions involve the exchange of materials and intermediate work products, but they can also become formal process exchanges among toolsets and elements of the collaborative production environment (e.g. transcoders, render engines, etc.).
Even the largest and most-capable collaborative production environment has limited physical resources that are more difficult to manage when they are shared by a group of individuals. The most obvious resource is storage, but others may also include centralized contribution/ingest channels and distribution resources.
Harmonic Solution Components
Harmonic provides a range of solutions for Corporate Media environments, using various combinations of solution components including shared storage, software to enable collaborative editing with all of the leading editing products, advanced transcoding solutions, and a comprehensive Media Asset Management product. The components are further discussed below.
Omneon MediaGrid Shared Storage
The heart of Harmonic's collaborative post-production solution is the Omneon MediaGrid shared storage system.This unique storage system fulfills the unique and demanding requirements for shared storage in a video workflow.
Unlike storage technologies that have been re-purposed from standard data processing applications, Omneon MediaGrid is a shared-storage system designed specifically to store and process video content. MediaGrid is highly scalable and uses simple, widely-available Ethernet networking to interconnect workstation clients to its large pool of high performance shared storage. MediaGrid's built-in clustered file system uniquely distributes the workload across multiple storage nodes and multiple network interfaces, delivering levels of performance which previously were achieved only through expensive, complex Fibre Channel SANs.
Beyond its technical capabilities, MediaGrid is tested, qualified and deployed to serve as the storage infrastructure for a wide range of key media applications. This qualification removes adoption risks and ensures a predictable environment in an industry where outages impact revenue-generating activity.
FilmPartners' MXFserver is a post-production management software layer whose main functions are the virtualization of the hardware infrastructure and the provision of the required active management functions within the MediaGrid-based collaborative post-production environment.
MXFserver automates most non-human steps in the post-production workflow. Its architecture is based on the concept of project containers, which are used as the repositories for the materials used during a given post-production unit of work or MXF project (e.g. video, audio, graphics, NLE-specific files, scripts, Excel sheets, Powerpoint presentations, etc.).
MXFserver dynamically creates virtual “spaces” for every user in the system, greatly enhancing the collaborative workflow functions within the MediaGrid-based environment. These virtual spaces appear as exact replicas of the original file structures that contain each project, but instead of containing real files, these structures are populated with pointers to the original materials that reside on a different location within the MediaGrid storage system. These pointers are totally indistinguishable from the real files and provide a layer of asset security by isolating the shared resources from the risks of accidental deletion or modification by the collaborating users.
With the proliferation of media formats designed for the various phases of the media life cycle, the need for media conversions from one format to another is universal in any collaborative post-production workflow. Within the Harmonic solution, ProMedia Carbon is the component that fulfills this need.
ProMedia Carbon is a general-purpose transcoding software application that operates on file-based media.It is capable of transcoding the largest array of acquisition, editing, broadcast, Web, and mobile formats in the industry.The transcoding engine's capacity is very scalable thanks to an architecture based on an automated, multi-node transcoding farm.The transcoding farm can be controlled by a Carbon Server or Workflow System (WFS).
ProMedia Carbon includes an API that can be used to create custom integrations with other applications and tools used within the collaborative post-production environment. These custom integrations provide a powerful way to optimize workflows via automation.
In addition to the primary transcoding function and as part of its process, ProMedia Carbon can also perform other utilitarian functions that are commonly used in collaborative workflows. These functions include SD/HD conversions, PAL/NTSC conversions, logo/bug insertion, color space conversion, automated color correction, and Close Captioning extraction, among others.
Media Application Server
The final functional component in Harmonic's Collaborative post-production solution is the Media Application Server (MAS). Harmonic's MAS provides a middleware foundation for the development and deployment of the media-centric applications commonly used by companies engaged in collaborative post-production.
The Media Application Server combines a single virtualized view of content across managed systems and a wide range of media processing services that operate on this content. MAS also enables accelerated application development, minimizing the complexity of media management.
Centralized media management empowers organizations to more effectively define and enforce workflow steps, adhere to business rules, and achieve strategic objectives. Media Application Server is a software platform that runs on standard hardware, enabling application integration in ways that have not been possible before.
The Harmonic Collaborative post-production solution provides the following client benefits:
- ·An open-standard-based solution that supports the leading-vendor post-production toolsets without forcing the proprietary interfaces normally associated with them.
- ·Elegant, low-overhead support for the post-production active management functions required to manage collaborative workflows: asset management, user management, process management, and resource management.
- ·Natural, project-based workflows that accommodate asset-sharing via a file virtualization engine that protects source materials throughout the workflow. Virtual silos prevent unauthorized access to materials and enforce a quota system for shared physical resources.
- ·Non-linear workflows supported by media virtualization and task automation.This concept optimizes collaboration at a level unique in the industry.
- ·A massively scalable, shared-storage infrastructure that can be sized according to the needs of the business, without requiring any downtime to scale.
- ·A shared-storage infrastructure that uses high-speed, widely-available Ethernet networking to interconnect workstation clients to its large pool of shared storage.
- ·Storage infrastructure virtualization via MXFserver middleware software that supports the leading-market post-production tools via a virtual native environment. These tools work as they do in their proprietary native environments.
- ·Automated transcoding toolset that transforms materials to the required wrappers and formats at each step of the entire post-production workflow.
- ·Process automation via Harmonic Media Application Server.MAS can trigger actions within the workflow according to asynchronous events in the environment.
Most Corporate Media customers would like to deploy a true collaborative editing solution to improve both their efficiency and the quality of their materials, while also lowering costs. However, reliance on tape media, serial “island” operation and proprietary systems can all inhibit companies from deploying the highly efficient collaborative editing capabilities they want.
Harmonic provides a simple, open, cost-effective solution for post-production workflows. The core element of a file-based post-production workflow is high performance shared storage that can handle the unique requirements of video workflows, and Omneon MediaGrid by Harmonic was purpose-built for this task. FilmPartners® MXFserver™ provides the post-production management layer that simplifies the users’ interactions with the environment and manages the work flowing through the system.
Additional solution components from Harmonic can provide powerful capabilities such as a federated Media Asset Management framework capable of automating workflow tasks such as material transfers, and an Enterprise-class software-based, highly-scalable transcoding engine for “prepping” and repurposing media for production or distribution.
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