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Omneon Launches MediaGrid

SUNNYVALE, CALIF.

Omneon Video Networks, a name synonymous with video file servers and content storage, is launching a new breed of storage technology that is distancing itself from the pack with some very new and innovative concepts.

Launched at NAB2006, MediaGrid is being promoted as the first grid storage device for digital media. It's also the first commercial content server based on off-the-shelf hardware devices.

Geoff Stedman, vice president of marketing for Omneon, explained that this newest product in the Omneon line derived its name from a couple of different directions.

"We're using the name MediaGrid to suggest the concepts of both grid computing and grid storage," he said. "Grid computing refers to the fact that this system is an 'active' storage device. It's more than just storage--it can play an active part in the workflow. Bits just don't sit there in it. There is the ability to perform processing on the media when it is in the MediaGrid environment."

The grid storage concept describes the manner in which MediaGrid carries out storage operations. Multiple storage nodes, interconnected via the Ethernet fabric, serve as repositories for data. This feature also ensures high scalability.

REPLICATION, NOT RAID

In operation, content data being ingested into MediaGrid is broken up into 8 MB slices and is then scattered across available storage within the networked Content Servers. Even though RAID array technology is not involved, all data is backed up. As data is fractionalized and stored, the system replicates all of that data, with the copies being placed in different areas of the storage system. Depending upon user preferences, this replication process can happen multiple times. With each data replication, the level of protection is increased. This protects against any losses that may be caused by hardware failure. Replication is automatic and scalable. A protection level appropriate to the importance, projected accessibility and lifespan of the data is managed by the user.

"If you have a piece of content that has a high degree of value, you might want to put it in more locations on the system; if you have content with high demand, you might want to make it available from more of the nodes," Stedman said. "This gives scalability of both protection and performance simply by changing the replication factor."

If popularity projections for the content prove wrong and the data is not accessed within a certain amount of time, the replication factor can be scaled back, thus avoiding waste of storage capability.

In previous video file server architecture, both storage capacity and the number of users obtaining simultaneous access were limited by server bandwidth and storage capacity. MediaGrid is not so constrained. According to Stedman, Omneon has developed methodology that provides the user with the aggregate of the capabilities of all of the individual content servers working simultaneously.

"That's the essence of the system--taking an individual component which has a certain amount of capability and getting dozens of these components to all work together," said Stedman. "In a sense, we come away with a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts."

The system is comprised of both Content Servers and Content Directors. The former are individual storage servers, providing set amounts of both storage capacity and bandwidth. The basic Omneon Content Server unit is constructed around four 500 GB SATA drives, providing 2 TB of capacity. Growing the system is achieved by simply connecting additional Content Servers to meet user storage requirements. The absence of conventional RAID arrays makes this a simple operation.

"Literally, the system can be scaled from five terabytes to five petabytes without ever restriping the data," Stedman said.

Connectivity is achieved with either standard GB and 10 GB Ethernet.

The MediaGrid Content Server is not merely a "bit bucket." Comparison with other large-scale storage arrays stops at this point. With MediaGrid, the storage array now has been given a certain level of intelligence in connection with data storage.

"Since each Content Server has a processor with some available CPU cycles, and the fact that these are all connected over an Ethernet fabric, we wind up with a very large grid computing environment," said Stedman. "We've begun putting in software layers to access any unused processor power that is spread across the grid and to channel this capacity to do things that, until now, our clients have had to use external devices to do. These include transcoding, proxy generation, file-based QC and similar applications."

Stedman said that this bonus computing "horsepower" is not only available for Omneon applications, such as proxy generation, but can also be channeled for third-party applications. The company is actively working with other vendors to allow them to run their software on the MediaGrid Content Servers. Omneon is conducting demonstrations at NAB to show how this capability can be put to work. The demonstrations include I-frame to long GOP transcoding with Rhozet's transcoding software, along with other application demonstrations from Ardendo and Tektronix.

The other key component in the MediaGrid architecture is the Content Director. This is a file system controller that defines the overall file name space, tracks all data stored across the various Content Servers and provides information for client access to that data. In essence, a Content Director is really a big database; it maintains a table that associates all of the files and where the files exist across the system.

Omneon's MediaGrid system takes another turn from conventional broadcast-type video file servers with the choice of components used to construct it.

OFF-THE-SHELF

"The hardware in the Content Directors and Content Servers all comes from the broader IT industry; the only Omneon-designed hardware is the blue light on the front panel," said Stedman. "The motherboard, the processor, the memory and the power supplies are all standard IT components, and they're all running a standard version of Linux."

Omneon has also addressed the sometimes large issue of video file server connectivity within a broadcast environment.

"All of these devices are connected over a standard Ethernet network," Stedman said. "You don't need any Fibre Channel or otherwise specialized networking for clients to get access to the MediaGrid. We mount the file system on an existing Ethernet fabric with a provided driver, and then storage on the MediaGrid looks to the client like any network attached storage system."

Stedman added that installation of the MediaGrid system is quite simple and basic.

"There is only a power cable and Ethernet ports," he said. "The network connectivity is a mix of both Gigabit Ethernet and 10 Gig Ethernet. The basic Content Server is very compact--1RU, with four drives. Any number of which can be interconnected to match storage requirements."

As Omneon's focus is on data storage and access and not applications, the company has always been mindful of "making it all work together" with both third party applications and hardware platforms. MediaGrid is no exception.

The company's NAB booth highlights this philosophy, with numerous examples and demonstrations of compatibility with other manufacturer's products. These feature a number of applications covering the entire workflow from ingest to media management to production and playout, including those from Transmedia Dynamics (ingest), Tektronix (QC), in addition to the Rhozet and Ardendo applications.

There is also a pool of 20 Apple Final Cut Pro editors working simultaneously to illustrate the bandwidth capability of MediaGrid. Pro-Bel's Morpheus automation product is also apart of the MediaGrid demonstration, as is closed-caption embedding and conformance logging from Starfish Technologies.

Stedman says that Omneon is looking forward to working with numerous automation, media asset management and media archive management vendors in terms of making this product really work for broadcasters.

"It's one thing to have an interesting piece of hardware with some different capabilities," said Stedman. "It's another thing entirely when you've got applications that know how to take advantage of that hardware."

Omneon is now taking orders for MediaGrid and will be shipping units within a few weeks.

James E. O’Neal has more than 50 years of experience in the broadcast arena, serving for nearly 37 years as a television broadcast engineer and, following his retirement from that field in 2005, moving into journalism as technology editor for TV Technology for almost the next decade. He continues to provide content for this publication, as well as sister publication Radio World, and others.  He authored the chapter on HF shortwave radio for the 11th Edition of the NAB Engineering Handbook, and serves as editor-in-chief of the IEEE’s Broadcast Technology publication, and as associate editor of the SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal. He is a SMPTE Life Fellow, and a Life Member of the IEEE and the SBE.