BURLINGTON, MASS.—Today’s media value chain is interconnected—from one end to the other. The myriad of production and post-production tasks now interact in new and complicated ways. So just as overall workflows must be flexible to accommodate different content production and distribution needs and priorities, so too must storage. And since storage represents such a large percentage of the cost to create media, infrastructure economics are always at play. Intelligent, carefully considered storage that includes a range of on premises and cloud tiers is critical to the faster, less resource-intensive and more efficient, collaborative workflows that have now become essential. But how?
TIERS OF A CLOUD
Storage tiers are a natural outgrowth of the economic pressures to produce more content with little to no increase in budgets. It’s just not practical for one storage tier to economically accommodate the varying performance needs seen across all functions and workflows. Typically, two or three storage systems work together within a media organization. Expensive high-performance storage, utilizing flash or raid arrays, are used with real-time applications. The next tier, built for less frequent access and for less cost, stores occasionally accessed media or can serve as a backup for the primary tier. Finally, the tier used for archive is the least expensive, but comes with more complexity and slower access.
These traditional on-premise buckets—including online production storage, flash media, nearline and archive—have been around for decades. Each has its place and is even more relevant as the industry makes its move to the cloud. With solutions like software-defined storage, it’s possible to move these tiers to the cloud. What’s most important, however, whether in the cloud or on-premise, is expanding capabilities and futureproofing workflows for a rapidly advancing cloud environment. Technology like software-defined storage can achieve a combination of performance, scalability and reliability difficult through on-premise storage alone. It can accommodate hybrid models, which are extremely attractive as media organizations migrate to the cloud. There are valid reasons for retaining some storage on-premise. Hybrid solutions offer the flexibility to temporarily park media not actively being used to nearline in the cloud and free up space in on-premise nearline systems.
The ability to work collaboratively and remotely is becoming critical to today’s media workflows. Access to cloud-based files accommodates co-located productions. Productions are no longer tied to local talent, preferring the flexibility and cost benefits of talent that can work from anywhere. Consider many of today’s film and TV productions: Production companies have a global talent pool of editors, sound engineers and visual effects experts that are now accessible around the globe. Talent can work remotely and access the same high-resolution files from anywhere. Likewise, studio and production executives can access content and weigh in on dailies from anywhere. This freedom not only yields higher-quality content but also dramatically lowers production costs.
Cloud-based, or partially cloud-based, workflows and storage deliver this capability. Yet, as more and more workflows evolve to the cloud and cloud storage is part of the mix at least for some needs, the economics of how it all works together has not been fully resolved. And, as media in the cloud is everywhere, security becomes a greater concern. Content must be secure both from inside and the outside. With cloud solutions, it’s possible to control who has access internally while protecting assets from external threats.
A car has a lot of potential power. But it takes a good driver to make it run to its full potential. Storage systems should be considered in much the same way. To fully realize efficient workflows, it takes the right engine sitting behind it to fill in the workflow gaps, drive needed functions and accelerate the movement of assets.
Securely and efficiently moving assets where they need to go, as well as providing easy access to a shared library, requires an orchestration layer. It’s not economical to leave media on high-priced storage when you’re not using it so fluid movement by policy from on-prem to the cloud and between tiers is essential. When a storage platform is part of, or closely linked to, an overall content creation platform, it becomes an integral part of a powerful end-to-end content production system.
How storage is engaged depends on how workflows are configured and what is being archived. For example, the economics of 4K in the cloud doesn’t work. It’s simply too costly and impractical to move and edit huge 4K files. Saving proxies to the cloud, however, makes sense and facilitates collaboration that doesn’t require a lot of bandwidth. For a production being shot in North Carolina, an editor in Los Angeles can start work almost as soon as footage is captured. Camera originals are immediately archived—most often to the cloud—and media is normalized. A workflow acceleration platform can handle transcoding and other mechanics to get content into production immediately. So as media is prepared for editorial, two storage tiers are in use.
Even 4K production in the cloud is possible through a provider like Microsoft, though it requires the right infrastructure so workflows are fast and efficient enough. Not only is extremely fast production storage in the cloud required, but so is bandwidth fast enough to handle the throughput. All tiers of storage are needed—including online, nearline and archive—but content must also be managed efficiently so it’s economical, secure and accessible through powerful search engines in today’s sophisticated MAM systems.
Again, the system must be fluid. It may not be economical to keep all of your footage in the online tier of storage, so it can be stored to a nearline tier and retrieved when needed. For instance, footage for the second half of a film isn’t needed right away, so it can be accessed when it’s time to edit.
Storage and archive today must help productions and creative teams achieve their pressing, overarching goal: much more efficient workflows that can help get work done faster, easier and with less resources. This requires more powerful collaborative capabilities, simpler integration, faster deployment and easier-to-maintain systems and technical environments. And, especially when considering storage and archive, this is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Storage tiers are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. But moving them to the cloud through virtualized, software-driven technology can go a long way to meeting the challenges facing the media industry today.
Dave Colantuoni is senior director of product management for Avid.