Storage technology is heating up. There is now a broad array of technologies for both online and archive storage, with some exciting new players shaking up the broadcast market.
Nonlinear storage solutions for program playback allow networks to cut down on the maintenance associated with tape-based systems, while quick-access archives allow programmers to better monetize existing content on new delivery platforms, such as video-on-demand (VOD), the Internet or mobile video. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, there is also a new emphasis on using IT-based technology to create duplicate playback and archive systems at remote locations, which ensures that networks stay up and running in the face of crisis.
Sun Microsystems, which has provided server-based storage products to IT-friendly programmers and broadcasters for years, became a much bigger broadcast player last September with its $4.1 billion acquisition of StorageTek. Sun will be showing its high-end, disk-based StoreEdge systems alongside the StorageTek data-tape–based SL 8500 robotic library, as well as demonstrating several low-cost, software-based media-asset–management products.
Sun is also announcing a significant deal with HBO, a longtime customer of Sun and StorageTek, for Sun's standards-based content-storage and -delivery systems. HBO standardized on Sun servers in 2003 for standard-def program origination, converting from maintenance- and labor-intensive tape-based systems. Over the past six months, HBO and Sun have been working to convert the network's high-definition, VOD and planned mobile video services to Sun technology.
HBO's new fully digital content-management and -delivery architecture is based on Sun StorEdge enterprise storage and Network Attached Storage (NAS) solutions, the Solaris 10 Operating System, Sun Fire servers, and Sun Java technology-based integration with Thomson Grass Valley Profile and K2 play-to-air servers. It supports 28 standard-def and four HD channels in addition to on-demand distribution.
“They were looking at using IT-based storage that was integrated with their broadcast systems, since so much of what they already had was bought and paid for and working well,” explains Andy Sheldon, Sun executive director of industry marketing. “We worked with HBO on developing a number of integration applications, whereby the Harris automation system talks to the Sun server, which in turn outputs content via File Transfer Protocol over to the Profiles.”
Front Porch Digital
Another storage provider making inroads into HD program operations is Boulder, Colo.-based Front Porch Digital, which recently sold its DIVArchive system to VOOM HD Networks for storage of high-def content. Front Porch Digital, the Broadcast and Media Division of Incentra Solutions Inc., now has 120 installations of DIVArchive in more than 40 countries. New for NAB is a newsroom archive solution, developed in conjunction with Thomson Grass Valley and its NewsBrowse Web-based editing and browsing product; and DIVAnet 2.0, which allows global media firms to use a distributed architecture to network an unlimited number of separate DIVArchive installations and achieve automatic content-replication and disaster-recovery capabilities.
Toronto-based storage provider Masstech Group is showcasing its disaster-recovery and business-continuity solution, MassDR, an automated system that replicates the content of an on-air video server and ensures that there is never disruption in a network's on-air presentation. MassDR is currently operating at a number of TV networks across North America and Asia, including Turner Entertainment in Atlanta.
MassDR requires no manual intervention, automatically replicating and transferring files as well as scheduling information from existing video servers to playout devices located at remote locations. In the event of a problem at the primary facility, operations switch to MassDR remote playout devices to ensure that service is not disrupted.
Through transcoding technology, content can be intermixed, allowing both full-res MPEG-2 video and transcoded WM9 or MPEG-4 low-resolution content.
Says MassTech VP of Sales Joe French, MassDR basically works like “a large TiVo located at a hardened site,” keeping a running buffer of programming on hand depending on user preferences. The system can encode a satellite feed of programming in MPEG-4, re-encode it back into serial digital format, and reinsert it into the playout stream, allowing a network to then rebroadcast the signal at a lower bit rate. “If you say you want a buffer of 14 days, then the oldest hour goes away, and the newest hour comes on again,” says French. “It's a real-time encoding process.”
The MassDR system can also be connected to commercial delivery devices to ensure that commercial insertion, not only high-quality program playout, continues after a disaster. MassDR costs about $75,000 per program channel, although actual system costs vary based on storage.
A relatively new player in the broadcast storage market is Quantum Corp. of San Jose, Calif. Quantum, a long-time manufacturer of digital-tape libraries, has created a low-cost data-tape product aimed at TV operations. The SDLT 600A can store 25 hours of 25-megabit-per-second (Mbps) video on a $100 300-gigabyte (GB) digital linear tape (DLT).
The compact 600A is available in both tabletop and rack-mountable versions that sell for $7,950 and $8,550, respectively. The product has Gigabit Ethernet networking capability to link to other devices, with a transfer rate up to 288 Mbps. It uses a tape-based file system that allows each cartridge to be directly accessible by applications on the network, in drag-and-drop fashion, without additional software. The SDLT also uses the Material Exchange Format (MXF) to afford videotape-like access to subclips by timecode, metadata access and interoperability with other broadcast devices.
Turner Entertainment is the first customer for the Quantum product, which began shipping in February. “Video guys like it, because coming from a videotape background, it provides the same interoperability with video tape and it has access to timecode,” says Mark Ostlund, director of rich media storage for Quantum. “But the IT guys get it too, as it's all IT-based, it sits on a GigE network, and it uses standard protocols. So it's a nice hybrid that meets broadcasters' needs in a new way.”