Open Storage sees gains in post production
Morgan Littlewood
Issue: March/April 2021

Open Storage sees gains in post production

While COVID-19 continues to have a negative impact on demand for traditional movie theaters, the opposite has taken place with streaming video on demand (SVoD). The long-running pandemic is shifting customer preferences toward SVoD from services such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and many others — creating significant demand for new content in an already highly competitive streaming market.

The creation, storage and delivery of media content that reaches audiences whenever and wherever they are has increased in importance and complexity. In today’s highly-connected, entertainment-driven world, media and entertainment (M&E) providers need to stay competitive to succeed. For this reason, there is high demand for the production and delivery of content in a variety of different formats to computers, gaming consoles, digital video recorders (DVRs), smart TVs and a growing range of mobile devices. 

This growth in demand for content is coupled with the increasing size of that content due to higher resolution, frame rates and bits per pixel. Higher quality and quantity of content requires increasing amounts of digital storage and higher bandwidths to support this “new-normal” in the M&E landscape. In order to control the costs of video workflows, these projects must be cost-effective and make the most efficient use of physical and human resources. Many in M&E are left wondering how best to store, edit and archive all of the newly-created and/or remastered content. Audio/visual projects are now multi-platform creations and need much more flexible storage to manage these evolving protocols with higher resolution content. As a result, workflows crave storage platforms that provide a better balance of capacity, performance and collaborative flexibility versus cost.

Creative organizations are often forced to over provision and over purchase capacity and/or performance, and often use all-flash arrays to meet production needs. This reactive purchasing strategy drives up the cost of media production. As media files multiply, proliferate and become inefficient to manage, many turn to cloud storage. However, the security risk and expense of funneling all M&E storage to the cloud eventually sends AV professionals searching for other options that meet budgetary restrictions while still keeping up with performance, capacity and access requirements.

For projects in post, professionals in the space dread interruptions caused by system performance issues, dropped frames, inability to link data repositories to the workstation of choice and other problems. As video resolution increases, there is a dramatic increase in data transfer rates and capacity, so these processes require a high-bandwidth and high-capacity storage choice capable of handling many I/O intensive applications, such as metadata extraction, keyframe extraction for storyboarding, rendering, editing, compositing and transcoding between formats. Open Source storage provides the necessary level of high-speed, multi-protocol, on-premises data storage that is also highly-available, highly-reliable and has the power and throughput for high resolution post production workflows.

There are a range of Open Storage solutions, including Red Hat Ceph, iXsystems TrueNAS, Apache CloudStack and others. Open Storage is developed in a public, collaborative manner under a license that permits the free use, distribution and modification of the source code. Some Open Source storage platforms such as TrueNAS are unique and flexible in that they are not limited to a single storage infrastructure and can be used in fibre-channel and iSCSI storage area networks (SANs), unstructured network attached storage (NAS) environments, or for object storage at a fraction of the price of proprietary storage without giving up major features critical to M&E.

Leaders in media and entertainment have found that Open Storage offers flexibility as one of the primary advantages, supporting operations in a number of areas. This is the case with Multicom Entertainment Group, Inc., a world-class independent distribution company with a focus on the global television market and all digital media platforms, including OTT, mobile and pay-per-view. The company found the flexibility of Open Storage served the organization's interests well and has deployed systems at two locations as part of its remastering infrastructure. 

At the company's Inglewood, CA, location, the company hosts over 6,000 hours of movie and TV video archives on film and videotape, which are being digitized and migrated to a TrueNAS M50 Open Storage system from iXsystems using a Blackmagic Design Cintel Scanner. 

"The TrueNAS system was selected over proprietary storage platforms for its unique advantages in flexibility, low-cost capacity, scalability and ease of operation," says Marcus Ionis, manager, operations for Multicom.

Once transferred to the TrueNAS repository, the process of remastering begins, allowing the digitized films and shows to be piped via the organization's 10Gbps network to a post production facility in Beverly Hills. At this location, the video content is migrated to another system onsite where 800TBs of content is currently stored. Multicom post production experts then leverage Resolve and Adobe Premiere Pro to remaster the SD, HD and 4K content for digital distribution. When production-ready, the media is then uploaded to AWS Glacier for global delivery to its distribution partners and customers.

Another key decision point for Open Storage in the M&E space is the end of the coin-operated feature approach, freeing operators from being “nickel and dimed” when new capabilities are added. Unlike proprietary systems, Open Source storage ships with a complete suite of features without strings attached, meaning organizations can deploy Open Storage with the same set of features across their entire operation, including editing, scoring, visual effects, mixing, color grading and large capacity pre and post production storage. Support costs can be optimized for the role in each department, and neither manual workload placement nor convoluted migration strategies are required to work around licensing restrictions. 

Clockwork9 is a creative agency that specializes in video post production. The company is involved in contract projects, working alongside the industry's most notable media & entertainment providers on a daily basis, including Martin Agency – a leading full-service advertising agency. With Clockwork9 projects, the organization manages 90 percent of the work in post from start to finish using both Mac and PC workstations and DaVinci Resolve as the primary editing suite to address creative challenges for brands in the areas of video, photography, copy, TV, social media and more.

"Historically, we had relied on off-the-shelf network attached storage (NAS) systems as the repository for content edited and produced in Adobe Premiere, our primary editing-centric workflow application. Unfortunately, these lower-end QNAP NAS systems did reach a point where they could not keep pace," notes Andrew Spirk, managing director, Clockwork9. "TrueNAS Open Storage was chosen as the replacement because the price/performance and flexibility advantages were very compelling." 

The system now serves as the company's primary repository for the team's TV shows, commercials, features/episodic/short form documentaries, etc. With 22 flash drives in hot storage and the balance in spinning disk, the 4U storage server currently holds 250TBs of data with approximately 100TBs of M&E data entered into the system each year. 

Fox Studios uses Open Storage in both video post production and scoring. The Newman Scoring Stage has been the host to a large number of well-known media and entertainment projects, including The Lion King, MIB International, Spider-Man: Far from Home, Toy Story 4, West Side Story, Family Guy, The Mandalorian and many others. 

"As one of the most sought-after venues for best-in-class film scores, the Newman Scoring Stage is in constant demand by the industry's top producers," comments Erin Rettig, supervising engineer, Fox Studios. "Underpinning the facility's storage infrastructure is the TrueNAS M40, selected for system flexibility in allowing digitized audio to be stored and edited directly on the systems."

Fox installed two TrueNAS M40 systems with a high-availability (HA) implementation featuring two storage controllers per chassis, with an active/standby configuration for accessible data 24 hours a day. The TrueNAS M40 systems are connected to a 40Gbs network using Cisco network switches. Client machines attach to the storage through a 10Gb Base-T copper (Sonnet) network to connect streams from Pro Tools using both Mac Pro workstations and new Mac Pro Towers. The TrueNAS storage environment has been set up and partitioned into two pools for both high-speed production (using flash drives) and long-term storage (using spinning disk). 

Open Storage offers organizations the capacity, performance and pricing advantages to take better control over this important area of M&E computing architecture. It enables access to compelling features not available with proprietary storage and at prices that allow organizations to increase the variety and volume of data they keep — a compelling trait for AV post production. 

Morgan Littlewood serves as SVP TrueNAS Product Management for iXsystems, based in San Jose, CA ( Prior to joining iXsystems, Littlewood held executive posts with Cisco and Violin Memory in support of enterprise storage and networking.