Warner Bros.

Entertainment giant opts for ATA over expensive Fibre Channel

April 14, 2006

4 Min Read
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SAN DIEGO -- Storage Networking World -- Warner Bros. is saving around $200,000 a year thanks to an ambitious ILM project that has opened the door to cheaper storage media.

Harold Shapiro, the firm's technology architect, told an audience here yesterday that spiraling storage costs on Warner's Media Asset Retrieval System (MARS) prompted an infrastructure overhaul back in 2003. MARS, he explained, handles a wide variety of digital data, from still photos and marketing materials through commercials and trailers.

But three years ago it became clear that the storage needed to support MARS was "out of control," according to Shapiro. The exec projected that his 5.7 Tbytes of digital data would double by the end of 2004 and triple by the end of 2005.

To make matters worse, this data was all stored on expensive disk technology. "No matter what the timeliness of the data, it was all put on EMC Symmetrix Fibre-Channel-based disk," explained Shapiro. "We didn't have very good storage management. The cost was eating us alive."

An ILM strategy appeared to offer the answer. Warner Bros. opted for a three-tiered storage plan. Digital assets now can be shifted from expensive Fibre Channel disk through to less expensive ATA, and finally tape, as their importance decreases.Warner Bros. looked at a number of vendors to build its ILM infrastructure, including ADIC, EMC, IBM, and Network Appliance. Eventually, the firm chose ADIC's Scalar i2000 tape library, with EMC's Clariion CX700 providing the other two storage tiers. "EMC was the only vendor that offered ATA and Fibre Channel disk in the same array," said Shapiro, although both HP and HDS now also offer the two technologies within the same box.

Shapiro got bids from vendors that were known quantities, rather than issuing a request for proposals or inviting a systems integrator to come in and tie "a bunch of technologies" together. The exec explained that financial concerns prompted this decision. "Cutting out the middle man and dealing direct with the vendors saved us some money in the longer term."

The ILM infrastructure, which cost around $460,000, was deployed in January 2004, and Warner Bros. got a return on its investment in a little over a year. "We recouped the initial investment in the first week of 2005," he said, adding that avoiding the cost of Fibre Channel made the difference.

Given Warner's data explosion, the exec figures he would have had to spend around $300,000 a year on Fibre Channel disk, whereas now he spends $86,000 a year on less expensive ATA technology. That's what makes the ILM approach work, he asserted. "If you can save some money by putting information on a lower tier, you're doing a good job."

But Shapiro admitted that deploying ILM is not without its difficulties, particularly when it comes to getting buy-in from other parts of the organization. When Warner Bros. opted for ILM, the approach was still relatively new. "That is probably the biggest challenge -- you have to be a salesman, not only to your CIO, but to your fellow technologists."The exec added that testing is also critical. "If you're looking to deploy an ILM or a tiered storage solution, carefully evaluate and test before you buy a series of products. We tested it in the lab for a solid six months."

MARS data classification and access is handled by TeleScope digital asset management software from North Plains Systems. According to Shapiro, TeleScope is a Web-based search engine that sits on top of two Sun Solaris servers linked to the ADIC and Clariion boxes. "This lets staff [and partners] search for the data based on their buying or user rights," he said, adding that all the data uploaded and downloaded from the system is managed by TeleScope.

Additionally, Warner Bros. is using specialized software from Digimarc to keep track of its images. "That puts a digital watermark on each image and gives us a mechanism to see who the images are used by, and who shouldn't be using them."

Now, with over 20 Tbytes stored on the MARS ILM system, Shapiro is looking to deploy the technology elsewhere in his infrastructure. "We have some other opportunities that we're looking at now. The biggest one is our file and print environment where we have about 20 Tbytes of very static data. We're testing that right now."

Other potential uses for ILM include email archiving and document management, Shapiro says. "There's pieces of paper floating around that are 100 years old. I have seen contracts for Lon Chaney from Phantom of the Opera from 1919. All that stuff has to be maintained digitally now."Shapiro is also considering deploying SATA disks at some point in the future, providing further evidence of the technology's growing momentum among users. (See University of Minnesota, Energy Firms Clamor for Clusters, and Law Firm Turns to DataCore.) "I don't have a specific timeline, only that we want to put in virtual tape sometime in 2007, and do a disaster recovery project, so it will probably come into play for that."

James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Advanced Digital Information Corp. (Nasdaq: ADIC)

  • DataCore Software Corp.

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Hitachi Data Systems (HDS)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • Sun Microsystems Inc.

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