CBS News Ices Tape

New disk system makes archived videotape about as passe as B&W

February 4, 2006

3 Min Read
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You dont think of patience being a common virtue in the hustle-and-bustle world of daily TV news, yet CBS News waited four years for just the right storage system.

Frank Governale, VP of operations for CBS News, says he knew exactly what he wanted to help move the news operation off videotape, but no storage system could match his needs at first.

“We started four years ago putting specs together,” he says. “We went out with a bid, but nobody was ready. The systems we were bidding on either had more storage than we needed, or not enough bandwidth.”

CBS updated its RFP two years ago and received 13 bids, including some from traditional storage vendors and others from integrators. He eventually whittled the list down to four: Avid Technology, Grass Valley, Leitch, and OmniBus. Not exactly household names for networked storage, but, rather, vendors of video editing systems packaged with storage.

But Governale had some familiar storage requirements as CBS, like other broadcast and video organizations, migrates to digital and its disk-hogging propensities. He was looking for a system with RAID 3, mirrored RAID, automatic failover, and password security. Because CBS was switching over to Sony XDCAM cameras that record on Blue RAY DVD disk instead of tape, he wanted a file-based system.But when Governale found what he wanted, it still wasn’t available. The system was still on Avid’s drawing board two years ago. Avid had a Fibre Channel SAN that held up to 20 Tbytes as part of its Unity networked storage family, but its 64-Tbyte Ethernet-based Unity ISIS distributed architecture system was still in development.

“We decided to wait for ISIS,” says Governale, who finally got his system when Avid rolled it out last October. (See Avid Offers Shared Storage.)

The ISIS, which starts at $107,000, was part of CBS’s recent multimillion-dollar purchase of Avid gear, including editing systems and a MediaNetwork Fibre Channel system for its London office while waiting for ISIS. (See Avid Unveils New Unity MediaNetwork.)

“The finance guys wanted to know the ROI,” Governale says. “I told them this wasn’t a headcount case. There were a lot of inefficiencies. We wanted to speed the turnaround of our feeds and get them to air quicker. If we were going to continue with old tape, that would’ve required investment, too." Lots of elements in that equation were at the end of their lifecycle, he added.

CBS News acquires far more footage than it uses on the air, but keeps everything for its archive -- roughly 400 hours of footage a week, according to Governale. Once CBS gets its complete archive online, it will save its editors a lot of time when pulling archive footage for broadcast.“We’ll keep all low-res video online, and they can browse and find clips on the system. Then they go to the library and download the clip into the ISIS. Today, we query the archive, find 10 to 12 clips, and somebody walks across the street to where we keep tape. It takes hours and hours. Hopefully, we can do it in minutes online.”

Eventually, CBS News will install another ISIS in London in place of its Fibre Channel MediaNetwork system. With file-based storage, CBS News doesn’t need the complexities of Fibre Channel.

“We can get rid of the port servers and all that crap between Fibre Channel and Ethernet,” Governale says. “The Fibre Channel system we installed in London last year will eventually get swapped out. Having seen the complexities of Fibre Channel systems, I’m quite pleased with ISIS.”

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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