Lifting the Cloud Over the Media Storage Landscape

For the media industry, new technologies also mean new storage challenges.
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The introduction of advanced technologies such as HD and 4K has allowed the media industry to provide an enhanced viewing experience in which the audience can watch TV shows, movies, or sporting events in a clearer picture than they could in real life. However, for the media industry, new technologies also mean new storage challenges.

As the number of pixels grows exponentially to provide crystal-clear images, so does the amount of storage required to handle new bandwidth challenges that come with high-quality viewing. For more than two decades, broadcasters and studios have cleverly deployed SAN storage and NAS storage to their advantage. Over time, these systems have become drastically faster, smaller, and cheaper, while media operations have moved to higher bitrate production and larger shared production workgroups to build more online content repositories. In order to keep up with today's demands, however, the media storage landscape must change.

While the same old systems continue to proliferate at both broadcast and production facilities, other industries are gaining huge efficiencies by leveraging a hybrid cloud model as they virtualize their infrastructures to private clouds and move less-critical data to the public cloud. These use cases demonstrate the benefits of this new infrastructure and are starting to convince the media industry.

The fundamental shifts in media storage today are no different than the fundamental shifts in storage across the entire IT landscape. Although media operations do not have the same storage workloads as the general IT landscape, broadcasters and studios that previously argued the need for specialized storage (object and flash) and were against moving to the cloud are finally starting to realize the benefits.

The Shifting Media Storage Landscape
Cloud storage, object storage, and flash storage are three new entrants to the storage landscape. They are reaching critical velocity and are now or will soon be commercially viable options. These three new storage technologies are threatening to disrupt and promise to revolutionize media infrastructures, but in what way?

Cloud Storage
Cloud storage is not a new type of technology as much as it is a new type of offering. It is a business model that lets you rent storage as you need it.

In terms of elasticity, the main advantages of cloud storage are the ability to use and pay for storage based on temporary need and the ability to reduce costs by moving less-critical storage workloads to the cloud. It also allows media operations to test scenarios before scaling them out, saving companies money until owning storage becomes a more viable option than renting.

Unfortunately, several factors complicate the move to the cloud. First, moving data around is not an easy or quick task. Second, media operations typically want to keep data over long periods of time. Therefore, they prefer to own the storage where they can keep control and know where it is at all times. In this case, moving only parts of the storage workflow—those that can benefit from the elasticity—to the cloud makes sense.

Object Storage
Object storage is a different approach to how objects (files with a unique identifier) are stored, managed, and accessed within the storage system. While a public cloud service provider such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) or a hybrid cloud service provider such as IBM Softlayer can deploy object storage, media operations can also implement it on their own. To some, object storage is the next-generation software abstraction layer after network file systems.

Object stores employ different interfaces for depositing or withdrawing content, so its immediate value depends on application compatibility. The most popular interface today is the S3 interface developed by AWS and is now being used by cloud storage vendors. Application developers must first write to these new interfaces before an object store can be fully utilized.

How does object storage work? Object stores are inherently designed to store billions of files and to geo-disperse content across multiple sites. Because object stores are better designed to migrate content from one storage medium to another without disrupting the operation, this design enables media operations to access content even if an entire site fails. In addition, object stores assume that the need to access content will outlive the storage media, so object stores also provide resiliency of content across generations of storage media. If jeopardized bits or disk drives are detected through integrity checks, objects can be recreated. Because of these advantages, object storage options are becoming more appealing for large broadcast, studio, and web content repositories.

Flash Storage
Flash storage is not new. However, flash has always been too expensive to use beyond a few gigabytes per system, so it was not until now that its use has evolved beyond accelerating the reading and writing of content to disk drives.

Today, the cost of flash is decreasing as adoption is increasing. Therefore, SSDs over a terabyte in capacity are being designed into all-flash arrays and hybrid (flash/hard disk drive) systems to provide extremely low-latency and high-performance random access to content. This cost decrease also means that storage vendors can configure faster, higher capacity systems to accelerate specific workloads. The business value of added performance can more than compensate for the added cost of flash.

For the media industry, the processes for every task such as animation rendering or 4K editing are significantly improved by the speed brought by flash. Thousands of compute cores can hit the flash storage at once, making it more attractive for studios.

For decades, the media industry has relied on specialized storage systems and has resisted the transition to a more efficient cloud storage model. However, as more attractive cloud storage, object storage, and flash storage options come to fruition, the industry can benefit from letting go of outdated perceptions of "general IT storage."

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