Storage Vendors Watch Video

Whether on the big screen or small, digital video is an emerging market for storage networks

February 7, 2004

4 Min Read
Network Computing logo

Digital video is carving out a new niche for storage networking vendors, and recent innovations in the motion picture and TV industries have several suppliers pumped to deliver new wares.

We expect to ship more than a petabyte of storage this year,” says Brett Goodwin, VP of business development at Isilon Systems. He says the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandate that all television broadcasters use high-definition video by 2006 is key to opening the market for new storage products. “All major broadcasters are in the process of moving to digital. None of them are quite there yet.”

Isilon sells a product called the IQ system that includes a storage server, software, and 1.44 Tbytes of disk capacity that can be clustered. The company lists Paramount Digital Entertainment, Technicolor, and Research Channel as customers. Goodwin says he will soon announce one of the major broadcast networks as a new customer.

Isilon's not alone. The growth of digital video has helped other broadcast-specific storage vendors find a foothold, including Rorke Data Inc. It's also opened new markets for traditional storage players such as EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) and Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP). And it's apparently given Apple Computer Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) a newly found place in storage networking.

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 for enterprise data. Besides requiring extra storage for production and editing, video requires multiple content distribution points when it's ready to ship -- TV being only one of these. Distributors of digital video also are involved in satellite, DVD, and movie theatre distribution. What's more, digital video calls for transmission rates twice as fast as for analog video.Companies specializing in video storage are eager to serve these requirements as providers start the transition to digital format.

Nobody’s putting a dollar figure on the broadcast SAN and NAS market, but as a point of reference, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting says it will spend around $1.7 billion for public TV to migrate to digital TV. According to Yankee Group, storage required for digital content will grow sevenfold between 2003 and 2006 to more than 1.2 million Tbytes.

Rorke Data’s CEO, Joe Rorke, says his company caught on to the video storage boom early on. “We’ve been in that market since the inception,” he boasts. Rorke says Rorke shipped its first video storage products in 1985 but has seen a growth spurt in the last couple of years.

The TV show Scrubs used one of his company’s storage systems when it became one of the first television shows to go all-digital in 2002, Rorke says. Saturday Night Live has also used a Rorke system. Oscar-winning picture and sound editor Walter Murch used a Rorke Data SAN with 1.2 Tbytes of Seagate Technology Inc. (NYSE: STX) hard drives to edit the recently released Cold Mountain. in post-production.

“He was the first guy to really cross the line of major-budget movies and use off-the-shelf Mac software and a SAN to do 100 percent post-production,” Rorke says. “A year ago, the equipment wasn’t considered robust enough to do that.”While their systems aren’t built specifically for digital video, EMC and NetApp also have had wins in the space. Cable networks Starz and Turner Broadcasting use EMC’s Clariion SANs as their primary storage for digital editing. Three Clariion systems were castaway on an island near Borneo for one of the “Survivor” series. Clariions also were used for the movies, "Gladiator," "X-Men," "Perfect Storm," and "American Beauty." New Zealand-based Weta Digital Effects used a NetApp NAS as its storage for special effects for The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Alex Grossman, Apple's director of server and storage hardware, says his company was pulled into storage networking with its XServe RAID system largely because of its digital graphics and video customers. And the use of Mac software on SAN and NAS systems has been credited with breaking Avid Technology Inc.'s (Nasdaq: AVID) long dominance of digital editing and storage systems.

While proponents of digital video are gung-ho, it's not clear exactly how the market will play out, or how many players will eventually wind up in it. Still, proponents are bullish. They say digital video for TV and movies is just the beginning. Digital imaging will lead networked storage into other markets such as science and research, medical imaging, and oil and gas exploration. “They face the exact same problems as we see in the digital video market,” Isilon’s Goodwin says.

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights