Roundtable: Right storage needs a right workflow
Quantum's TVBEurope roundtable last week decided that a good storage solution first requires a good workflow solution
Our sister site, TVBEurope, hosted its latest industry roundtable last week at London's Soho Hotel. Held in association with Quantum, the afternoon's theme was storage for the broadcast industry - what are broadcasters' current storage needs, what storage solutions will new media technologies require, issues of data protection and the impact of cloud technologies.
Participants in the conversation were BT Sport innovation producer Darah Bass, Sony head of IT and workflow solutions Niall Duffy, Viacom senior director of broadcast and production technology Rod Fairweather, BBC Sport head of post production Lawrence Windley, with moderation by Jeremy Bancroft of MAC, and Quantum's regional sales director, Christo Conidaris.
What quickly became clear in the free-ranging discussion was that it was impossible to make decisions about storage without a clear understanding of your workflow.
Pushing it to the limit
Each of the roundtable participants cited the problem - so ubiquitous it's a cliche - of ballooning file sizes and absurd shooting ratios pushing storage capacity to its limits. It's a truism of modern life that no matter how much storage you have, you will always fill it.
Quantum's Christo Conidaris noted that the media industry has a unique propensity for gobbling up storage. Quantum supplies storage products for a range of sectors, from biotech to government to fossil fuel companies. Conidaris noted: "One thing that's interesting about the media and entertainment industry is you guys really push technology to its limits, whatever you're doing, whether it's storage or cameras or networks. We've found that the adoption rates for new technologies is usually higher in the media and entertainment than in other industries."
His statement surprised the group, who seemed to feel that their organisations were very conservative in adopting new technologies - slightly proving Conidaris' point. No matter how much tech you have, in the TV industry, it's never quite enough.
But unlike other industries, the final product at the end of millions of TV euros spent is a set of files on a drive. And with data itself the final fruit of everyone's hard labour, it's no surprise that broadcasters want to hang on to as much of it as possible for as long as possible.
Costs of storage are coming down (although Sony's Niall Duffy suggested the "Brexit effect" is reversing that in the UK, with storage prices rising since the June vote), but Viacom's Rod Fairweather pointed out that the endless hunger for storage negates any economic benefits: "The cost goes down on storage, but the amount we're producing goes up, so we never get the benefit of this stuff getting cheaper."
"It's always been an issue ever since the first videotape was created: nobody's good at housekeeping," said Fairweather. "Nobody ever gets thanked for chucking something out. But you can get fired for chucking something out that shouldn't have been chucked out. Whoever threw out the original Doctor Who's was vilified for life. Until we change that culture, no one's going to risk their jobs by unnecessarily deleting things."
BBC's Lawrence Windley confirmed that beyond the deceptively simple issue of "where to keep your stuff" lies the foundation of a broadcaster's workflow - its entire production ethos. "It's amazing how much we've talked about workflow, even though we started with talking about storage and library and archives. It very quickly goes into a conversation about workflow and decisions."
"We still haven't really thought through the kind of workflows that we need," said Sony's Niall Duffy. "We're still in a world where we inevitably come back to technology choices. That's the way the industry thinks, with the creatives often leaving it up to the engineer to come up with a solution. And the engineer gets quite excited by the technology rather than the process. But I think we're finally beginning to see that change, with companies like SDVI who are talking about supply chain management. When you've got a clear view of what your supply chain is and how you want to manage it - which every other industry outside ours does - it doesn't become an issue of technology choices. Instead it's: What do I need?"
BT Sport's Daragh Bass is looking for alternatives to on-premises storage. He sees an opportunity in rights holders taking responsibility for the storage of all assets related to project with broadcasters taking over only at the playout stage: "There are more opportunities where the rights holder is also the distributor and you don't store anything locally. You pull it down as you need it and they manage everything on your behalf. You have access to it now, but in a week's time, say, your access runs out."
Bass said BT Sport had the advantage of building being able to build storage workflows from scratch when it started in 2013. "We decided we needed rules from day one. And they were rigid. We had really strict deletion rules for all the different types of content. It was a 'keep' decision, rather than a 'delete' decision."
We will feature full analysis and summary of the Quantum storage roundtable in the January issue of TVBEurope and in our debut issue of TV Tech Global, coming up at the beginning of February.