Earlier this year, storage industry vet Geoff Stedman came on board as senior VP of Quantum’s StorNext solutions product portfolio. You might remember him from his many years at Omneon and then Harmonic after the company was acquired.
He spent seven years in total there before deciding to try something new: a role as VP of marketing for an enterprise IT storage company, Tintri. After two years the pull of the media and entertainment industry was just too much for him, and Stedman (pictured, above) returned.
Considering Stedman’s background and unique perspective — taking a break from an industry he knows so well and looking at it with a new set of eyes — we decided to pick his brain a bit about storage technology and where it’s headed into the future.
How would you compare and contrast the enterprise IT and broadcasting/entertainment storage markets?
To some degree storage is storage, so a lot of the technology components in enterprise IT are transferable to media-related use cases. For sure, technologies that ensure high performance, data availability and integrity are central to any infrastructure in any market. Increasingly we are seeing IT concepts of virtualization and cloud computing coming to the media industry.
From a business perspective, however, the IT market is by definition much more horizontal, and the use cases are very diverse and broad. Enterprise storage is business-critical in organizations as diverse as manufacturing plants, healthcare facilities, educational institutions and government agencies, and nearly all have requirements around internal and external policy compliance.
The broadcasting and entertainment industry, on the other hand, is much more targeted, and storage infrastructure deployments are often more tied to specific use cases. Rather than compliance, key storage-related business drivers for media companies address workflow challenges such as the ability to access and share large audio or video files across applications and locations, or content archiving that supports efficient re-purposing and re-monetization of content. And it’s not just media companies who have video-related workflow challenges. Increasingly corporations are having to deal with the production and archiving of video content in support of their business, and it is putting pressure on IT organizations to deploy storage that can support media workflows.
How do the two types of companies differ in their approach to storage?
In the enterprise IT space, the conversation with customers or channel partners is more focused on product features and how products address broad challenges like performance or capacity. Because enterprise storage must support a wide range of general-purpose activities, there tends to be less emphasis on applications or workflows. Also, the decision-makers tend to be IT professionals such as storage or virtualization administrators, and they’re typically in search of solutions that will help them and their teams work more efficiently.
Media companies, on the other hand, are more concerned about workflows and how technology infrastructure enables their applications to work most effectively. Often, the decision-makers tend to be line-of-business managers: the news director or the person that manages post. More than solutions to make their jobs easier, these professionals are looking for ways to continually improve the end product for viewers and to free their staff members to be more creative. And they’re much more concerned about how storage technology can support their key applications such as media asset management (MAM).
How has storage evolved to help media organizations adapt to major technology trends?
Technology innovations that start out in the broader enterprise IT realm tend to eventually make their way into the media market, but by the time they do, they’ve matured and become more specialized. A good example is how the media industry’s migration to file-based workflows drove the evolution of more specialized storage solutions that are able to handle the unique requirements of media content.
Media content is very different than typical enterprise data. It’s perhaps the only form of data that needs to be metered according to the notion of time. Unlike typical enterprise data, in the case of media files, you need to operate at real-time performance – if the storage system can’t keep up, you see dropped frames; if it goes too fast the extra data is unused. Delivering media content predictably, consistently and with deterministic performance, requires storage that is designed for reatime media access, a characteristic not found in typical general-purpose storage systems.
In the past decade, we’ve seen several transitions in the media business that have created opportunities, or demands, for storage technology to evolve. One of these was the migration from SD to HD operations, which has placed tremendous strain on existing infrastructures for both post production and broadcasting businesses. And, as we’ve said, underlying storage has played a huge role in the adoption of file-based workflows, especially as storage has evolved to handle the data and throughput demands of HD video.
What do you see as the key trends or market dynamics that will drive media storage technology into the future?
Currently, advanced media storage and archiving is being driven by two trends: the growing demand for high-quality content on multiple screens and consumer devices, and the advent of 4K broadcasting and ultra-high-definition TV. Multiplatform delivery in particular requires highly scalable storage systems to handle all the formats beyond just linear playout.
Now, content owners need to be able to deliver a piece of content in every necessary format to support delivery on all popular devices. It’s a storage problem and a streaming problem, and it adds another layer of complexity to MAM.
For 4K, companies are looking at how they can cost effectively adapt their operations and set up their infrastructures to handle the demands of 4K formats. In a few cases, simply adding on to the existing storage infrastructure might be sufficient, however, most companies will be facing a major upgrade. Closely related to storage is the network topology; is NAS adequate for 4K processing or is a SAN more appropriate?
Moving forward, we’ll see continued growth in transmission of OTT video over IP networks, which is of course the main technology driver for multiplatform delivery and the whole basis of today’s connected viewing experience. I also believe that 4K delivery will happen faster than the HD transition did and IP-based delivery will be one of the primary drivers. In fact, Amazon and Netflix are already streaming 4K movies to connected TVs and other devices.
Another big technology development for content owners is the growth of cloud-based services, both for production as well as delivery and long-term storage. Media companies have long relied on proprietary in-house datacenters, but economic pressures are pushing them to look at the cost efficiencies of the cloud for content ingest, processing and transcoding and then final handoff to delivery services. I’m convinced that these cloud economics will have a huge impact on the media business going forward.