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The challenges of social media

The world of storage matching the needs of media companies is evolving fast. The move from tape to files is changing requirements, and changes in technology are opening up new ways to build storage systems.

The developments in storage over the last ten to twenty years have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary. The demands of businesses, and specifically media businesses, are now taking us into a new era of storage. Some would say the Cloud is driving this. Others would say the Cloud is just another word for outsourcing. Whatever your views, change is happening. Just look how solid state storage has evolved from thumb drive to a viable replacement for the magnetic hard drive wherever fast access or a more rugged device is needed.

When videotape was the normal method of transporting content, disk storage was used by processing islands, and workgroup storage fit that need. Enterprise storage had been aimed at government and large corporations for storing small files — records and transactions. When broadcasters started to scale up, enterprise storage was not only expensive, but didn’t fit the need for the high data transfer rates required to handle HD content, or for the very large file sizes. File-based operations demand different storage. Shoots are arriving on Professional Disc, SxS, CF, SD and P2 cards, right from acquisition through to VOD, files are replacing videotape.

Specialist media storage like Avid Unity has served the broadcast sector for years, supporting the collaborative operations of newsroom editing, and for general post-production.

But, for low cost and mass storage, companies have frequently turned to commodity racks of RAID or JBOD, configured as a NAS or SAN. Neither the architecture of SAN and NAS in their basic configurations, nor the simple file systems designed for office and workgroup applications scale well to support the very large file repositories that broadcasters are now building to support wholly file-based operations.
Scale-out storage needs intelligence built into the array, much like the Unity ISIS, rather than dumb arrays of disks and controllers. Scale-out storage also needs a filing system designed to scale accordingly, that can support massive throughputs, and cope efficiently and speedily with drive failure.

However, the requirements of media business are very different from the traditional customers for enterprise storage. What is more, their budgets are modest in comparison.

Alongside the mushrooming need for data storage, processing requirements are increasing. Twenty years ago all the fancy video processing took place in the mix-effects bank of the switcher. Now processing is needed for transcoding to feed multiple devices, not necessary when the switcher just fed the transmitter and antenna.

As broadcasters and media companies move to exploit the long tail of their content archives, the need to process and mine huge amounts of data comes to the fore, but the platforms must be affordable. One only has to look at the success of social media to see how the analysis of users browsing habits has become core to their businesses. As TV companies layer targeted advertising over long tail content they too must analyse their viewers beyond just basic ratings. Multi-device viewing has changed the whole nature of delivery to the public.

The old linear, serial nature of television workflow processes has become highly parallel. And video and audio processing is now joined by straight data processing. We have come a long way from a few video multipliers keying layers of video together. Data storage and data processing are set to become an essential part of broadcast operations if the "old media'' is to compete and be successful meeting the challenges of "new media."