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Solving Tomorrow’s Storage Puzzle: Considering Cloud, Tape and Hybrid to Find the Right Archive Fit

1/17/2017 3:15 PM Eastern

For as long as media and entertainment companies have been creating content, they’ve been struggling to answer the question of “where am I going to put it all?”

There are ubiquitous choices, from the cloud to near-line archiving to LTO. But simply stashing it is one thing; then there’s the question of cost, capacity, long-term viability, compatibility and (perhaps most importantly to all of us operating in an omnichannel environment), how to find it all afterward.

Today’s massive file sizes, bolstered by growing image resolutions, are driving growth in data storage. But drive to where? According to the “2016 Digital Storage for Media and Entertainment Report” from Coughlin Associations, storage in today’s environment is multifaceted: for some archiving situations, SATA HDD storage or tape-based libraries are the answer. For new content creators with little on-the-shelf material to store, remote cloud storage is a wise alternative. For those needing fast playback, flash memory and SSD are the answer.

The Hybrid Approach

Some think the future will be a hybrid approach between on-premise and the cloud. “I think as cloud costs—in particular the cost of restoring material—come down, cloud will be a large part of any archive solution,” said Doug Wynn, vice president of sales for the Americas for U.K.-based SGL. “There will likely always be a need for some on-premise storage, but the systems will be smaller in terms of tape slots than you see today,” Wynn said, pointing to the anticipated release of the LTO-8 magnetic tape data storage standard.

Regardless of the application, though, there is little doubt that demand for high-capacity storage devices will peak any time soon.

According to the Coughlin Associates report, “the entire content value chain—of content creation, editing, archiving, distribution as well as consumer electronics content reception devices—provide an accelerating feed-forward mechanism. The continued need for storage for higher-performance and high-capacity workflows are driving strong storage growth in the projection periods,” which the report calculates between the years 2015 and 2021.

Cloud Growth

Media and entertainment companies are looking in multiple directions when it comes to storage—many of them skyward to the cloud.

Ticking off benefits like improvements in cost and the ability to enable collaborative workflows, cloud storage usage for the media and entertainment industry is expected to grow about 25-fold between the years 2015 and 2021, according to the 2016 report, with the biggest boost coming from increased demands in the areas of archiving and preservation.

Cloud technologies have proven to be an attractive choice particularly for startups, according to Mike Palmer, vice president of Business Strategy at Masstech in Markham, Ont. “If someone has no legacy archive at all, then the cloud operating model is a good option.”

There are other applications where the cloud is a very viable option, such as serving as a soft second home for daily rushes, or for long-term vaulting of finished goods. Or even for finished content that designed for re-monetization or delivery, according to Dave Frederick, senior director of Media and Entertainment for Quantum in San Jose, Calif.

But it isn’t always the most viable choice, particularly for media companies with a large legacy archive. When it comes to the cloud, the two key components seem to be cost and accessibility.

“If you have a lot of content in a legacy archive, say four to eight years of digitized content, and you’re thinking of moving into the cloud, then the economic model is very different,” than it is for a facility with no legacy archive to upload and host, said Masstech’s Palmer.

There’s also the issue of asset management.

“If you have a small facility with a few hundred files, that’s manageable manually [in the cloud],” said Frederick. “But once you get over a thousand pieces of content, or have half a dozen simultaneous users working on a project, it becomes an untenable. You are then working on administration [more than anything else].”

What's the End Goal?

Pinpointing the right storage option really depends on a facility’s end goal. If a company’s goals are to firmly embrace the cloud in the future, there may not even be a future home for a datacenter with onsite rackspace to host traditional LTO and spinning disk drives. But for those with a large legacy archive, that could be the wiser option, according to Palmer.

“If customers are looking [to store] 5 PB of content that they access infrequently, the answer is data tape,” added Quantum’s Frederick. “It’s the cheapest medium. This is not tape that you touch—these are tape libraries that are automated” and whose content is clearly tracked and categorized.

For some, the answer is turning out to be some sort of hybrid solution. Many of today’s storage options are allowing users to optimize where they keep data and use data.

“The old idea that you just hook up storage to [your content acquisition system] and deal with data later is really not tenable anymore, especially with today’s data sizes,” said Frederick. “[Systems must] move smoothly from high-performance [systems] down to data tape archive, but still be automated, visible and accessible.”

Quantum is one of several companies that will showcase new storage options at the 2017 NAB Show that will serve as sort of an “onramp” into the cloud for those who want a hybrid means of corralling and controlling an archive. “This fits in with the way that users want to manage their data,” Frederick said. Masstech plans to tell a similar story with the introduction of new hybrid solutions at NAB that interconnect the cloud with local tape options. “Each storage type has its own benefits and costs,” Palmer said.

So, too, said SGL. “Dependent on the amount of media that needs to be archived and the various workflows, [there are] solutions as simple as disk-only or LTO tape libraries, or hybrid systems that may be composed of disk, tape and cloud,” said SGL’s Wynn.

Improvements in storage standardization have made headlines as well.

Last summer, SMPTE announced that multiple vendors had deployed the AXF standard (Archive eXchange Format), a standard that supports the independent exchange of file-based assets and metadata between storage applications. The goal is to ensure interoperability between vendors. Devices from Dell, Signiant, Oracle and others have adopted the standard, though not all vendors have implemented the format into their technologies—including those from Masstech, Quantum and SGL.

“Our customers have not driven us to implement this immediately,” Masstech’s Palmer said in response to the AXF question. SGL’s Wynn said that although its devices have the ability to read AXF tapes, “If there was a customer demand for us to support AXF we would, but to date there has been no call do so,” he said.

In addition to the interoperability question, at the end of the day, there’s also the question of then being able to rifle through all that content that you just took pains to store.

“We all know content is king, but if you can’t find it because it’s on a drive sitting on a shelf it’s useless,” said SGL’s Wynn.

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