Options, But No Simple Path To Video Storage

With the move to file-based formats, storing and managing video that pours into TV stations is not as easy as it was in the days when it was on tape and you could label it and put it on a shelf. There is no single, cookie-cutter solution that will suffice for all stations. The needs of today’s file-based workflows, combined with the need for reliability inherent in any broadcast environment, require difficult decisions.

Most broadcast engineers hate what has happened to storage. Back in the old days — you know, a couple of years ago — there was videotape. You cataloged it, you stored it, you maintained the decks that would play it, and you rarely changed formats.

Today’s file-based workflows, however, are far more complicated. Tape-based source material has been replaced by data. Broadcasters are no longer confined to a single medium; they also produce content for the Web and mobile devices. As broadcast workflows have become data-centric, the lines between media have become permanently blurred. After decades of the relative simplicity of an analog, tape-based operation, it’s no wonder video engineers are resistant.

With the growing reliance on computers and less emphasis on traditional video playback equipment, the technical knowledge required for engineering personnel is also changing. Suddenly, the industry is hiring directors of engineering who aren’t necessarily “video guys.” Instead, they built their careers on the IT side of the business.

The life cycle of data storage solutions is causing problems in broadcast business models as well. A reasonable timeframe for data storage equipment turnover is only three to five years. This is a significant change in the culture of an industry where most capital budget models are built around equipment purchases that are meant to last for 10 years.

Nothing in a new data structure is going to last that long — the rate of change in today’s technology is just too high. How productive could you be today using a 10-year-old 1 GHz Pentium III desktop running Windows 2000?

The rapid-fire changing technology also introduces a new and problematic wrinkle: data migration. Will the new technology play nice with the existing technology? How much time and manpower will it take to successfully move a station’s library of archives from one system to the next?


One of the biggest challenges for broadcasters is the day-to-day volume of data that needs to be saved. Between local newscasts and other sources of programming, stations have a constant stream of content.

Another monumental task is managing that data. The sheer volume of data has led to the problem of managing its various life cycles. Some content will be archived in long-term storage, other content will need to be accessed more frequently, and the rights to some programming will expire, so it needs to be deleted. Of course, all this must be accomplished while keeping labor costs to a minimum.

One of the challenges facing broadcasters is that while the cost of storage (generally) has gone down radically, the need for reliability and uptime has not changed. One interesting trend we’re seeing with broadcasters is the adoption of Tier 1 storage, an expensive, enterprise-class storage solution, because it requires less local maintenance than less expensive products.

Traditionally, equipment was expensive, but labor was relatively cheap. These days, some broadcasters literally do not have enough engineers to maintain their own systems. As a result, they outsource labor for maintaining their complex IT-based systems, or they opt for more expensive “smart” storage systems that require less support.

Finding a solution for a broadcaster’s storage issues has become a complex puzzle. There is no single, cookie-cutter solution that will suffice for all stations. The needs of today’s file-based workflows, combined with the need for reliability inherent in any broadcast environment, require difficult decisions.

In designing an infrastructure for a broadcast station, it is vital to recognize that different departments will have different needs. A single storage system may not be able to handle the various workflows across an entire station.

Stations can adopt a single-vendor solution. Avid, for example, offers solutions for storage, archiving, and asset management. A single vendor should be able to provide a guarantee of interoperability, but this means that choices in terms of toolset are limited to that vendor’s offering, which may not fit the workflow in the entire operation.

For more tailored solutions, stations should look beyond a single manufacturer or solution. Today’s complex IT-based storage systems allow a choice of best-of-breed products for many pieces in the production chain.

That said, unless station personnel have a great deal of recent hands-on experience with IT-based storage solutions, they need to conduct an extensive amount of research before investing in equipment. Often, these efforts include hiring consultants from outside of the organization, who can provide a fresh perspective, supplement in-house engineering knowledge, and make sure all the pieces of a storage system work together in a real-world deployment.

Whether a station decides to invest in a one-vendor solution or create an integrated system with elements from various manufacturers, equipment choices need to stem from a station’s workflow requirements. It doesn’t matter how good a product is if it can’t accomplish the tasks required from it by the broadcaster.

Dave Van Hoy is the president of Advanced Systems Group, a leading West Coast video and film integration firm based in Emeryville, Calif. Contact him at (510) 654-8300 or [email protected].

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