Fast and Easy

HBO, Cinemax ops improve time, storage at state-of-the-art facility

Hauppauge, N.Y., is hardly synonymous with cutting-edge technology, but it should be. The HBO and Cinemax broadcast-operations facility there defines the tapeless future. The Long Island-based operation is home to 26 HBO and Cinemax standard-definition feeds and four HD feeds. By the middle of 2005, all will have content stored on a massive server farm. Bob Zitter, HBO executive vice president and chief technology officer, and Charles Cataldo, senior vice president, broadcast operations in Hauppauge, discussed the new system with B&C.

You've undertaken a new approach to storage. Can you tell me about it?

Zitter: Our new architecture takes the programming that will play on our feeds and ingests it into a Sun Microsystems 6900 series server with Hitachi 9980 series storage—and acts as an archive. Once completed, it will have 50 TB of storage, and function as a repository that holds all HBO and Cinemax programming for a year. It's then interconnected via high-speed fiber to Grass Valley Profile servers that are used to play to air.

How is that different from past systems?

Zitter: Now we essentially take tape and cache it into a Profile server and play it to air. But in this case, we ingest into the archive and tie our Harris Louth automation system into it. That means that the Profile system, with the help of proprietary software, reaches into the system and pulls out the needed programming.

What are the operational advantages?

Zitter: The advantages aren't so much in saving operators but in saving time. We ingest content once. We don't need to handle the materials, then move them from the library to tape playout machines. We have 26 network feeds that hold programming for a year. In addition, we can also store the different components of a program, like the languages and closed-captioning information. Then, as they're needed, we can put the combinations together for different networks.

How is the Profile system used?

Zitter: The Profile stores three days of programming. Right now, we have one Profile with four networks' worth of programming. Each day, that Profile flushes out one day of programming and adds in another day of programming. And if one of the programs is playing on two networks at once, it plays out from that one copy.

Tell me about the Sun system.

Zitter: This is a process we've been implementing over a three-year period, and we're about halfway through it. We needed large storage capacity at a reasonable cost. But more importantly, we needed to be able to move high volumes of video data files quickly from one machine to another in a short period of time.

Cataldo: The broadcast-video-server makers don't sell storage as a commodity. The computer manufacturers do. The thought was to put edge servers in that have codecs that feed the networks and keep the storage to the essential minimum in the Profiles. Then we put our investment in the Sun and Hitachi storage. The differences are a little slower processing speeds and less resilience in terms of performance. But there's also a cost savings that is a hundredfold.

What's the name of the project?

Zitter: My colleagues at Warner Bros. and Time Warner Cable always come up with project names. We just go ahead and do it.