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SGI archive a slam dunk for NBA

NBA Entertainment is implementing a digital archive to reduce the costs associated with storing and managing its content on video tapes.

NBA Entertainment is launching a 24-hour high-definition TV channel in September, and thanks to a new digital archive and data migration software from Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI), it will avoid the hefty costs associated with restoring data from video tape.

To restore standard definition pictures from analog video tape costs about $16 per hour while restoring high-definition pictures from the same media costs up to $80 per hour. Compare this to pulling standard definition pictures from digital tape, which will cost the NBA $7 per hour, and for high-definition pictures, about $14 per hour.

"It's a huge cost avoidance for us," said Michael Gliedman, senior vice president and chief information officer of NBA Entertainment. But the payback is far from immediate. The company must contend with migrating all of its old footage off 400,000 video tapes and onto a new StorageTek Corp. SL8500 digital tape library.

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"It's a very daunting task and will take us many years," said Keith Horstman, director of IT for NBA Entertainment. They plan to start with the oldest and most vulnerable tapes first, some of which are 15 years old, and then pick all the major finals, all the Michael Jordan plays, all the Shaquille O'Neill plays, until they have everything. "We'll start making Swiss cheese out of it until we get to the end," Horstman said.

As well as preserving the archive by digitizing it, the NBA hopes to be able to distribute its content more easily to its partners, including games companies, cable multi-service providers and cellular phone companies. "The goal is to monetize the archive," Gliedman said. Down the line, he said content partners could have a pipe to NBA Entertainment headquarters in Secaucus, N.J., and be able to search for the content they want themselves. Right now, NBA staff performs this arduous task and then packages tapes up and FedExes them to its partners.

Capacity boost

Besides digitizing its archive, NBA Entertainment added more capacity to cope with the amount of data it generates per game.

NBA Entertainment's storage environment consists of an 8 terabytes (TB) SGI NAS 2000 connected to 16 editing stations for creating video. It also has an 8 TB SGI SAN for low-resolution browsing purposes. This runs metadata software that tags all the different kinds of shots and plays in a game and enables the editors to search for a particular piece of action.

"The storage was limited: We had to move things on and off as needed to keep the machinery working," said Horstman. To combat this problem, the company is adding 16 TB to its NAS editing environment and another 8 TB to its low-resolution browsing SAN, plus SGI's shared file system, CXFS, to enable editors to search for content across the SAN, NAS and tape library without so much manual involvement, Horstman said.

NBA Entertainment looked at all the major vendors, "but we had some major issues that many of them could not deal with," according to Horstman. For example, a two and a half hour game generates 80 GB of data. Editors then look through the game for specific plays that could be as little as 30 seconds long. "They don't want to have to restore 80 GB of tape every time someone needs a 30 second play."

The firm picked SGI's Data Migration Facility software as it allows them to restore based on time code, to get just the 30 second piece they need. "It pulls the correct clips off the tape, reducing the bandwidth across the network … Most vendors could not handle the massive amounts of content that we need to stream off tape," Horstman said.

The NBA looked at disk-to-disk backup for faster restores but found it to be too expensive. "The massive amounts of content we are generating every season blew the lid off disk being a cost-effective solution for us." It's easy to see why. At 160 GB per three hour game and 1,500 games a year, that's 240 TB of new data a year.

With the additional storage in place, editors should have fast access to archived material and will be able to share video and sound material across television and online operations, the company said. It still faces the prospect of having to increase its storage capacity by 8 TB every season just to cope with the additional data, but there's no getting around this problem, Horstman said.

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