SANs Shine Bright in Entertainment

Who says storage solutions aren't entertaining? In fact, an integrated storage system was named star of the show at Entertainment Tonight (www.etonline.com), the pre-primetime bastion of Hollywood buzz. The program recently adopted storage area network (SAN) technology from IBM Corp. (www.ibm.com) to automate its archives.

Television enterprises rely on vast libraries of clips, stock footage, and canned interviews. In the past, people were needed to physically log the footage, keep notes of content and times, and catalog these tapes to maintain a clear and orderly archive. In addition, content retrieval also depended on human intervention.

At the recent National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, Entertainment Tonight announced that it would digitize its archives and storage on a SAN provided by IBM. Its 20-year archive consists of more than 100,000 hours of footage on both analog and digital media. With uncompressed video eating up over 40 MB per second, storing this footage eats up an immense amount of storage.

Clearly, a few extra hard drives are inadequate for a project of this scale. Entertainment Tonight needed a robust solution for the storage and management of this content. To make matters that much more difficult, the entertainment industry often relies on niche platforms, such as Amiga and Macintosh.

The show decided on an IBM SAN system based around an R/S6000 server and the Linear Tape Open (LTO) tape format. The network connects to the SAN through SAN Gateway Netfinity servers. The SAN also offers robotic tape libraries that automate storage and retrieval, as well as provide cross platform access to editors and technicians.

The R/S6000 SAN server may raise some interoperability red flags, but Dan Wantanabe, tape product marketing manager at IBM, says the Netfinity SAN gateways can run Windows NT or Windows 2000. "The focus is on ‘O’; ‘O’ as in open," he says, referring to the tape standard’s name. A similar SAN setup will be available with IBM’s forthcoming NT family.

The SAN solution eliminated the cost of hiring a librarian to organize and maintain the tape assets, thus reducing the library’s total cost of ownership (TCO). In addition, LTO tapes have a smaller footprint, a welcome benefit to any business that has to pay for pricey real estate.

Entertainment Tonight also adopted IBM’s Content Manager software, which automates how content is organized, allowing content workers greater efficiency. "You get a lot of cost savings with the automation," says Nancy Coon, director of IBM’s worldwide launch of the LTO offering.

Most programs have migrated to digital formats, but the show has significant assets in analog form. Analog video, which has a half life of about 10 years, has become an issue for historical preservation.

LTO tape is more stable than traditional video tape, although Coon admits, "The tape is refreshed every few years." Furthermore, LTO tape offers error correction that can preserve the integrity of images, in spite of tape damage.

Coon believes LTO-based SANs are ideal for high volume storage applications. In addition to broadcast television, she points to Internet media providers as another early adopter of SAN technology. "I think in the open systems environment, one of the applications is streaming backup," she says. SANs allow high volume backups, with little interruption to the server.