Following the emergence of over-the-top (OTT) and video-on-demand (VoD) services, media companies are engaged in a race to get their content quickly delivered across multiple platforms and devices. Josephine Tan finds out more on how different storage approaches enable them to retrieve content rapidly, accelerating time to market.
Three transformational elements — the democratisation of content creation, the rise of mobile devices, and the expectations for on-demand services — have arisen as a result of the transition away from film to digital media. And in the digital era of media and entertainment, media companies ought to look towards technology not as a new opportunity, but as a “necessary engine” of the media industry, where success is often decided by how efficiently that engine can be leveraged, Scott Sinclair, senior analyst of Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), suggests in the Dell EMC: Enabling the Digital Era in Media and Entertainment white paper.
With the transformation to digital, the media and entertainment industry has become a technology industry built upon digital products, digital workflows and digital-based economics, Sinclair adds. “Understanding how to build a framework for success in this digital era requires internalising three core concepts: Data has mass, data is more costly to move than to store, and advances in IT innovation have shifted the cost paradigm.”
As the media industry continues striving for greater realism, with higher resolutions, greater depths, richer colours and more computer-generation elements, he stresses that the amount of digital content created in turn increases, resulting in higher capacities and higher costs.
“For example, a 2K video shot at 24fps can generate 120GB per hour, even with 5:1 compression. When increased to 4K/Ultra HD (UHD) at 24fps with the same compression, the camera generates about 470GB per hour,” Sinclair explains. “What matters is not the 470GB per hour; it is the fact that the shift in resolution generated a four-fold increase in data.”
To enhance digital media and entertainment operations for moving of data and storage within the IT infrastructure, he recommends three approaches — optimise the amount of copies of data stored, minimise the number of times data moves from one location or system to another, and measure and reduce the amount of time that users wait for access to content.
Established in 1991, Animal Logic is a design, animation and visual-effects studio based in Sydney, Australia. The company also has an office located in Los Angeles, USA, and has expanded its operations into Vancouver, Canada, with the opening of a second animation studio in September 2015. Its portfolio comprises several Hollywood blockbusters, including The Great Gatsby, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and The Lego Movie.
Particularly for the production of The Lego Movie, Animal Logic required a solution that is capable of managing the vast amounts of data created during the making of the film, which needed 345TB of data capacity at its peak. To enhance its storage requirements, the animation studio approached Dell EMC for production storage, and installed Dell EMC Isilon, a scale-out network attached storage (NAS) platform.
Alex Timbs, head of IT, Animal Logic, explains: “Although there’s a lot of common ground, productions will use different techniques and these have an impact on storage requirements. That’s a big part of the reason why we moved to Dell EMC Isilon in the first place, and why we’ve stuck with it.
“We have the ability to buy what we need, when we need it, in small increments instead of having to do a very large storage upgrade with other vendors. It’s been a perfect fit in our industry because it’s more modular and versatile.”
Dell EMC Isilon storage includes a choice of all-flash, hybrid or archive nodes, allowing users to store, manage and protect their data with “efficiency and scalability”. Powered by Intel Xeon processors, the storage solution is designed for demanding enterprise file workloads while accelerating workflow productivity.
Charles Sevior, CTO, Asia-Pacific and Japan, Dell EMC, tells APB: “With the rapid changes in media formats, both internal production and delivery to consumers, it is more important than ever to design the technology platform around scale-out storage solutions — covering both file and object storage. Long-term archives should maintain the original fidelity of the content to improve the future value — so that repurposing HD content to 4K/UHD or 4K/UHD to 8K is viable using up-res transcoding solutions.”
To ensure scalability, reliability and ease of storage management, lower latencies and consistent bandwidth are also key considerations, in addition to storage capacities and speed, when it comes to managing 4K/UHD, high dynamic range (HDR), and high frame rate (HFR) files, says Mariano L Monteverde.
Monteverde is managing director at Asrun Media, a Hong Kong-headquartered company that offers media software technology designed to empower media and entertainment businesses to reach out to their potential audiences in the most effective way.
He elaborates: “Users need to rely on the capacity of hard-disk drives to store high-quality video at an affordable price. However, on a shared storage with several concurrent users or client applications, random reads and writes lower the performance of the spinning disk.
“On the other hand, Solid State Disks (SSDs) are able to meet the 4K/UHD demand under high workload scenarios; but a shared storage based on all-flash may be cost-prohibitive, even for dozens of TBs.”
But as these technologies may have moved faster in development rather than adoption, Monteverde highlights that it is critical for media companies to evaluate the file formats that are most desirable to adapt to their needs, especially in 4K/UHD editing environments.
“RAW DPX sequences at 16-bit may be excessive for some broadcasters in production environments, and Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHR may be a good alternative. For distribution, either XAVC or HEVC/H.265 seems a reasonable option, with the advantage that XAVC can be easily used in post production,” he adds.
Asrun Media, offers NESTO, a NAS system that is able to support 4K/UHD video editing and collaborative workflows. The solution, according to the company, combines the flexibility of unified storage, the performance and efficiency of solid-state flash drives, as well as the capacity of hard disks, and is packed with the NESTO HTML Web user interface to provide management of the system.
Some features of NESTO include hybrid storage pools for increased performance and capacity scalability, snapshot and replication for backups or disaster recovery, as well as thin and thick provisioning that is able to define multiple datasets, and distribute free space dynamically using quotas for each dataset. Thin provisioning refers to the method of optimising the efficiency with which the available space is utilised in storage area networks (SANs), while thick provisioning is a type of storage allocation in which the amount of storage capacity on a disk is pre-allocated on physical storage at the time the disk is created.
Monteverde elaborates: “NESTO relies on higher amounts of cache, and write-boost cache. Using solid state technology to have extra cache capacities, data is first written into these SSDs, allowing extra time to write the media files into the hard disk-based RAID. By doing this, we can assure the hard disks of the RAID operates at full potential, achieving higher rates of sustained throughput that translates into more concurrent streams.”
In addition to managing multiple formats, media companies are also engaged in the race of getting their content distributed across multiple platforms and devices. This has brought forth three different approaches — tape, file and cloud — towards their storage workflows.
Due to technologies such as HDR and HFR, delivery platforms such as over-the-top (OTT) and video-on-demand (VoD), and the ever-increasing use of media in many different forms, storage demands in the media and entertainment market are continuously growing, declares Dirk Thometzek, product manager, storage solutions, Rohde & Schwarz (R&S).
Coming from a production point of view, Thometzek explains that it is not efficient for media companies to build islands of storage according to the specific needs of one application, as technical requirements and tools may change from one project to another. He continues: “In an ideal world, media and entertainment storage will become one big repository where media data will remain accessible using a constant URL, no matter if the underlying hardware tier is solid-state, spinning disk, or tape-based for deep archive.
“However, performance and different tiers will need to be different to support applications with changing requirements. For instance, mastering 4K/UHD for interoperable master format (IMF) requires very fast storage and moderate capacities, whereas editing for news in HD or SD requires large capacities to allow access to mid-tier archive material.”
The key will be to get a blend of performance and capacity that can fit and adapt to the needs of the workflows at any given moment, Thometzek adds. “Redundancy and maintainability is also self-evident in order to ensure the on-time delivery of content, and the protection required for business-critical media assets.”
As for cloud storage, it represents “a big opportunity” for media production facilities to embrace the change towards Opex models. He also adds that bandwidth limits, ingress and egress costs, misunderstandings regarding cybersecurity and variable pricing structures can make it difficult for operators to determine the efficiency of using a cloud-service provisioned by a service provider.
Thometzek concludes: “Off-premise, private data centre approaches, depending on the technical design, currently seem to offer a more reliable overall concept, although high-bandwidth premium content preparation will require an efficient on-premise storage system for many years to come.”
As a provider of distributed file systems and object storage solutions, Dell EMC has been seeing many of its customers deploying the Isilon scale-out file storage for content creation, management and delivery to broadcast and OTT platforms, says Dell EMC’s Sevior. “Increasingly, those customers want to move away from tape archives because of the problems associated with that format — slow and limited access, data security and costs.”
To empower media companies with both traditional and next-generation workflows, Dell EMC has introduced Elastic Cloud Storage (ECS) cloud-scale object storage as an alternative to the risks of tape storage and public cloud services. As a partner solution to the Isilon storage, ECS can be deployed as a turnkey storage appliance, as a software solution running on industry-standard hardware, through public cloud solutions via Virtustream, or as a Dell EMC-hosted ECS-as-a-Service.
“Cloud storage offers flexible and ubiquitous access to content, allowing IT administrators to manage all aspects from a single plane of glass,” Sevior adds. “Considering costs, security and sustained high-bandwidth access to content, we find most large-scale media customers prefer to build their own cloud storage. This provides a mix of low-cost, high-security and guaranteed data management with a solution that can be directly integrated into the high-bandwidth production and delivery workflows.”
While the key is still to enable the delivery of content across multiple platforms, media companies can streamline their workflows in a sustainable way by combining tapes, disks and the cloud, Asrun Media’s Monteverde says.
“Multi-format delivery to a broad range of devices may be provided as a service by the CDN or OVM provider, reducing the storage capacity needs. Even when distributing to several countries, the number of versions of the content may increase as dubbing or censoring may be necessary. Hence, the implementation of asset management systems enable media companies to manage these processes while having more efficient use of tape libraries,” he concludes.