The Hybrid Approach to Video Storage

In WCCC’s control room are Troy Shaw (left), video production specialist; and Kyle Muscarello, video production technician.

MULTIPLE CITIES—Once upon a time, video producers stored their content on videotapes. These tapes were usually stored locally on the premises—usually on shelves or in a closet—except perhaps for boxes of 10-year-old programs that were kept in an off-site storage locker.

The advent of digital video files and the use of IT-based storage media such as DVDs and hard drives put an end to these practices. Today, video producers can store everything they produce in on-site servers, or off-site in the cloud.

Both physical and virtual video storage options have their place in the modern video production chain. The knack is knowing which storage option to use and when to use it.

Deciding on which storage option to use is truly a balancing act. Specifically, “one has to strike a balance between cost, availability, performance and security,” said Jason Danielson; NetApp’s solutions marketing manager for media and entertainment. NetApp is a provider of on-site digital storage and off-site cloud storage solutions.

The catch? “The specific balance is different depending on what stage of the production process the video is in, and the level of security it requires,” Danielson said. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution.”

A case in point: The high bandwidth and fast access offered by network-connected local storage is best suited for actual video production. This has been the experience for the Waco City Cable Channel (WCCC-TV), the PEG channel in Waco, Texas.

“We offer a complete broadcast schedule, drawing from a library of new and recorded programs managed and accessed locally by our rushworks’ automation/production system and NAS architecture,” said Larry Holze, the City of Waco’s director of municipal information and public information officer. “Having all our content on local storage makes it easy for our three video producers to maximize their production output, because everything is at their fingertips with no download delays.”

On the flip side, surveillance video-focused company mobiDeos specializes in helping clients access footage from their on-site CCTV DVRs (both analog and digital) on any Internet-connected computer loaded with its UCNE cloud and network-enabled surveillance system.

“This is why we rely on cloud storage, because the cloud is the best way to store and serve the video we pull from our clients’ DVRs and make available on a password-protected web site,” said Sri Palasamudram, CEO of mobiDeos. “It’s not just a matter of access: Getting CCTV video onto our cloud is the best way for our clients to guard against anyone tampering with that video on their on-site DVR.”

Rush Beesley is the founder and president of TV automation/playout solutions provider RUSHWORKS. As a result, Beesley has put a lot of thought into the cloud/local storage debate—and distilled it down to a simple pros-and-cons equation.

RUSHWORKS QNAP Network Attached Storage

“The primary pro of off-site/cloud storage is that you don’t have to invest in and maintain local hardware systems,” said Beesley. “Further, by maintaining storage off-site you have the insurance and assurance of knowing that your data is preserved in the event of a site catastrophe.”

There are two “cons” of cloud storage. The first is that “you really have no idea where your valuable data is being stored, and who has access to it,” Beesley said. “That’s a very real consideration that most people seem to ignore—or simply accept—without questioning.”

The second con is access speed: “It takes a lot of time to transfer data up and down over the Web compared to on-site network storage,” said Beesley. “Individual situations vary greatly, of course, but the old adage that ‘time is money’ definitely becomes a factor.”

Meanwhile, the “pro” of on-site storage for video producers is the inverse of the “con” of cloud storage: Video producers know what they have in terms of actual stored video content, where it is at all times, and they can access the data virtually in real-time across their in-house network. “The ‘con’ is that you must invest in and maintain a local hardware infrastructure; but with the plethora of inexpensive, redundant and reliable NAS systems available, the cost is very low,” said Beesley. “If you have an on-site catastrophe, you stand to lose everything if it’s not backed up off-site.”

Given the above pros and cons, it is clear that local video storage makes sense in some circumstances, and cloud storage is best in others.

When it comes to actual video production and on-site playout, “it makes the most sense to use local storage,” said Chris Knowlton, vice president and streaming industry evangelist for Wowza Media Systems, a provider of on-site and cloud-based video streaming solutions. “You want the access speed, performance and security of on-site storage; even though you have to purchase and maintain the storage media yourself.”

Chris Knowlton, vice president of Wowza Media Systems

Local storage is also the best choice for content that has been aired, but may need to be accessed quickly for re-use, or incorporation into other videos. Where the cloud makes sense is for long-term archiving; freeing up space on a production facility’s local servers.

“Off-line storage is where the cloud can really be an asset,” said Dave Van Hoy, president of systems integrator Advanced Systems Group. “This is a much better option than tying up your own storage resources, and spending time and money transferring archived content from aging media that needs to be updated to remain accessible.”

One benefit of cloud-based storage is that it is well-suited for streaming video clips to online viewers.

“If your content is in the cloud, you can leverage the unique capability of a third-party content delivery network (CDN) like Akamai,” said Matthew Rehrer, product manager at Harmonic, maker of servers and a provider of video-focused storage. “CDNs can deal with streaming provision, including demand surges, far better than video production departments,” Rehrer said.

Deciding what fits when, and in what circumstances, comes down to an assessment process. Before choosing which storage options to employ in which circumstances, government video production managers needs to first review what their departments actually do, and what forms of video storage would work best for them. Having compiled this data, the most appropriate storage options should become clear.

At WCCC-TV, for instance, the emphasis is on keeping the PEG channel served with content 24/7. As a result, WCCC-TV needs the fast access and flexible file-sharing that on-site storage provides.

“It is just what works best for us,” said Larry Holze.

Meanwhile, a government department charged with providing CCTV video to numerous network-connected viewing stations needs the global reach provided by cloud-based storage.

“Contrary to popular misconceptions, such off-site storage can be as secure as local storage,” said

Sri Palasamudram. “This is because the cloud storage can be privately-owned by a secure third-party provider: You do not need to rely on the public cloud.”

The moral to this storage story: Use local storage for all video production and real-time play-out requirements, and the cloud for archiving dated video and CDN-assisted streaming. As well, “regularly schedule automated ‘cloud’ backups where time isn’t a factor,” said Rush Beesley. “The insurance is definitely worth the small premium for off-line storage.”