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Turner Broadcast chases audience with tiered storage

The media giant has centralized its data into EMC-based tiered storage and is looking toward grid and holographic storage for the future.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The prevailing wisdom in the broadcast industry is that the concept of mass media has vanished, according to Clyde Smith, senior vice president for broadcast engineering research and development at Turner Broadcasting System Inc., owner of household name entertainment companies, including CNN, Cartoon Network, TNT and the Atlanta Braves.

"No audience just sits down and watches TV anymore," Smith told attendees at the Storage Networking World (SNW) conference Wednesday morning. "We're starting to play what we call the endless game of audience hide and seek."

In order to keep up with this elusive audience, the company has implemented a formatting engine from Snell & Wilcox Ltd. that translates media into three cell phone formats, Web streaming formats and several broadcast video formats for delivery to a myriad of media devices. The engine allows the company to ingest content once and deliver it over and over again -- a concept Smith said also applies to the tiered storage environment that serves the application.

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The company is running five tiers of storage to house video footage from cartoons to movies and sitcoms. Tier-1 and Tier-2, 26 terabytes (TB) and 4 TB respectively, are running on Fibre Channel and Advanced Technology Attachment (ATA) disks within an EMC Corp. Clariion 4700 system, which will be refreshed soon to a newer model, Smith said, though the company has not yet decided which Clariion to implement.

"We looked at a lot of different arrays to replace those old systems," he said, "but my staff is already familiar with Clariion and how to work with it. Integrating heterogeneous disk arrays under the rest of our delivery system would have been too complex at this point."

Below the spinning disk is a 22 TB Teracart DVD-RAM archive from Asaca, most of which houses short-format cartoons for the Cartoon Network. Long format archival (for movies and television shows) is handled within two tape libraries -- an 80 TB StorageTek PowderHorn and a massive 400 TB Sun Microsystems Inc.-StorageTek SL8500.

The glue that holds it all together, however, is three software applications -- another broadcast media delivery application from Pro-Bel Ltd. that keeps track of access frequency for certain media-- for example, whether or not a certain commercial has been broadcast on TNT within the past 24 hours. Quantum Corp.'s StorNext parallel file system allows for parallel access to files on the primary storage. Both of these software applications have been integrated by Smith's engineers with EMC's AVALONidm, software that automatically pulls data from all the tiers of storage, boosted by the Quantum file system on the primary arrays, according to requests from the Pro-Bel system.

It's a system five years in the making, beginning with the old Clariions and moving through the additions of the Asaca DVD jukebox, PowderHorn and ultimately the SL8500 tape library array. But Smith said that no sooner had Turner Broadcasting reached a workable tiered storage environment, it began to dismantle it, beginning with the implementation of an Omneon Video Networks grid system in a broadcast office in London.

The future: Grid, holographic storage

The 2 TB Omneon MediaGrid system, brought into production in London earlier this year, slices files up into tiny 8 MB pieces across its back-end data servers, linked by a director that keeps track of metadata. The system automatically load balances by slicing up more frequently accessed files into more pieces or making more copies across its nodes so that servers at the front end can access the data faster.

"Drive sizes are going up and up and up, but the bandwidth into them hasn't gone up proportionately," Smith said. He added that Omneon may not ultimately win out as its overall vendor for grid, but it "will be better for serving up a hot news story that everyone's hitting at once," Smith said. It will also eliminate the need for the patchwork of software that has helped automate his tiered storage environment.

"It'll let us run software that sets policies for access and delivery of data in parallel across the nodes as well," Smith said, an area in which the current storage area network (SAN) file system has only accomplished half the battle.

It's not a change that'll happen overnight, Smith emphasized; it'll probably take another four-to-five years before Turner Broadcasting's global enterprise has standardized on grid storage -- just in time for the next major storage innovation.

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