Pro Video Drive: The Combination of IT & Video

Broadcasters that have trusted videotape for more than 40 years to store their content today face dual challenges: An explosion in content and complexity with multiple platforms and formats demanded by new markets; and the challenge of storing the increasing quantity of digital and high definition television content with resolutions and data rates five times that of standard definition.

To meet these challenges, the industry is transitioning from traditional videotape-based storage, manipulation and output to digital workflows where video content exists as files. These new file-based workflows make it inefficient to convert video files back to videotape for interchange and archiving. Media accessibility, content preservation and long-term storage for an evolving HD/SD environment have combined to drive video content storage toward file-based video archiving.

Quantum has developed a storage solution for file-based broadcast operations by enhancing its state-of-the-art IT industry DLT datatape drive. Among the most reliable data storage platforms ever created, today more than 130 million DLT drives are deployed in practically every Fortune 500 company.

The result is Quantum’s new, award-winning SDLT 600A Professional Video Drive, the first datatape drive enhanced for broadcasters that is low cost, fast, interoperable and networked. In addition, it incorporates a key feature set that enables broadcasters to transition to file-based workflows by providing three critical benefits.

The SDLT 600A enables file system data from every file (size, creation date, location on tape, etc.) to be stored in a true file system directory at the beginning of each tape cartridge. Most datatape solutions use proprietary formats to store tape contents, and the data on any given tape can only be read using the same, single software application that was used to write the data.

The SDLT 600A is the first datatape solution to offer total application independence. Each cartridge contains its own portable directory that can be read without the need for special software; the files on any tape can be accessed anywhere, anytime. This also has significant benefits for disaster recovery. If a library goes down, information on each tape can be retrieved simply by placing it in a standalone drive; the content is always accessible.

Ensuring streamlined and interoperable network connectivity is essential to an effective file-based workflow. Before the SDLT 600A, data drives were typically attached to a single computer through a dedicated data bus, like an SCSI or Fibre Channel connection. That computer then ran dedicated software and drivers to talk to the tape drive and manage both the archive and restore processes.

Now, because the SDLT 600A connects directly to any Ethernet network at up to Gigabit speeds, this entire archive system is simplified. Each datatape drive is accessible to any networked computer without the need for any specialized software or drivers.

The SDLT 600A also includes both built-in FTP and Web servers. As a universally adopted computing standard, FTP capability instantly makes the drive accessible to any computer brand, model or operating system through the operating system itself, command line and/or off-the-shelf utilities. The drive’s Web server delivers a webpage and serves a Java-based applet that further extends a user’s ability to access drive features without any special knowledge or software. The combination of these networking features removes layers of hardware and software from any archive application, making deployment far less complex and far more reliable.

As with all datatape systems, any type of data can be written to an SDLT 600A drive, and the SDLT 600A can be used to store a variety of different content file types. As applications transition to adopt MXF, the newest industry standard file type, the drive provides additional features. If that data is wrapped in an MXF header, for example, the drive makes note of key metadata as it writes to the cartridge.

Additionally, key MXF metadata is captured in the tape-based directory for instant access, enabling subclips to be retrieved from MXF files by timecode. If, for example, a many-hour-long and many-Gigabyte-large video file has been archived and only a few minutes or even just a few frames are needed, the SDLT 600A provides internal utilities to allow partial restores.

Even if files stored on the drive today are not MXF, the drive is “MXF-ready” with special capabilities as the industry transitions to support this new technology.

In addition to this key feature set, the SDLT 600A also provides a host of other benefits derived from its IT heritage.

The SDLT format provides both higher capacity and higher storage density than any videotape format. Native capacity for the compact, robust Super DLTtape II cartridges used in this drive is 300 GB, which translates into more than 25 hours of DV content or more than six hours of DVCPRO HD content, for example.

Quantum’s SDLT 600A delivers excellent performance that is well-suited for archiving large files. The data transfer rate of 36 MB per second (288 Mbps) native translates to faster-than-realtime for most video essence formats, even HD content.

As HD/SD archives grow in size, media cost becomes an increasingly significant component of any archive investment. With a media cost of 33¢/GB, the Super DLTtape II datatape is two to five times less than the street price for a comparable capacity of videotape. In addition, the SDLT 600A costs approximately one-third less than the price of typical VTR equipment, and the potential savings is increased by reduced maintenance and support costs versus traditional video hardware.

Videotape has proven itself to be a poor archive media. The flying heads in VTR scanner assemblies scrub oxide away, making the recovery of content from older tapes an expensive challenge. On the other hand, modern datatape transports work with linear heads that are gentler on tapes. The tapes themselves also use the latest coating processes for long life and are extensively life-tested, achieving a certified 30-year tape archive life.

Mark Ostlund is the director, rich media storage, for Quantum Corporation.