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Is Your Facility Ready for the UHDTV Future? See at #IBC2015

By James McKenna, VP of Marketing, Facilis

James McKenna, VP of Marketing, Facilis

In these days of ever shrinking budgets and schedules, post houses can’t afford to turn away work. However, it seems that there’s an almost daily influx of new camera formats to contend with that have the potential to grind workflows to a halt. Looming even larger on the horizon is the planned UHDTV specification, which includes much more than simply stipulating the number of pixels across the screen, like HFR (high frame rates of 60 and 120 frames per second), additional data to carry information for HDR (High Dynamic Range) and an expanded color gamut. Over time, as all or some of these characteristics get rolled into mainstream acquisition, the sizes of files and corresponding bandwidth requirements can increase exponentially. For a modern postproduction facility, it’s clear that this will tax the storage infrastructure in new ways and has the potential to disrupt all of the hard-won efficiencies of HD production.

As acquisition formats continue to evolve, facilities are seeing increasingly more 4K+ material coming through the door even though 1080 HD acquisition and delivery is still the standard for most. Modern production crews have many reasons to shoot at least some footage in high-resolution formats like 2160p, 4K, and even 6K. They may want to give post extra latitude for framing and repositioning as the story requires. Likewise, colorists will demand the image directly from the camera sensor, so they can decompress and debayer those images and have the greatest control. Also, there are workflows that require 4K-6K throughout post, so any frame or segment can be extracted for compositing, blown up for cinema projection or printed on a billboard at the touch of a button, without a conform back to the camera masters. Finally, programs delivered in HD will often archive a full resolution version of their program for better shelf life and resale of their content in the future. It’s also understandable that having paid for advanced equipment, it’s unlikely that clients will be happy to go all the way from postproduction to delivery in 1080, without ever seeing the original pristine footage.

A successful project-driven facility has to be ready to turn around a job quickly, in the proper format, with scale-out capabilities and finishing power. To do that, your storage infrastructure needs to support everything that comes through the door, but not to the point where you’re using the fastest, most expensive storage on basic 1080 HD workflows that don’t require it. The key requirement is to find a storage system that is flexible enough to support high-bandwidth finishing workflows, while also catering to compressed HD shared storage workflows. Is it even possible to find such a solution in a single enclosure?

The Hybrid Solution

4KCHARTBy combining support for both editorial and finishing workflows in one enclosure, a hybrid shared storage solution can deliver the best bang for the buck. With both SSDs and spinning disks, a single crate of these mixed drive technologies can be virtualized at the block level for consistent performance. Such a combination has the speed to power the most intense 4K+ workflows, and since the two storage arrays are shared in the same enclosure, it’s easy to selectively mirror SSD content on the spinning disks to efficiently make use of the space and bandwidth while still protecting data.

The combination of new technology SSDs and spinning hard drives allows a facility to deliver scale-out collaboration when it is required as well as finishing performance when it is needed. With internal data transferring at 1 GB/s, space on the high-bandwidth but lower capacity SSD group can be made available quickly by offloading to higher capacity spinning disks. This type of elegant solution is made possible by advanced system architecture, designed around the workflow of project-based postproduction. Virtual volumes are created on a per-project basis, utilizing either the SSD or HDD groups. Any client can access volumes from both groups, across any connection method. Managing access to the SSDs in this way not only maximizes their performance, but also ensures optimal longevity over the life of the drives.

Connectivity and Flexibility

Because the optimal storage system should to be able to provide editorial and finishing operations simultaneously, it is important that a storage system be easily configured to provide both shared file-level access and high-bandwidth block-level access as the project evolves. If it ever becomes necessary to completely switch storage systems and transfer data between offline editing and finishing, the time represents non-billable hours for not only the facility, but for the employees as well.

Now let’s consider the connectivity between clients and the storage server. While 1Gb and 10Gb Ethernet is the most popularMain-Set-reduced method for connecting collaborative workgroups, there is also a place for higher bandwidth connections when engaged in a finishing workflow. Fibre channel is very easy to deploy, and may already exist in many facilities. With speeds up to 16Gb/sec on a single port, this connection method offers tremendous bandwidth for the most demanding finishing workflows. A shared storage system capable of delivering both Ethernet and Fibre channel connectivity simultaneously clearly has advantages over systems that offer only one or the other.

Maintaining consistency of performance to all clients is a top priority for any post workflow. As such, a shared storage system built for media production needs to be optimized beyond what basic RAID or drive arrays can provide. With large files to read and write, along with the randomization of multiple streams and clients, traditional hard drive systems reach the limit of performance too quickly. Consistent performance is something that must be built into the design of a SAN, regardless of how many clients attach to it, or how full it is.

The best way to guarantee performance is by using block-level virtualization. The result of this virtualization is a pool of storage, for use in allocating project-based volumes. In this virtualized mode, the storage system writes data in a pattern across the entire group, on all of the disks, and is not bound by the speed, portion or sector (position) on any given disk.

Investments made today in storage architecture need to include plans for supporting UHD workflows as they continue to become commonplace. The good news is that the technology exists today to support everything that will be coming through the door in the foreseeable future. The Facilis TerraBlock 24D/HA is an example of such a hybrid solution that allows facilities to simultaneously perform multi-stream 4K+ finishing workflows and high-bandwidth collaborative editorial workflows on a single enclosure.

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