Recent advances in storage technologies provide great advantages to the digital entertainment field. Certainly, as content moves from tape-based storage to hard-disk, optical and solid-state storage media, exploiting these IT technologies can reduce the cost and increase the performance of the final solutions.
Under the hood
Until recently, the hard-disk technologies of choice were SCSI and Fibre Channel. These enterprise-level drive technologies were designed and well suited for the high-duty-cycle, real-time demands of film and video applications.
Because SATA was well received in the marketplace last year, NAB2004 turned away from hardware and focused much more on software storage solutions.
Real-time content collaboration, a.k.a. workflow, is a key concern, and the refinement of shared, clustered file systems is a prime, innovative technology. The Holy Grail of storage is the use of centrally located, shared-storage resources with simultaneous real-time shared content. It's important to note that not all storage-area networks have this important feature.
Apple's Xsan is the new player in this arena. Riding on the success of Final Cut Pro and the newly introduced motion graphics package, Motion, Xsan is a 64-bit cluster file system for the Mac OS X Panther. The platform can share files and volumes up to 16TB in size on a high-speed Fibre Channel network. Additionally, it's designed with bandwidth reservation, a critical feature that ensures that a critical file-system client application gets the performance it requires.
Another SAN player is Bright Systems. Its Linux-based SAN controller provides a similar clustered file system. But, unlike Apple's Xsan, the Bright Systems' controller can support heterogeneous SAN clients, including Linux, Apple, SGI Irix and Windows.
Texas Memory Solutions showed its RamSan-320 solid-state disk, which it claims achieves 1500MB/s random sustained external throughput. This may be an excellent solution for those customers who demand a high-performance disk but have less stringent capacity requirements.
Data Direct Networks presented its S2A8500 silicon storage appliance. The system claims 1.5GB/s of sustained throughput with Fibre Channel or SATA disks.
What format war?
Given the two new storage platforms introduced last year, Sony's XDCAM and Panasonic's P2, you would expect many third-party vendors to announce their system of choice this year. And the winner is — the user!
Third-party vendors eagerly embraced both Sony's and Panasonic's storage solutions, and most vendors declared themselves format-agnostic, willingly supporting both XDCAM and P2.
Sony announced a technology partnership agreement with Avid that enables images acquired with XCDAM to be compatible with Avid's NewsCutter and Media Composer NLE systems.
Also, Quantel announced it would offer interoperability between its generationQ editing and server systems and Panasonic's professional plug-in P2 solid-state-memory-based acquisition system.
Thomson Grass Valley initially will integrate the Panasonic P2 card, into its current-generation digital news production products, NewsEdit and M-Series iVDR devices. Eventually, it will use the card across the Profile server and LDK camera lines as well.
Pinnacle announced that Time Warner Cable's NY1 was installing its Vortex networked news system and equipping it with support for Panasonic's P2.
Omneon announced that its SPECTRUM media server is compatible with Sony's XDCAM. Ingested content becomes immediately available across an entire facility, thereby providing a significant improvement in the collaborative production process. Omneon also announced enhancements to its SDTI media-interface adapter to support Panasonic's compressed HD format, DVCPRO HD. With this addition, the SPECTRUM is capable of supporting all HD broadcast formats simultaneously, including MPEG, HDCAM and DVCPRO HD. Omneon also announced its support for MXF.
Other storage highlights
Thomson Grass Valley launched Profile in its new, sixth-generation version as the Profile 6G. It uses the same popular user interface, but it now includes the ability to operate in SD/HD modes in a more compact version.
SeaChange introduced its next-generation MediaLibrary 2G online storage system. The storage system supports serial-ATA or SCSI drives in compact 6RU, 4RU or 2RU chassis. A fully configured ML 2G system can support 1080 disks online, providing universal, format-independent access to more than 240TB of RAID 2-protected storage.
360 Systems has added several new features to the Image Server 2000. The video server now handles FTP transfers between Image Servers and supports NAS storage and other MXF-compliant products.
SGI showed its InfiniteStorage solution for broadcast featuring a data-centric broadcast workflow. Based on the Media Server, it provides enhanced MXF capabilities across the SGI InfiniteStorage TP9100 SAN server line. It can also support CXFS, MassTech, MassBrowse, MassProxy and MassStore for low-resolution browse, proxy and archive applications. Third-party support for SGI's CXFS file system comes from several vendors, including Alias, Apple, Discreet and Quantel.
SGI also highlighted its MXF integration by demonstrating working systems with Avid NLEs using multiple SGI Media Servers, all under the control of Harris automation. Atlanta-based Crawford Communications announced that it has purchased fully redundant CXFS servers with 4TB of TP9500 storage. Georgia Public Broadcasting has also invested in SGI technology by operating a complete IT infrastructure that facilitates easy file sharing and complex media management.
Doremi Labs showed its MCS-HD video server with four independent, shared-storage channels, two play channels, two record channels, selectable compression rates and a VTRlike front panel.
Leitch was highlighting its NEXIO modular, scalable server system for transmission and news environments. It serves integrated applications with a reliable platform for editing, browsing and media management across a multitiered storage hierarchy. The server provides fault tolerance and interoperability (including IP), and supports multiple compression formats in both SD and HD.
While there were both innovative and not-so-innovative storage solutions shown on the exhibit floor, at least most were not the smoke-and-mirrors demos of years past. They are real, deliverable products.
C. Jason Mancebo is chief technologist at Korsade Technologies, a broadcast and digital media technology consulting firm in Silicon Valley.
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