IMG Media employs centralized storage
Issue: April 1, 2012

IMG Media employs centralized storage

IMG Media is the world’s largest independent distributor of sports programming, distributing over 20,000 hours of content to major global broadcasters annually. This content originates from more than 200 clients and events, including Wimbledon, the Australian Open, the ATP Masters Series, the R&A (governing body and organiser of The Open Championship), International Rugby Board (IRB), MotoGP, the National Football League (NFL) and the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB). IMG operates from over 30 offices worldwide and has daily exchanges with over 4,000 key media contacts. IMG distributes across all forms of media, including TV, audio, fixed media, inflight and closed circuit, broadband and mobile. IMG also maintains the world’s largest sports archive with more than 250,000 hours of footage. IMG Mediahouse provides the technical facilities to support production and deliver this content.

Key challenges

Like many broadcast media facilities, IMG Mediahouse had evolved a traditional production-orientated approach to processing, in which most services utilised dedicated server and storage units, which was both expensive and inefficient. IMG Mediahouse needed a centralised solution that was robust enough to handle the huge quantities of data associated with broadcasting, and could provide the processing power required to satisfy strenuous coding requests from  post production.  

Each company function was served by an individual box, but General Manager Shane Warden had a vision of a ‘technology harmony’, in which a private cloud could be created to service Mediahouse’s processing requirements. Warden needed a powerful and versatile in-house server resource, and a suitable storage environment for the content managed by IMG on behalf of its clients.

Warden realised that virtualisation was the answer but had to introduce it to a sector that had previously been wary of the concept: “Broadcast manufacturers have always preferred to supply their own hardware which, whilst initially understandable, has become less of a compelling argument when you consider most services are running on server/storage combinations”, he commented. “My goal is to harmonise the hardware and reduce the vast array of hardware support contracts and demands on our engineers to understand every single server/storage combination.”

Warden needed the company’s private cloud to facilitate the following resources and processes:
- IMG media archive – this is a digital repository for IMG’s sports federations and currently holds around half a petabyte of data.

- Encoding and transcoding - both post production techniques are server intensive and require dedicated high powered units which facilitate direct digital-to-digital data conversion, as well as standard video coding.

- A broadcast and newsroom system from Avid.  

This new approach to Mediahouse’s infrastructure also needed to be highly scalable – the company required a solution that could be expanded and upgraded to fit future customer requirements, and couldn’t afford to undergo the significant upheaval associated with major  implementations on a frequent basis. 

In addition to this scalability, the facility also had high-level technical support expectations. Mediahouse would only engage with partners that could demonstrably provide advanced technical expertise in very short timescales. 

The solution

Warden turned to a trusted contact at reseller AV8ER in the first instance: “I’d been working with AV8ER for the last five years and had already performed a series of proof of concept tests with them in similar post production environments. AV8ER have proven to me in the past that they understand media, but bring experience from other industries that offer us new perspectives.

“AV8ER’s owner Paul Taylor put us in direct contact with the technical team at storage and server manufacturer Huawei Symantec. Huawei promptly sent in a team of engineers to examine the situation and propose a procedure for quickly migrating our processor and storage requirements to a new platform. The team demonstrated the process in a 30 day trial which took place in August and September this year.”    

Mediahouse selected disk-based storage and networked attached storage from the Huawei Symantec Oceanspace series, and a next-generation blade server from the manufacturer’s Tecal range. 

Paul Taylor commented on the selection: “It’s essential in the broadcast industry that any solution does what it says it can and at a rapid rate. Any downtime or ‘black space’ as it’s known in this industry causes the broadcast to stop completely, which costs a lot of money and naturally shakes client confidence. Huawei Symantec’s excellent track record in the telecoms sector made them a natural fit for an industry that relies on trusted recommendations and due diligence tests carried out at the very highest levels, before it implements a new technology.” 
Once the trials were completed, it became apparent that the Tecal unit needed adjusting to suit the specific requirements – the Huawei Symantec engineers fine tuned the E6000 to create bespoke server blades in just three weeks.

Solution support was also a key issue for IMG. Not only did the company require a comprehensive support package built on 24/7-365 total cover, but it also required Huawei Symantec to demonstrate the levels of support available on-site, before the solution was implemented. 

“We explored many options – and ran a series of proof of concept tests, as a migration of this scale is business-critical and involves huge amounts of data. We were originally only going to migrate the editing storage, however the results of those tests revealed that suitable solutions existed for our archive and encoding environment as well”, Warden noted.

“Most organisations in the broadcast industry would not normally consider editing facilities with storage that is also serving other processes. They are instead used to facilities existing in close proximity to their workstations – often in the same room. However, once we’d successfully pooled our server resource, introduced virtualisation and thoroughly tested the editing facilities with the Oceanspace S2600, it gave us the confidence to move on to archive data, and encoding and transcoding facilities.” 

Huawei Symantec’s engineers worked closely with the IMG team and Warden noted that their professionalism was reassuring: “The engineers made the implementation process easier with their sensitivity to our working environment, specifically the importance placed on 100% up time, and dedication to understanding the nature of the migration. The incumbent system remained live while the team from Huawei Symantec worked around the clock and side-by-side with my colleagues, to ensure everything worked and that any challenges we encountered were solved quickly and efficiently on the premises – we couldn’t afford for services to drop out at any point. AV8ER’s value-added distributor Zycko, also played a crucial role from a logistics standpoint and provided extremely quick and efficient distribution and delivery times.”

Future development

Even at this early stage, the migration to Warden’s private cloud has resulted in significant measurable benefits. Taylor explains: “Initial cost reductions are down to new blade servers that use around 40% less power than equivalent vendor solutions, and a lot less than the server devices IMG had in place prior to the migration – the production house is now saving around £50 per hour in energy costs.” 

With the project ongoing Warden is cautious, but excited about the future. Key to this is his vision of a ‘technological harmony’: “We feel we’ve laid the foundations for an environment which can be easily scaled to meet the rigorous demands of our production business. The most important consideration of any business that produces around 20,500 hours of TV broadcast material each year, and 10,000 hours of radio will always be its ability to handle the subsequent data and digitise it.

“All major sports leagues have a federation behind them and each federation has constant requirements for broadcast material. It’s our job to digitise this and make it accessible as quickly as possible, and we believe the only way to do it is through a combination of the latest virtualisation techniques and reliable, well-provisioned, supported hardware.”