By Corky Seeber
Walking around the South Hall lower level of the Las Vegas Convention Center during NAB this year, it was startling to see the growth in the number of shared storage companies supporting the post production industry.
While competition is always a win for the consumer, I started to reflect on exactly what were the driving forces behind all of the interest to get into this crowded market space. This is the list of game changers that came to mind as I pondered how this all came about - Gigabit Ethernet, HDTV, 10 Gigabit Ethernet, Digital capture over film, Disk Drive density and, of course, costs and compatibility.
The introduction of Gigabit Ethernet shared storage solutions from new storage companies like Small Tree Communications, removed the entry point barriers for a great majority of mid-sized and smaller post houses to enjoy the benefits of shared storage workflows. Ethernet's simplicity compared to Fibre Channel's complexity, incompatibility between vendors and relatively high costs opened the door to switch from traditional Fibre-based shared storage solutions to Ethernet-based shared storage solutions. Of course, Gigabit Ethernet did not have the same top-end performance. For most smaller-sized post houses, that was not the problem they were most concerned with - costs were. Finally, making their content easily accessible to all the editors and having it RAID protected was a huge step forward in their workflow and allowed them to get projects completed quicker.
At the same time, the industry was embracing the move from standard definition to high definition broadcasting which, some would argue, is the biggest change in broadcasting since color broadcasting dating back to the early '50's. The move to HDTV forced several advances to take place. The higher resolution of HDTV spurred on the development of 10 Gigabit Ethernet, which was getting to the market faster and with a wider adoption rate than the next generation Fibre Channel adapters. Thus, Fibre Channel was becoming the latest victim to fall to Ethernet.
Along with HDTV becoming a commonplace reality, the move to digital video content was really picking up speed. The debate between vinyl records or CD audio quality was already over for everyone but the purists. Digital video recording simply offered too many advantages to continue to be ignored. Size, weight, reusability, and ease of transfer all combined to rapidly ushering in the transition from film to digital content capture. Removing film from cameras and replacing them with memory cards has sparked a huge retooling for the camera industry. Many manufacturers, including Red and Black Magic Design, have introduced inexpensive, high-end performance cameras, which had a similar effect as Ethernet shared storage - lowering the entry point for producers to capture the necessary content for their projects. This has contributed to the explosion of content being made available today from nontraditional sources.
The move to HDTV also created a 4X growth in the storage space for native content on a per frame basis. Without the rapid growth of maximum density disk drives from 1 to 8 Terabytes supplied by disk drive manufacturers during this same period, film content capture migration to digital would not have been nearly as rapid. The move to a new standard of Ultra HD represents yet another 4x growth in content resolution and size, which will continue to spur on the demand for even greater amounts of storage space for new creative content being developed.
The entire post production industry has been enjoying an unparalleled drop in costs of the key components that go into the creative workflow for post production during this past decade. Cameras, applications, shared storage, and networking costs have all dropped significantly during this period, while at the same time, providing far faster, larger and more capabilities to a much wider group of potential customers.
The compatibility of Ethernet with everything else - including Thunderbolt connectivity on the latest offerings from Apple systems that editors want to use as clients systems cannot be understated. I often ask customers when was the last time they purchased an Ethernet product and were concerned that it would not work properly with another vendor's Ethernet-based product. That represents a huge step forward from what editors have experienced before and its really all about letting the creative people focus on being creative, not being a part-time IT tech.
What really grabbed my attention at this year's NAB were the entry-level product introductions by Facilis and Avid with Ethernet shared storage solutions. These established companies in the shared storage market have realized that there are many opportunities that can be supported with cost-effective Ethernet shared storage products for the creative content editor that don't require large and extensive infrastructures. Additionally, I noticed that companies that are more Enterprise or Data Center centric have realized that the new content formats of UHD and beyond are going to need large amounts of shared storage going forward and will look to the post production industry as a growing segment of the market for them.
Thinking about all of these changes in addition to the effect that smart phones, tablets and Wi-Fi access everywhere has created in this increasingly digital world. Combined with the need to store that digital data, and have it be readily accessible for everyone, it's really not so surprising after all to see this new growth in the shared storage industry. It's just keeping up with the demand.