Sweating digital broadcast assets

Thursday, March 21, 2013

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Important standards work is underway within the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) Archive eXchange Format (AXF) group. At the most basic level, the AXF format serves as a universal container that encapsulates any number of related files (of any type and size) into a fully self-describing and protected object package.
Media organisations that can figure out how to efficiently digitise, manage and tap into their considerable assets can build new revenue streams that would have been impossible just a few years ago. Rino Petricola, senior vice president and general manager of Front Porch Digital, believes that when it comes to realising the full potential of this rich source of revenue, most encounter obstacles that may be overcome by looking to the cloud.

Not all content owners are able to invest in an in-house Content Storage Management (CSM) system that will deliver the full productivity benefits their business needs. But organisations still need solutions that are agile enough to cope with the consequences of rapid change and sudden fluctuations in demand for capacity. The ideal solution for many content owners today is a system that delivers powerful capabilities in a way that is also very flexible, with a substantial on-demand capability.

That’s where the cloud comes in. The cloud represents an opportunity for organisations to manage assets on a global scale while massively improving efficiency and continuously evolving to adapt to an ever-changing business environment. Beyond archiving and management, the cloud has enormous potential for streamlining media operations and making everyone – especially multisite organisations – more collaborative.

CSM for Big Data

As media assets move to HD, 2K, 4K, and beyond, a single media asset can reach several terabytes in size. Once all of an organisation’s assets have been digitised – and many organisations have not yet done so – managing them is another challenge because of their sheer size and complex structure. An in-house CSM system is an up-front investment, to be sure, and one that many media enterprises have been slow to make because the ROI is difficult to justify (until something catastrophic happens). In the meantime, the resources required to manage the data manually have simply become a tolerated expense and mode of operation.

CSM systems typically act as the backbone for the file-based infrastructure, providing storage, handling, and protection of valuable file-based media assets. Often these on-premises systems do not have sufficient backup and protection mechanisms to ensure valuable digital assets are recoverable now and into the future. The CSM solutions themselves can facilitate the automatic, high-speed replication of media assets within a data tape archive system for an inexpensive level of content protection. Also, many CSM systems allow these second (or even third) data tape copies to be taken offline and stored outside for more geographically diverse protection of valuable assets.

Despite these and other important protection and preservation features of CSM solutions, many simply choose not to implement them. CSM systems are designed from the ground up to serve demanding media-centric operations and their highly active, symmetrical nature. In terms of asset backup, they can automatically replicate valuable file-based assets, creating duplicate copies on multiple (and portable) data-tape media very rapidly and without any user intervention while sharing the same management and storage infrastructure. These copies can remain within the system to provide online resiliency or be easily transported to offline storage facilities for very efficient and cost-effective content protection.

Beyond that, CSM solutions have evolved to provide various media-centric features in addition to basic storage functionality — features such as distributed transcoding, metadata mining, file-based subjective quality analysis, timecode-based partial restore, and more — all operating in a file-based domain. They also provide universal accessibility to these features via content lifecycle and policy engines, workflow tools, and open APIs for direct third-party control, integration, and collaboration.

Advantages of managing Big Data in the Cloud

With all that a CSM system can do, the natural next step is to move it into the cloud to take advantage of the cloud’s unlimited storage space and computing power. But given the challenges of dealing with a media operation’s big data, most existing cloud services providers won’t do because they are built for the relatively small data requirements of IT. When we apply these traditional IT cloud storage services to the media space for handling big data, the per-use and storage subscription costs are staggering. Certainly the numbers would pose a significant barrier to any media operation looking to use the cloud even for simple storage, let alone CSM.

Tape storage still makes sense for Big Data

Maintaining large data collections for long periods in an IT-centric cloud service is not economically viable. Part of the reason for this staggering cost is the sole reliance on expensive spinning disk storage in these cloud service facilities. Media-centric cloud services, on the other hand, rely on data tape, which is still one of the most cost-effective, reliable, and robust storage technologies available. Some current technologies have incredible density and performance, and typically cost close to 100 times less than traditional IT cloud storage services.

A Better View of the File System

Another advantage to cloud CSM is the file-system view. Traditional IT-centric cloud service providers present only a simple file-system view of their cloud storage to the user. In media applications, this simple file system is not enough. Each media asset producer and consumer device or system (video server, editing platform, newsroom system, etc.) presents very specific control and media interfaces that limit direct integration with generic file systems. These systems typically require a management layer to access, control, and interact with media content — a layer provided by the CSM solution.

AXF: An Emerging Universal Object Storage Format

Media assets are typically comprised of a complex collection of media and ancillary files that must be maintained carefully in order to reconstruct, access, or reuse these assets. This concept is typically referred to as an object store and is the fundamental basis of advanced CSM solutions. The complexity surrounding the storage, recall, replication, repurposing, and transformation of these complex media objects is handled by the CSM system.Important standards work is underway within the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) Archive eXchange Format (AXF) group.

At the most basic level, the AXF format serves as a universal container that encapsulates any number of related files (of any type and size) into a fully self-describing and protected object package. On the surface, one can say that AXF provides all of the same functionality as the linear tape file system (LTFS) in terms of accessibility, ease of use, and portability, but then layers on top of it universality and the long-term storage and preservation features required in these mission-critical applications. 

By leveraging AXF, systems can ensure resilient and ubiquitous access to valuable assets. As CSM solutions make the transition to the cloud, AXF becomes much more important because transfer authentication, metadata, per-file and per-structure checksums, in-built object resiliency characteristics, access level control, and storage technology independence are inherent in its design. Also, leveraging stand-alone AXF access utilities that are currently available, it allows for universal accessibility to these media assets regardless of the system being used. AXF will revolutionise universal handling and interoperability across complex, object-centric systems while ensuring long-term protection and resiliency for valuable assets.

CSM as a Service

CSM solutions have largely been on-premises solutions because storage capacities, network bandwidth, and the lack of compelling and cost-effective offerings have acted as barriers to their adoption as a cloud service. But emerging CSM as a Service (CSMaaS) offerings now present a cost-competitive option. Thanks to CSMaaS, along with ever more affordable and more readily available connectivity, previous barriers to adoption are disappearing.

CSMaaS From Front Porch Digital

Front Porch Digital offers a cloud-based CSM solution that provides all the features of a physical CSM system without the infrastructure investment and overhead costs. Instead, media organisations can deploy the system rapidly in the cloud. Front Porch Digital’s cloud-based LYNXSM CSM system is the first solution in the industry to embrace the cloud for enterprise-scale, media-centric CSM. LYNX applies the features of Front Porch Digital’s DIVArchive – the market’s most successful and advanced CSM system – to a cloud-based environment, creating the most comprehensive CSM toolset available to any customer in a way that fits almost any budget, with payment on a per-use basis. Because of its tight integration with DIVArchive technology, content owners who already use DIVASolutions can easily add cloud services to expand existing on-site capabilities in a cost-effective way.

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