NBA Entertainment Consolidates on SGI

League adopts data management technology to access assets on a variety of media


When the clock ticks down on the final game of the NBA finals and the Lawrence O'Brien trophy is awarded for 2005, the league's in-house NBA Entertainment video facility in New York City will make a major leap forward with a new storage system from SGI.

The upgrade is designed to make workflow sense as the NBA delivers video highlights of its games to ever more platforms, like cell phones and the Internet. And with the coming of 100Mbps high-definition video, it makes dollars and cents sense as well.

When the installation is completed in time for the league's tip-off next fall, NBA Entertainment will have three tiers of storage designed to house game footage, some going back as far as the late 1940s.

Careful logging of those thousands of hours of basketball games has allowed NBA editors to find any specific shot in those archives. The new storage system will allow editors to access the plays much more quickly.

"If you're trying to manage hundreds of terabytes of storage, you want to keep the things you use most often right next to you on fast fiberchannel disks," said Greg Estes, SGI vice president of corporate marketing.

"Things you don't use all that often, maybe once a month, you push those out to slower, less expensive SATA disks, and then things you just need to have around but who knows when you'll need it, you push that out to tape."

Hardware-wise, this breaks down to a 8 TB SGI InfiniteStorage NAS 2000 solution for the disk storage and a StorageTek SL8500 tape library.

It may seem intuitively obvious that the most recent game material should be the most immediately available to the editors, but that's not always true. Rather, video material that is most frequently used needs to be the most easily available.


An SGI program call the Data Migration Facility allows the material to automatically be moved among the various storage media depending on its frequency of use.

"Data Migration Facility is really the key piece that will help us set up rules and analyze what's on the SAN, and by those rules move it back onto tape storage," said Steve Hellmuth, senior vice president of technology and operations at NBA Entertainment.

The StorageTek tape library sports six tape transports and a pair of robot arms. It sits on a 4-by-6 foot footprint and can hold up to 3,000 LTO3 datatapes, though the NBA will start by licensing 1,500.

Once the new system is installed, the organization will begin a dual process Hellmuth describes as burning the candle at both ends.

"Beginning with next season, we will digitize our games as they come into our facility in real time, onto the SAN, and then as they are used or not used, according to certain rules, back onto the tape robot," he said.

"The other end of the candle is the stuff we need to preserve long term, whose life cycle has run out," he said. Material on aging videotape will be ingested onto LTO3 tape. The NBA currently has material on Sony Beta tape, BetaSP, DigiBeta, HDVCAM, HDCAM, and HDCAM SR as well as super-16 film (shot before high-resolution video was available).

The savings enjoyed by putting material to the datatape rather than videotape is significant. Hellmuth estimated the cost of LTO3 storage at $7 per hour of SD material versus $16 for videotape. For 100Mbps HD material, he placed the datatape costs at $14 per hour versus $80 for videotape.

Once the video material is on datatape, "you have the monstrous process improvement of being able to access it digitally and instantaneously, and you have the ability to make a dupe in a matter of seconds that will go into the side of a mountain," Hellmuth said.

A key component necessary to the move to datatape was SGI software in its DMF system that allows partial file restoration. The NBA typically stores an entire game--approximately three hours of video--as a file.

"That was our biggest hurdle with the whole project," said Keith Horstman, director of NBA Entertainment IT. "Most of the stuff editors want is roughly 24 seconds, it's a play," like a Kobe jumper.

He said DMF can pull and restore just the needed clip from the three-hour file. "A lot of other products would take the whole file, then strip it out, which would take a long time to move it as well as cut it out. With DMF we're looking at an upper limit off of tape to pull the 24 seconds out."

Horstman noted that the storage component of the facility is a final touch.

"We started this project five years ago by putting islands out there in our editing world, the logging system, the editing applications, which is Pinnacle," he said.

As the next NBA season begins, NBA Entertainment will use the upgraded facility to serve its current set of obligations, including its NBA TV channel, video on demand, cell phone packages and the Internet. But the NBA and SGI are looking at new technology for future services.

"We're trying to look at the next level of stats on the way-out kind of scenario, and that would involve, in addition to what we do now, player tracking," Hellmuth said.

This would not only give game broadcasters an instant diagram of a play to help explain the game, but could be used by videogame developers.

Hellmuth said he's seen the recent video game console introductions, and he's impressed.

"There's a level of realism that's coming, and we want to make sure the attributes of our game, the real attributes of our players and what they do are built into their games," he said. "This technology works, and we're talking to SGI about essentially making it affordable and portable. We're at the phase now where the 'first-and-ten' was when it took a whole mobile unit to do a line. We've got to get the cost down to make it reasonable."