Broadcasters Weighing Long-Term Storage Options

Broadcasters with large archives of video traditionally stored their content on Linear Tape-Open (LTO) data cassettes because that solution was less expensive than other options and provided a shelf life of at least ten years. More recently the dual- and triple-layered optical disc (pioneered by Sony but now manufactured by others) has emerged as another effective option. It's more expensive than LTO tape but has a shelf life of 50 years. This lets users avoid having to migrate their content to the latest version of LTO when their current version becomes obsolete.

When faced with a decision on long-term storage, executives at the Golf Channel chose optical disc. Just this week Golf Channel's main facility in Orlando, Fla., officially went online with an Optical Disc Archive (ODA) solution from Sony. The installed system holds numerous data cartridges that each have a capacity of 12 discs. Each disc can store up to 1.5 TB of data.

By leveraging the SX-525 server, PBS established a common cache storage system; meaning all of the files, both real time and non-real time, are easily accessible to both systems. According to Ken Botelho, Golf Channel's senior director of engineering, one advantage of this system is that the cartridge can be read as one file instead of 12 different discs in the file. This gives Golf Channel "a massive amount of storage capacity."

Botelho said it would take more than 115,000 hours to migrate its existing archive from LTO-5 tape. And Golf Channel has more content coming in every day.

On March 26, Golf Channel became the first television network in the world to adopt optical disc storage libraries on such a large scale. Sony worked with Golf Channel engineers over the past two years to move thousands of hours of videotape the network had shot and stored for the last 19 years. The implementation, which replaced a Sony tape archival system that Golf Channel adopted eight years ago, was managed by Golf Channel's Dan Overleese, Golf Channel vice president of TV network operations, and Ken Botelho, senior director of engineering.

"One of our struggles was the constant need to provide a path to migrate to the next generation of LTO tape after just finishing the migration from the former," said Botelho. "The Optical Disc Archive addressed this challenge completely."

Since its launch in 1995, Golf Channel has used massive amounts of LTO tape for archiving. The archive had grown exponentially over recent years and had begun to create space and compatibility problems.

"As we looked to reinvent the archive we have here, we wanted something we could access very quickly, make deadlines with, and access on a regular basis," said Overleese. "As we evaluated workflows and technologies, key was that once we go through this—and it represents two years of significant work and investment on both sides in this partnership—that all that work would last for an extended period of time. The fact that this solution, the Optical Disc Archive, is guaranteed to work for 50 years and be a viable solution for such an extended period of time was very important to us. We feel that this is an investment not only in an archive but in the long-term future of the Golf Channel."

Sony said its optical disc-based long-term storage system is built to withstand changes in temperature and humidity, and is resistant to dust, water and corrosive agents. It is engineered for enhanced intergenerational compatibility and eliminates the need to re-archive past data.

"The world has changed in archives. It used to be that folks would put their assets into deep archives and [the assets] would sit there, and on an emergency basis they would pull [assets] back," said John Studdert, vice president of sales, North America, for Sony. "Having the dependability that optical disc archive brings, going out 50 years without having to transfer important assets from tape to tape, it's a very smart business decision. The viability of ODA, the ability to access it quicker, to be able to take partial files to get to air quicker, it just makes perfect sense. It's a natural migration for a company that utilizes their archives as often as the Golf Channel."

Meanwhile LTO is still used for several applications, including disaster recovery. PBS has set up an elaborate LTO-based archive server cluster from a company called XenData to help streamline its disaster recovery needs. PBS is using the XenData SX-525 archive server to set up a full program origination system for its disaster recovery site in Lincoln, Neb.

"XenData's clustered server meets all the requirements for our disaster recovery site," said James Cutright, director, project management, at PBS. "With compatibility for real-time and non-real-time systems, ample bandwidth, an open format and their willingness to adapt and tailor the solution to meet our needs, we have been very pleased with the SX-525 product and XenData's technical team who have provided system design and integration services."

Indeed, as PBS houses both real-time and non-real-time systems, engineers there were looking for a shared storage solution compatible with both. By leveraging the SX-525 server, PBS established a common cache storage system, meaning that all of the files, both real time and non-real time, are easily accessible to both systems. The SX-525 in the disaster recovery site supports the network should PBS' network operations center (NOC), headquartered in Virginia, experience downtime. The system is continually available to accept files and scripts deposited by PBS. Furthermore, XenData's SX-525 functions as a standalone archive server within the PBS facility.

Because the SX-525 solution supports writing to LTO-5 and LTO-6 using the LTFS interchange or open standard TAR format, PBS was not required to use proprietary formats. This means PBS is assured that its content is accessible for years to come—making it ideally suited for long-term data archive. In addition, the server cluster scales to provide multiple petabytes of near-line LTO storage.

The XenData SX-525 supports one or more LTO libraries connected via fiber channel and includes two servers running Windows Server 2012 in a clustered configuration with a fully redundant RAID cache. The SX-525 supports most enterprise-class robotic LTO libraries, including models from HP, IBM, Oracle, Qualstar, Quantum and Spectra Logic. It may be configured to mirror files across two LTO libraries, creating a fully redundant LTO archive system with no single point of failure.

"Archiving content is certainly not new," Golf Channel's Botelho said. "It's been around for quite a few decades. There are a lot of choices in archive. We started off archiving on LTO-2, moved to 3, 4, 5. When we got to the point of how do we get the content on 2 to 3, 3 to 4, 4 to 5, migration was constant. As volumes became larger, migration of these systems became a very difficult process. People in the industry with an LTO tape library realize quite early on that they're spending almost all of their time migrating content."