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Take Control of Your Storage


by James McKenna, VP Marketing & Pre-Sales Engineering, Facilis

Occasionally we get a prospective customer who has their mind set on a certain method of working.  This may be based on prior experience with other facilities, an old-school mentor who was set in his ways, or simply the most easily visualized process. It’s tough to change someone’s mind on what they think will work, and much easier to deploy a technology that fits in with their plans. I don’t believe that anyone can be fully knowledgeable about a workflow or project methodology that they haven’t seen firsthand. However, having consulted on hundreds of facility networks and having experience on an intimate level with post production workflows, I feel that we as vendors do our customers a disservice by allowing them to go blindly down the path of least resistance.

A storage network has to be designed with usability and workflow in mind. Unlike enterprise IT storage, which caters to the needs of the administrator and views end-users as a herd of sheep that should do as they’re told, creative driven facilities require a solution that can be as easily manipulated by an artist as an engineer. There are several reasons for this; lowering the cost of IT support in creative facilities allows those facilities to spend more on the systems and people that produce revenue. The storage system in a creative facility is much more integral to daily production than in an office environment, where most documents are cached locally and little pressure is placed on the speed of the repository.

Standard network-attached storage is designed to utilize the same technology that’s installed by default on all desktop workstations. It’s the ubiquitous network share, the fabric interwoven into every modern facility that allows me to be writing this document to a file that doesn’t exist on my local computer. It provides connectivity across departments and time zones. With the right IP address, you can access anything, if you have enough time to wait for a response.

Artists however, rely on edit-in-place networks to be fast, and highly available, with low latency and sustained throughput at high traffic levels, or the deadline isn’t hit, and the facility doesn’t get paid. Because of this, the artists in a creative facility are far more attuned to the behavior of the storage system, and often are the ones making the call to tech support when things aren’t right.

If we agree that enterprise storage products are normally inappropriate for the creative facility, we have to think that enterprise storage workflow also has its problems. If you open a document from your office server and for some reason you’re unable to save your changes, you may simply rename it and save it to a different location. This would be fine for an office document but imagine doing this with project files in a creative facility – with gigabytes and terabytes worth of video, audio, and project metadata renamed and spread around randomly. This is where permissions stop being a workflow enabler and become a workflow obstacle.  Enterprise networks follow the same rules of permissions as your office network.  Authentication, ownership, and group policies will determine whether the file you require is available to you.

Dedicated, content-creation storage networks that apply high-level permissions based on project assignment and keep file-level system permissions to a minimum will avoid enterprise workflow obstacles. This is called project-based volume workflow, and it’s been a tenant of post production content creation for decades.  From small, one-person shops to huge unscripted television content factories, volume assignment based on access to the required data for the job at hand is the most secure and efficient method of storage allocation. When a volume management system allows for quick and easy creation, size change and provisioning of storage assets, it’s clear that the system was purpose-built for this business.

Like most market-dedicated products, there are cheaper alternatives to a turn-key, content creation-focused storage network. Commodity technology will always be lower cost, because the components are suitable for multiple purposes, and have no unique value-add. And that’s just what they are, components. I’ve seen purported turn-key shared storage environments that require administration through command line interface. The manufacturers of these systems are the first to blame the customer when things don’t work as advertised because they don’t have the expertise to manage it correctly. Isn’t the point of a system designed for this business, to be usable for people who work in this business?

It is true that knowing all the specifics of what you want, and assuming you’re willing to avoid doing anything differently, a trained systems engineer can build a storage network that works for you. It may even approach the reliability and performance of a turn-key product, but then it’s his network, and you’ll be calling him whenever you need to make a change. Take control of your network by choosing a solution that’s definable, changeable, and configurable to your dynamic workload. Manage it on your terms, and with your knowledge of how you think it should work. Leave the office networks for the office workers, and buy storage that will keep up with your artists and your business.

 

As Facilis’ chief product evangelist, James McKenna provides advice and expert guidance to help facility managers expand their business. He started with Facilis in 2004, and was tasked with bringing the original TerraBlock product to market. Before coming to Facilis, he was Director of Engineering at PostWorks NY and Product Designer for Workgroups at Avid Technology. In keeping with his creative side, James has also worked as an editor on various television productions, broadcast promos and documentaries in Boston and New York.

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