NBC update from May 2007

150-Tbyte cluster will help the media giant deal with digital content at Beijing Olympics

May 9, 2007

3 Min Read
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SAN DIEGO -- Storage Networking World -- Broadcaster NBC is planning to build a 150-Tbyte storage cluster at next year's Beijing Olympics, supporting the boom in digital content and reducing the firm's reliance on tape, according to Craig Lau, vice president of technology for NBC's Olympic coverage.

In a keynote this morning, Lau explained that the Olympics present a technology headache for the media giant. "The simple handling, bandwidth, shipping, and storage of this amount of information is explosive," he said, citing last year's Winter Olympics in Torino, where NBC filmed 1,210 hours of coverage in just 17 days.

To complicate matters, NBC will be increasing its high-definition (HD) coverage, which started in Torino, at next year's games. "High definition is a storage and bandwidth beast," complained Lau.

In an effort to get around this problem, NBC installed a 12-Tbyte Isilon cluster in its temporary Torino broadcast center, which it used to store video clips. (See NBC Taps Isilon for Olympics and Olympian Thanks.) "It revolutionized our ease of access," explained Lau, adding that, even in Torino, NBC still recorded 25,000 tapes worth of action.

According to the exec, the network is keen to reduce its reliance on tape-based technologies by building more digital asset management systems: "Without having digital, you're bound by your physical assets. Our goal is to do more remotely, without sending people to the games."Next year in Beijing, for example, NBC is planning to install a 50-Tbyte Isilon cluster at its broadcast center, and two more clusters of the same size at the Olympic stadium and gymnastics venue. "The summer games is larger," he explained, "and we have to store digital content for our Web partners."

The exec used his keynote to describe some of the challenges involved in getting vast amounts of hardware to the other side of the world. "In and around the Olympics we ship 120,000 parts of technology and broadcast gear into the [host] country," he told Byte and Switch.

NBC was working with Isilon well before speedskater Chad Hedrick picked up the U.S.A.'s first gold medal in Torino. The organization also uses a 100-Tbyte Isilon cluster to store every game from the NFL season in digital format, and recently signed a deal to build a massive digital archive. (See Isilon, NBC Universal Sign and SNW: First Take.) "We're looking at 1 Pbyte in the first year and 100 percent year-over-year growth," said Dave Evans, director of storage solutions at NBC Universal, the parent company for the firm's different sports and news divisions.

When the Olympic flame is lit in China next summer, this online archive will also be used to replicate data back from Beijing, which can then be delivered as Web content.

Despite these initiatives, it is still early days for the broadcaster's Olympic clusters. In Torino, for example, the 12-Tbyte Isilon cluster was only a small part of the 250-Tybte NBC storage infrastructure supporting the games. Apple's Xsan was used for the rest of this data storage, along with specialist broadcast systems from Avid and Sony. (See South Park Trades Parka for Mac, Avid Qualifies ATTO RAID, Avid Deploys iShared, and Storage Grabs Video Limelight.)NBC's Lau estimates that he will need between 500 and 750 Tbytes of storage in Beijing, although he admits that he is unlikely to completely eradicate tape. "Over the years, our goal is to eliminate tape, but we have to backup to something," he said.

Isilon was not the only vendor in the mix for the Torino Olympic cluster. Lau told Byte and Switch that he also looked at Blue Arc, which NBC uses for NAS, although Isilon won out in terms of performance.

James Rogers, Senior Editor Byte and Switch

  • Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)

  • Avid Technology Inc. (Nasdaq: AVID)

  • BlueArc Corp.

  • Isilon Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ISLN)

  • Sony Corp.

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