Meeting Storage Demand in Post and Broadcast

Los Angeles, CA (August 2, 2005)--As the demands for content storage in audio post-production and broadcast enterprises have increased over the years, the capacity and variety of storage devices and network technology have thankfully kept pace. In fact, the transport and storage of audio data is a relatively easy problem to solve compared to video. That's even allowing for the near exponential increase in demand brought about by higher sample and bit rates, ever expanding music and sound effects libraries and critical archiving practices, not just of new digital but also old analog content.
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By Steve Harvey

Los Angeles, CA (August 2, 2005)--As the demands for content storage in audio post-production and broadcast enterprises have increased over the years, the capacity and variety of storage devices and network technology have thankfully kept pace. In fact, the transport and storage of audio data is a relatively easy problem to solve compared to video. That's even allowing for the near exponential increase in demand brought about by higher sample and bit rates, ever expanding music and sound effects libraries and critical archiving practices, not just of new digital but also old analog content.

Gordon Moore's famous dictum--that silicon chip power doubles every 18 months--still holds true and also applies to storage capacity, with bigger and faster drives constantly appearing on the market for little more cost than their predecessors. Consequently, cost-saving but time-intensive backup procedures have been replaced at some facilities by the basic archive practice of simply putting removable SCSI, FireWire or other drives on a shelf at the end of a project.

Data technology companies continue to push the outside of the storage envelope to meet client demand for more capacity for less money. Serial ATA disk capacities of 1 terabyte or more are in sight, while companies such as InPhase Technologies are exploring holographic data storage. That currently offers a data density of 200 gigabits per square inch and holds the promise of 1.6 terabytes on a single drive in the next several years.

Scott Leif, president and chief of technology for Globalstor Data Corporation in Chatsworth, CA, acknowledges that price has always been an issue, especially with the growing need for storage. "Files are becoming larger as quality improves, so people are acquiring more and more storage."

He continues, "Drive capacities are growing exponentially, and, at the same time, price per gigabyte, or, in our case, terabyte, seems to drop exponentially. These days, we can package upwards of 4 terabytes of fully redundant storage within a couple of U, and that's typically well under $10,000. If they're looking at a server level, then you're looking at anything from 4 to 6 usable terabytes in the $12,000 to $14,000 range."

Demand now goes beyond professional enterprises, notes Leif, as consumers install extensive home entertainment systems. A self-confessed theater junkie, he admits, "I've got a terabyte with a RAID here in my home."

For Leif, who is heavily involved in the post-production industry and whose company has been in the optical business for many years, current developments in blue laser disc storage and the format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc are worth keeping an eye on. "I'm eagerly waiting to see what's going to happen in the Sony camp and the Blu-ray camp."

Another prospect that bodes well for facilities looking for value for money is iSCSI. The Ethernet-based storage leverages the well-established IP transport protocol to give users a shared storage scheme that can integrate with the facility communications infrastructure.

"We have the first shipping iSCSI initiator for OS X and the only product in existence that is OS X and Windows compatible," says Eric Newbauer, director of operations at St. Louis-based Studio Network Solutions (SNS). "We have complete packages that go under the name globalSAN, based on iSCSI, and they support Mac and Windows concurrently over gigabit Ethernet."

SNS offers three globalSAN packages currently, the X-8 (2 terabytes), X-16 (4TB) and X-24 (6TB). Now, says Newbauer, SNS is offering an entry-level product that breaks the $10,000 price barrier.

"The X-4 will most likely be a 1U, 4-bay package with either 1 or 1.6 terabytes," he reveals. "It will be a complete package. You'll have a SAN up and running in less than an hour. The price is going to start around $5,999."

The new product will enjoy a major push into the Pro Tools market, says Newbauer. "It was one thing to talk about SAN when it was just Fibre Channel, but now that we've got an Ethernet SAN, one of the first things that jumps to my mind is that you have practically no distance limitation. It's difficult if your only option is serial ATA; you're not going to be able to get it more than six feet away." With iSCSI, he says, "It can be 200 feet away with just a cheap Ethernet cable."

The X-4 is not only RAID-protected, it's shareable, he notes. "If you have a switch you can let people start sharing. And it's sufficiently inexpensive that it can be a stackable SAN. If 1.5 terabytes isn't enough, you can look at them as modules."

Like Leif, Newbauer gets a kick out of the technology. "Storage is exciting to me now. Look at the iPod--it's just a hard drive. I can't wait until I have a cell phone with a hard drive that I can keep some real music in."