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Data Storage Moves Into The Realm of Exabytes

The past decade has seen the broadcast and professional side of content storage technologies focused on systems that define operational workflow requirements while addressing physical scaling in order to meet the objective of migrating from tape to disks.

New products and services incorporating digital content storage continue to grow in all directions, becoming more diverse and surfacing in many more end-user applications. The means and methods of managing content development, distribution and in turn deployment of content continue to challenge the marketplace from all perspectives, not just the broadcast and professional space.

For example, when addressing storage methodologies, there are myriad products that capture, manipulate, catalog and display moving images. In consumer and professional implementations, i.e., mobile, fixed and semi-transportable storage systems; a mandate demands the co-existence of solid-state memory, embedded disk drives and (replaceable) hard disk drives that must fit into a diverse set of architectures. Requirements, quantities and adaptations for storage systems are growing at record pace.

According to reports from the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show, the storage of data for digital content will be a major factor in the growth of digital storage devices. By 2008, estimates indicate that nearly 185 million hard disk drives or 34 percent of the total hard disks shipped will be used in consumer electronics alone.

Predictions further indicate that by 2007, the average wired home will nominally employ 500 GB of storage for conventional uses, and those with home entertainment networks or media centers will exceed 1 TB.

In perspective, 2004 storage requirements for content creation, editing, archiving, and distribution were a meager 1.7 billion GB (1.7 exabytes, or EB). An exabyte is equivalent to 1018 bytes or nine orders of magnitude greater than a gigabyte. By 2008, the expected growth will be nine times greater, reaching an estimated 15.4 EB.

Storage and content management systems need to continually endure rapid changes in technology to meet the demands of both users and creators. In addition, these subsystems will need to provide for content protection while remaining flexible. Storage requirements for these applications must also achieve acceptable performance and reliability, with sufficient protection from data loss, without overwhelming costs.


PCs and home media networks are already capable of achieving a portion of these goals. By simple mirroring of internal hard drives, adding incremental external storage or by the employment of readily available RAID systems (hardware or software); end users can enjoy the reliability and performance found in many professional systems. By contrast, the rapidly developing mobile media space faces a different set of problems related to storage, reliability and protection.

Mobility storage is typically integrated into mobile devices such as iPods, cell phones, MP3 players, etc. This storage need not necessarily be spinning media; yet, its integration virtually eliminates any means for the end user to extend directly attached storage on a do-it-yourself basis. Thus, integral storage must be sufficient to meet the needs of the user, or the device becomes valueless.

Semi-fixed devices, such as a PVR provided by cable and satellite systems, face similar storage limitations. Users want and need to store more content, hence, the concept of home networking systems and home media servers is beginning to catch on with professionals and consumers. Major software vendors, such as Microsoft, are dancing in this arena at both the PC and the dedicated platform level. Several household consumer electronics companies are also providing products. Most new media devices already provide the means for external connectivity via USB, iLink, FireWire, etc., lending extensibility to products while the demands and the standards for home and media networking continue to expand.

The expectation of a never-ending storage requirement opens the realities of how we develop efficient systems and protocols that can support the needs of content distribution, tracking and billing, and digital rights management. A number of organizations continue to work on existing and future standards aimed at providing solutions for a wide set of these requirements.

The development of a multimedia framework in MPEG-21, which unlike its MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 compression predecessors, is an under-development ISO/IEC standard that defines the description of content and also the processes for accessing, searching, storing and protecting the copyrights of content.

MPEG-21 subsections include a Rights Expression Language (REL) that specifies the rights to content, its fees or other consideration required to secure those rights, the types of users qualified to obtain those rights, and the other associated information necessary to enable e-commerce transactions in content rights.

MPEG-21 defines how to declare, identify and describe content (referred to as DID and DII&D), describe user context (DIA), express and enforce the rights to the content (MPEG REL, indecs2 RDD, IPMP), and more. The Content Reference Forum (CRF at ) is another liaison group that aims to leverage existing and developing standards and specifications as appropriate, and to interact with those groups that govern them.

These growing issues of storage, digital rights management, content distribution and creation are all matters that stand squarely in the face of future media server technologies. Facility owners and their technologists need to be aware of how each of these segments affects one another. As evidenced, the future of this industry goes much deeper than just spinning disks and encoding schemes.