Feeds and Speeds, Baby
Deep within the bowels of the NAB storage grotto (South lower hall at the 2010 NAB show) as well as in the North hall and in spots of the Center hall there were rumblings of radical changes in the pace of media and entertainment creation and distribution. What is driving faster media production capability is quicker networks, faster and more processors and quicker storage devices and systems. The 2010 NAB conference had a variety of products, including storage products on display to support faster workflows and content delivery.
NVIDIA’s graphical processing units (GPUs) are finding their way into a variety of media production applications since there are built for image and video processing. The powerful multiprocessor core design of GPUs makes these devices popular for rendering and special effects (Avatar probably used GPUs for 3D image rendering). At the 2010 NAB there were 40 NVIDIA partners showing products and applications using NVIDIA GPUs including Adobe Creative Suite 5, especially for 3D production workflows and real time HD effects. Faster generation of content means more storage and faster storage devices and connections.
Once high definition 3D content is made it must be stored. There were many products at the 2010 NAB to facilitate the fast access of content. For many post production steps real time content access is necessary and only the fastest network storage can be used. According to the 2010 Digital Storage for Media and Entertainment Report (Coughlin Associates, www.tomcoughlin.com/techpapers.htm) there is an increasing use of network storage vs. direct attached storage to support real time editing and other post production steps using uncompressed of slightly compressed content.
Many of the storage networks in post production houses use fibre channel networking. Atto was showing 8 Gbps fibre channel switches to support the media and entertainment market. Atto 3 and 6 Gbps serial attached SCSI (SAS) and SATA are also being used in Seachange VOD and broadcast applications for fast content delivery. As the speed of IP-based networks increases Ethernet-based storage networks are appearing in more areas of the post production environment, particularly in non-movie applications where the resolution demands may not be as great and the lower cost network enables content sharing and collaboration not possible without a storage network. Many companies at the 2010 NAB were showing iSCSI, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FoE) and other IP-storage network products.
Special hardware enhanced storage products from BlueArc and Data Direct Networks serve production, post-production and even content delivery applications that require real time content delivery. These companies as well as Isilon provide individual methods of providing scalable storage and performance that are well matched to different facets of the production and content distribution workflow.
On the distribution side, Omneon storage grids showed storage capacity to support many broadcast and content distribution applications while companies such as Seachange offered VOD and other storage distribution products. Traditional storage companies such as NetApp and EMC were present at partner booths (IBM and Aspera respectively) providing content library storage that could go behind a content delivery application. Systems integrators such as Media Distributors and Rorke Data were showing products supporting many elements of contemporary content creation and distribution.
While HDDs are and will remain for many years to come the storage devices of choice for active storage libraries (and tape and some optical discs provide much of the archive storage), solid state drives and other flash-based storage devices are assuming some interesting uses, particularly for content delivery applications. Seachange offers edge servers using flash memory SSDs. NextIO was showing the PCIe-based Fusion-IO demonstrated about 1 GBps content delivery streaming 1,000 video clips. Many other companies such as EditShare mentioned SSDs as part of their line-up for real time content viewing.
With the advent of even higher resolution stereoscopic content (Red cameras with 28k X 9k resolution and super-HD resolution demonstrations by NHK for the last few NAB shows) the demand for storage capacity and speed will only increase. We should expect continued evolution of faster storage solutions and networks to support workflows to create and distribute this content. As the success of Avatar and other 3D films has shown, richer content can yield a better return investment for the media and entertainment industry.