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Discovery Channel explores a new storage method

Discovery was trapped in a time warp, sending videos around the world by courier until it installed a Distributed Storage Network to get its digital content across the globe.

What do Trading Spaces, The Crocodile Hunter and Extreme Engineering all have in common? They're all television shows aired on the many networks of Discovery Communications Inc., and they're all backed by a new storage network.

Discovery Communications is a multimedia juggernaut. The company began in --> 85 with the launch of the Discovery Channel, one of cable television's most successful sources of information and entertainment -- and, for many, a great place to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Although the communications company is a creative powerhouse when it comes to its programming, which has garnered thousands of cult-like fans, the process it used to port its media assets was as old and tired as another rerun of Three's Company.

Discovery Communications needed to speed access to its centralized digital media assets, which included nature documentaries and science programs far too large for remote users to access over the wide area network (WAN). The company, like most of its competitors, was forced to duplicate and ship physical media around the world via courier as a regular part of its production workflow.

To end the mail-order madness, Discovery purchased a distributed storage network from Lowell, Mass.-based Storigen Systems Inc. to provide its offices around the world with real-time access to centrally stored digital media files.

The massive responsibility for Discovery Communications' internal infrastructure for data and communications fell to Mona Abutaleb, senior vice president of the company's global shared services unit. Abutaleb found that the archaic method of sending videos and promotional materials through the mail was proving inefficient.

Discovery Communications has an IT organization that includes more than 300 engineers and administrators. Led by Abutaleb, the group engineers and operates the company's voice and data networks. It also provides customer support for the systems.

But when it came to shipping its programs, the company was still in the Dark Ages. "We were not sending videos electronically. In many cases we would overnight them all over the world," Abutaleb said.

Now, with the aid of Storigen's Distributed Storage Network product, the company can send or receive large stored files electronically, including still images, short and long video clips and promotional materials.

"Historically, remote locations internationally would evaluate and look at the materials to determine whether they fit into their [viewing] genres. Now we can put that material on a centralized server and send it out for review very, very quickly," Abutaleb said. She said the company's media evaluation and editing process used to take up to five days. Now it takes a few hours.

"We had a real business need. How do you get information quickly to locations all over the world? You certainly cannot do [that] with even the best overnight mail service," she said.

Once Discovery Communications airs a television show, the international affiliates can modify and reuse the content to fit their viewing demographic. Now, remote users can search the company's data archives and reuse existing media for projects in other locations, rather than creating entirely new content.

Abutaleb said the company has laid down a policy that states that all new video and promotional material must be stored digitally; old data will be converted from tape as it is needed.

Storigen's Distributed Storage Network (DSN) combines a centralized operations center that automates the management of all data and devices in a DSN with multiservice storage and delivery appliances that are located in remote offices. The DSN integrates with existing central storage and application infrastructure, which is beneficial for Discovery Communications, since the company uses hardware from a minimum of two competing vendors at any given time. "Name a vendor and we've tried them," Abutaleb said.

Today, Discovery Communications has 33 networks of programming, including the Learning Channel, Animal Planet, the Travel Channel, Discovery Health Channel, Discovery Kids, Discovery Times Channel, The Science Channel, Discovery Wings Channel, Discovery Home & Leisure Channel, Discovery en EspaÑol, HD Theater and the Health Network. Discovery Communications' other properties consist of and 154 Discovery Channel retail stores. The company also distributes BBC America in the United States.

Dennis Hoffman, president and CEO of Storigen, said that data continues to grow and get "richer," yet the people that needed access to it are not consolidating.

Hoffman said storing copies of data at the edge of the network through a distributed storage network turned out to be the best approach for Discovery's data needs.


Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Kevin Komiega, News Writer

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