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File transfers change transport equation, even for HD

Whether it's backhaul of news footage from the field, shipping digital dailies from exotic locales to studio headquarters or any of the other numerous requirements for content transport, the tools available for moving images and sound from one point to another are transforming.

One significant contributor to this change is the availability of digital content as files — not signals. Having files allows broadcasters and digital cinematographers to leverage technology developed for the IT world to provide safe, secure transport of mission-critical content files. To be sure, HD, 2K and 4K files are large. But depending upon the circumstances, more than enough bandwidth may be available to move those files.

Recently, Unlimi-Tech Software rolled out version 2.0 of its FileCatalyst software designed to make digital transport of such files easy and fast. HD Technology Update spoke with company CEO Chris Bailey about the product and its applicability in the HD realm.

HD Technology Update: Can you tell me a little bit about FileCatalyst and how you see it being used in the media industry?

Chris Bailey: We've just released version 2.0 of our FileCatalyst product, which is an accelerated file transfer product. FileCatalyst will guarantee line speed regardless of network impairments like RTT and packet loss. Our previous version, FileCatalyst version 1, did this, but what version 2 adds is on-the-fly compression, and it will send only file deltas. If files that you are transferring have only changed slightly, it will only send the pieces that have changed and will send that data at full line speed. It will also compress it on the fly, so the effective rates that you will see with version 2.0 are actually higher than your line speed.

Where this is actually beneficial for the media industry is if you are editing video and only small portions of the video have changed — just doing minor iterations and then firing them back and forth across your network. We will actually save considerable bandwidth for these people because we are only sending the parts that have changed, and we are going to append it to the path of the destination file.

FileCatalyst also offers guaranteed reliability, bandwidth scheduling and the ability to pick up and resume files where they've left off. So, ultimately the product as a whole is not just getting your full throughput, it's offering a lot of reliability features on top of that.

HDTU: Are HD files, which depending on the codec used can vary from about 40Mb/s to 100Mb/s when compressed and 1.5Gb/s when not, too much for conventional FTP transfer? How about when FileCatalyst is used?

CB: Well, it depends on your bandwidth. But to give you an example of someone using our product, Rain Network is transferring movie files. I'm not sure that they are HD, but they are definitely anywhere from 10GB to 15GB, so probably not HD.

These guys were essentially getting a quarter or less of their line speed, and they are only dealing with T1 speeds. They've gotten four times the throughput with our application. Now, if you are dealing with a T3, and you're transferring HD files, you can actually reduce the time to send these files by 50 times or more depending on the location. Even with a tiny bit of latency, at T3 speeds, which a lot of companies moving these large files will have, our software will allow them to maximize that T3 speed.

So depending on file size, we may bring a transfer down from 20 hours to one hour, which is huge.

Being able to transfer the files over the Internet is new for some people because previously it was so slow they would save the files on a hard drive and ship the hard drive because it was faster. Then they'd get it and maybe there was a problem with the file, which meant they'd have to resave it and send it again.

With us, we can maximize that throughput reducing the amount of time it takes to send that file down to a couple of hours. If there was a problem with the file, they could actually retransmit it the same day within a couple of hours.

So, that's the big advantage over FTP. And of course, the advantage over FTP grows with the amount of latency on your link. So, if you're dealing with overseas or satellite links — anything with a high degree of latency, especially with anything that is susceptible to packet loss or interference — that's where we are really going to exceed FTP.

HDTU: What about much larger files — say 2K and beyond — for distribution applications for digital cinema? Is that something on the horizon?

CB: Absolutely. We can transfer files of any size. We have companies that are using us to transfer 300GB files, so that's full-length HD movies.

HDTU: But won't there be a practical limitation about how much bandwidth is available?

CB: There comes a point where the files may be so big that even with a T3 it does take longer. The file gets so big that it will take longer to transfer the file, even with maximum throughput, than it would to physically send a hard drive.

Where we come in is when you could theoretically send a file faster than you could ship the hard drive. That's where we can help those people. So, if the bandwidth is available, we can use it.

HDTU: What steps can be taken to assure the security of content files transferred via FileCatalyst?

CB: FileCatalyst offers AES encryption. You can tune that to 128-, 192- or 256-bit encryption, so all data going across the network is fully encrypted. AES 256 is pretty much the standard now.

HDTU: How do you actually use FileCatalyst to transfer files?

CB: Working with several companies, we have come up with a suite of applications that employ the underlying transfer technology in order to make it easier to integrate and use.

For example, one is our Hot Folder application. What it does is monitor a folder. Any new files that appear in this folder or are saved in this folder will automatically get transferred to a predefined end point.

What this allows you to do is if you have an existing workflow application that's saving files into a directory and currently in your workflow you have to have people connect via FTP to download these files. We can automate that process and at the same time guarantee that the files are getting there as fast as possible.

If you need to ingest files into your workflow, it's the same thing. You install our server software on your machine with your media asset management solution. Your clients have a Hot Folder installed. When they want to send you files and ingest them into your system, they just drag the file into a directory, it's automated, and you get an e-mail notification when the file is in there.

Additionally, we also provide an API so you could build your own client application using the FileCatalyst technology.

We've also supplied a suite of Java applets that allow you to have a Web application that simplifies an upload.

HDTU: How is FileCatalyst being used today in the media industry?

CB: One company we work with is Sample Digital. They provide a service called Digital Dailies for studios to accept daily submission of videos from off-site shooting locations back to Hollywood for review.

Previous to using FileCatalyst, these guys would have to ship hard drives. What Sample Digital has done is build a Web-based solution for people to submit these movies online in a timely fashion using FileCatalyst to get full line speed.

We've actually seamlessly embedded into their existing Web application. Their users were previously using an FTP upload via their Web site. Using our API and our Java applet, we were able to swap in the FileCatalyst technology without their users even knowing. They just noticed it got a lot faster. The end result is they are getting five, 10, up to 50 times faster transfers, and their users are just ecstatic. It's completely seamless, fully integrated and Web-based.

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