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Flash memory at NAB 2017

By Tom Coughlin

Flash memory is still serving a supporting role in most media and entertainment applications, except content capture. This is where it dominates. Outside of content capture, a little flash can go a long way to accelerate many media apps. Things like metadata storage and search using flash memory provide a big ROI.

Flash as a high-performance storage tier is becoming more common for M&E aggregated storage systems, particularly for content delivery. On the other hand, flash memory is starting to show up in workflows as primary storage on workstations used for very high frame rate and 8K uncompressed video processing for operations such as color correction and final conform.

Flash for Content Capture
First let’s look at some flash memory trends and announcements from the 2017 NAB Show. According to Coughlin Associates’ 2016 Digital Storage in Media and Entertainment survey, flash memory is the clear leader in professional video camera media, increasing from 19% in the 2009 survey to 54% in 2016, while magnetic tape shows a consistent decline over the same period. In particular, magnetic tape declined from 34% to 2%. Optical disc use between 2009 and 2016 bounced around between 7% and 17%. Film shows a general decline with 15% usage in 2009, down to 2% in 2016. The trend with declining film use follows the trend toward completely digital workflows.

Pro cameras using flash memory include those from Arri, Canon, Grass Valley, Ikegami, Panasonic, Panavision and Red. These cameras use flash memory modules for content capture. There are various flash card formats supporting today’s professional video cameras. These are in various physical formats from SD card to compact flash.

Shortly before NAB 2017, Lexar announced a 256GB pro 1000X microSD UHS-II (U3) card for rapid capture and transfer of multimedia content. With UHS Speed Class 3 (U3), this card is ideal for high-speed capture of extended lengths of 4K, 3D and 1080p full-HD video. Capable of recording up to nine hours of 4K video, this card is also perfect for shooting action with an aerial camera since they require multiple memory cards for extended use. The new card comes with a microSD UHS-II USB 3.0 reader to dramatically accelerate workflow with high-speed file transfer up to 150MB/s.

Sony introduced two external video recording SSDs for docking to camcorders or high-performance DLSRs. The SSDs have a longer lifetime than typical solid-state media. Using Sony’s Error Correction Code technology, the 960GB G Series SSD achieves up to 2400TBW (terabytes written), while the 460GB drive can reach 1200TBW, resulting in less frequent replacement.

According to Sony, the 2400TBW translates to about 10 years of use for the SV-GS96, if data is fully written to the drive an average of five times per week. When paired with the necessary connection cables, the new G Series drives can be removed from a recorder and connected to a computer for file downloading, making editing faster with read speeds up to 550MB/s.

LaCie (Seagate) introduced its LaCie 2big Dock Thunderbolt 3 that offers high-speed Thunderbolt 3 interfaces (offering up to 40Gb/s data rates and up to 100W of power) with a two-drive RAID with capacities up to 20TB. The product will be available this summer.

LaCie

The unit includes a docking capability with front-facing SD and CF flash memory card slots for transferring content from pro cameras. It has a USB 3.0 hub for charging a phone or for connecting to a shuttle drive or a digital camera to off-load content. The unit can connect the 2big to high-resolution displays using a DisplayPort connection. The USB 3.1 port enables interfacing with USB-C and USB 3.0

Flash and Media Workflows
Besides content capture, there were several other announcements and demonstrations of flash-based workflows and content delivery at NAB this year.

DDN believes there are spot solutions where flash makes sense in M&E, including scratch space and DPX workflows. The use of flash memory in M&E could increase if the prices go down. Avid saw flash memory as part of a tiered-storage infrastructure. Flash memory is being used as primary storage in HP workstations for color correction or finishing (conforming content), as well as for 8K video productions. The current shortage in flash memory is extending lead times for orders — the biggest issue is the transition from plane to 3D flash and poorer yields for now.

JMR

JMR introduced its extreme performance JMR SiloStor NVMe SSD, a full-length, half-height PCIe 3.0 x8 drive that adds up to 8TB of high-availability storage to any server, computer or workstation using the latest V-NAND technology. It occupies a x16 PCIe slot and may be connected via Thunderbolt PCIe expansion to those computers offering this capability. The cards will come in 2TB, 4TB and 8TB versions. Sequential read speed is > 4,000 MB/s and write speed is > 3,000MB/s.

Flash Memory for Content Delivery
Dell EMC showed how to create scalable on-premise or hybrid cloud IPTV/OTT delivery platforms using Dell EMC’s All-Flash Isilon as the storage repository. The company was also doing demonstrations of high-speed uncompressed 4K editing with the All-Flash Isilon.

Quantum

Quantum showed an interesting table comparing HDDs and SSDs for streaming content. Because of the trade-offs for capacity costs, compressed content streams were less expensive for SSDs while the uncompressed content can be more expensive for SSDs than HDDs unless higher capacity SSDs are used. As a consequence the company’s all-flash StorNext 4K array can supply a greater number of streams than a HDD-based system (at a price of course).

NGD Systems and EchoStreams were at NAB debuting a 96TB 1U storage appliance. The1U server’s storage capacity is based on four Catalina NVMe solid-state drives from NGD Systems. It features four removable full-height PCIe NVMe SSD add-in card slots and optimized for media streaming applications.

Summing Up
Flash memory is providing valuable point solutions for media and entertainment professionals, the most prominent being digital camera media. In addition, as the price of flash declines and as higher bandwidth content drives the industry flash memory is serving additional uses as primary or tiered storage to ensure low-latency access to media assets.

At the upcoming 2017 Creative Storage Conference on May 24 in Culver City, you can learn more about the use of flash memory in M&E, the growth in VR content in professional video, new metadata management technologies, including machine learning, and how these demands will drive digital storage demand and technologies to support the high data rates needed for captured content and cloud-based VR services.


Tom Coughlin is president of Coughlin Associates. He is the founder and organizer of the annual Storage Visions Conference as well as the Creative Storage Conference. He has also been the general chairman of the annual Flash Memory Summit.

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