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BlueArc digital video-sharing system scores big with schools

Schools weary of using couriers to exchange game films look to BlueArc data storage for the performance needed to deliver videos digitally.

While the UCLA football team kicked off the NCAA season Monday night with a victory over Tennessee, its IT department scored a triumph by putting into play a digital video-sharing system for schools in the Pac-10 conference based on BlueArc data storage.

The storage project began in 2003 when Ken Norris, UCLA Athletics video operations director, tired of using couriers and videotapes to exchange game films among the schools. "You'd have to go to the airport, and they'd lose tapes," he said. Videos would also sometimes require transcoding from one school's preferred format to another, as well as a time-consuming process to return play markers to the video after the transcoding was done.

UCLA took the lead in designing a system that would allow the schools to share the video footage electronically, using the relatively uncongested Internet2 network maintained by a consortium of colleges and universities around the U.S. UCLA Athletics IT put together a homegrown RAID system using Seagate Barracuda disk drives to serve the storage, but that infrastructure "failed miserably," according to Norris.

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"It worked when there was one guy uploading and downloading, but multiple people trying to access the storage made it slow noticeably," said Chris Thomas, UCLA network engineer for academic technological services.

UCLA's central IT department, of which Thomas is a part, was researching storage systems to back up the high-performance computing (HPC) clusters the university houses for computer research. After selecting BlueArc (university staffers declined to say which other vendors they evaluated or why they picked BlueArc), the IT engineers carved out a 20 TB portion of the 128 TB Titan NAS array for the Pac-10 video exchange.

BlueArc's focus in the market is HPC and high-performance file-sharing applications like the Pac-10 video network. It boosts performance by storing its file systems in silicon rather than software. With other moving parts to contend with on the networking side of the project, "we also wanted something vendor-supported," Thomas said. The Titan array, upgraded over the summer to the most recent Titan 3000 hardware, has been clocked at 100 MBps sustained read/write performance.

Thomas said the university's 10 Gigabit Ethernet network "will eventually be the limitation" on performance for the project. "Hopefully someone at BlueArc is working on parallel or 40 Gigabit interfaces – the football coaches are already talking about going to high-def," Thomas said, adding that the university would like to see BlueArc support RAID 6 as disk sizes and files get bigger.

Pac-10 women's volleyball and women's and men's basketball teams have also signed on for the video-sharing project. Along with providing digital online streaming video, the BlueArc system hasn't required the same kind of transcoding and manual play marking that analog tape did.

And so, according to Norris, after defeating Tennessee Monday night, there was a second victory for UCLA. "We had 19-plus gigabytes of video uploaded in a few minutes," he said.

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