Lights, Camera... NAS!

NAS has a mission in the entertainment industry

April 19, 2005

3 Min Read
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"Accepting the Oscar on behalf of Steven Spielberg is his NAS vendor [fill in the blank]."

Far fetched? Maybe not. High-end NAS providers are turning up in the production networks of Hollywood, as a plethora of recent announcements illustrates. In doing so, they're tapping one of the hottest vertical markets for storage networking. Consider the following:

  • EFILM LLC, a digital film lab with movies like We Were Soldiers, Spy Kids 2, and Frida has picked Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) (NYSE: SGI) for what SGI calls "digital intermediaries," meaning processes that include color correction and the creation of high-res digital masters. EFILM has networked three SGI Onyx 3000 visualization systems with four SGI Origin 300 servers and 13 Fibre Channel switches from Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) to create its network.

  • Turner Studios, which provides extra video content for movies and TV shows on the Turner networks, has opted to put in a 12-Tbyte BlueArc Corp. Titan server (see Turner Studios Casts BlueArc ). The gear helps video artists create things like animated, sponsor-oriented video clips to introduce commercials during feature films. Turner Studios personnel cited performance as a key factor in picking the BlueArc box.

  • Digital Dimension, which generates digital imagery for movies and TV, is using an Isilon Systems IQ 1920i system with 16 Tbytes storage to enable 100 technicians and artists on Windows machines work on feature films.

The above is just a sampling of releases, many targeting the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas this week. The use of NAS has become a particular focal point, because high-end NAS boxes fit well into video production networks and can be hooked to other kinds of gear.

Indeed, the need for better networked storage has led Avid Technology Inc. (Nasdaq: AVID), which makes video-editing gear, to go into business with NAS products of its own. The vendor announced today that it has upgraded software on its own storage box (a 16-drive, 2.88-Tbyte system) and supports 4-Gbit/s Fibre Channel switches from QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC). (See Avid Unveils New Unity MediaNetwork.)

Avid's storage box links to QLogic switches on one side and to its own PortServer Ethernet conversion unit on the other. The vendor claims it can deliver video in real-time (less than 50 ms) to up to 20 attached clients, and that its focus gives it an edge. "While others are going after multiple verticals, we design only for broadcast and post-production customers," says senior product manager Andy Dale.Avid's pitch hints at the underlying reasons why NAS is taking center stage in entertainment production. Digital video is storage-intensive for several reasons. The files are large, and companies often save them in multiple formats, so storage needs to grow at a much faster rate than enterprise data. What's more, digital video calls for transmission rates twice as fast as those for analog video, which opens the door for high-performance, clustered storage systems with distributed file systems.

Motion picture studios and TV networks will continue to spend big money on making their products digital. The market for digital content is being helped by a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandate that all television broadcasters use high-definition video by 2006. This order has been key to opening the market for new storage products.

"This market tends to be willing to buy from smaller companies," says Clive Surfleet, chief strategy officer at Exanet Inc. His company will be focused on getting into this vertical, he says. Like Isilon, Exanet will use InfiniBand to achieve the faster data rates required to compete with claims like Avid's (see InfiniBand Gets Second Looks).

Bottom line? Entertainment is a key NAS vertical. It's likely other vendors -- including EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP), Panasas Inc., Rorke Data Inc., and Xiotech Corp. -- are, or will be, staking their own claims soon.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch0

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