By Tom Coughlin
Media and entertainment content is growing in size due to higher resolution, higher frame rates and more bits per pixel. In addition, the amount of digital content is growing as increasing numbers of creators provide unique content for online streaming channels and as the number of cameras used in a given project increases for applications such as sports 360-degree immersive video projects.
More and larger content will require increasing amounts of digital storage and higher bandwidths to support modern workflows. In addition, in order to control the costs of video workflows, these projects must be cost-effective and make the most efficient use of physical and human resources possible. As a consequence of these opportunities and constraints, M&E workflows are using all types of storage technology to balance performance versus cost.
Hard disk drives (HDD), solid state drives (SSD), optical discs and magnetic tape technologies are increasing in storage capacity and performance and decreasing in the cost. This makes it easier to capture and store content, keep data available in a modern workflow and, when used in a private or public cloud data center, to provide readily available content for delivery and monetization. The NVMe interface for SSDs and NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF) for storage systems is enabling very high-performance storage that can handle multi-stream 4K to 8K+ video projects with high frame rates, enabling more immersive video experiences.
Industry pros are turning to object-based digital storage to enable collaborative workflows and are using online cloud services for rendering, transcoding and other operations. This is becoming increasingly common because much content is now distributed online. Both small and large media houses are also moving toward private or public cloud archiving to help access and monetize valuable historical content.
Various artificial intelligence (AI) tools, such as machine learning (ML), are being used in M&E to extract metadata that allows more rapid search and use of media content. Increasingly, AI tools are also being used for media and storage management applications.
Let’s dig a little deeper…
Storage Device Evolution
HDDs and SSDs are currently the dominant storage technologies used in media and entertainment workflows. HDDs provide the best value per terabyte compared to SSDs, but NAND flash-based SSDs provide much greater performance, and Optane-based SSDs from Intel — and similar soon to be released 3D XPoint SSDs from Micron — can provide 1,000 times the performance of NAND flash. Optical discs and magnetic tape are often used in library systems and therefore have much longer latency from when data is requested to when it is delivered than HDDs. As a consequence, these technologies are primarily used for cold storage and archive applications.
The highest capacity HDDs shipping in volume have capacities up to 16TB and are available from Western Digital, Seagate and Toshiba. However, Western Digital announced that it is sampling nine-disk, 3.5-inch form factor, helium-sealed 18TB drives using some form of energy-assisted magnetic recording and that a 20TB drive will also be available that shingles recorded tracks on top of each other, resulting in higher effective track — and thus areal density — on the disks
Seagate has also indicated that it would ship 20TB HDDs by 2020 using energy-assisted magnetic recording. These high-capacity drives are geared for enterprise applications, particularly in large (cloud) data centers. These drives should bring the price of HDD storage down to less than $0.02 per GB ($20/TB) when they are available in volume.
Both Sony and Panasonic are promoting the use of write-once Blu-ray optical discs for archival applications. These products are used for media archiving by some users, who are often attracted by the physical longevity of the inorganic optical storage media. The companies’ storage architectures for an optical library system differ, but they have worked together on standards for the underlying optical recording media.
According to Coughlin Associates’ 2019 Digital Storage for Media Professionals Survey, hard disk drives and magnetic tape are the most popular digital storage media. The most popular magnetic tape format in the industry is the LTO format.
Solid state drives using NAND flash — and, more recently, Intel Optane — are increasingly being used in modern media workflows. In post, there is a move to use SSDs for primary storage, particularly for facilities dealing with multiple streams of the highest resolution and frame-rate content. These SSDs are available in a wide range of storage capacities and form factors; interface options are traditional SATA, SAS, or the higher-performance Nonvolatile Memory Express (NVMe).
Modern NAND flash SSDs use 3D flash memory in which memory storage cells are stacked on top of each other up to 96 layers today, while 128 or more memory cell layers will be available in 2020. Research has shown than 500-plus layers of NAND flash cells might be possible, and, as Figure 10 shows, the major NAND flash manufacturers will be introducing ever higher NAND flash layer devices (as well as more bits per cell) over the next few years.
In 2018, NAND flash SSDs were expensive because of the shortage of NAND flash. In 2019, NAND flash memory is widely available due to additional production capacity. As a result, SSDs have been dropping in price, with a consequent reduction in their cost per gigabyte. Lower prices have increased demand for SSDs.
Modern Storage Systems
Modern storage systems used for post are usually file-oriented (with either a NAS or SAN architecture), although object storage (sometimes in the cloud) is beginning to find some uses. Let’s look at some examples using HDDs and SATA/SAS SSDs, as well as storage systems using NVMe SSDs and network storage using NVMe over Fabrics.
The latest generation of the Avid Nexis storage platform includes HDD as well as larger SSD all-flash storage array configurations. Nexis is Avid’s software-defined storage for storage virtualization in media applications. It can be integrated into Avid and third-party workflows as well as across Avid MediaCentral and scale from 9.6TB up to 6.4PB. It allows on-demand access to a shared pool of centralized storage. The product allows the use of up to 38.4TB of NAND flash SSD storage in its E2 SSD engine to accelerate 4K through 8K mastering workflows.
The E5 nearline storage engine is another option that can be used by itself or integrated with other enterprise-class Avid Nexis engines.
At IBC in September, ATTO announced a partnership with Facilis to integrate ATTO ThunderLink NS 3252 Thunderbolt to 24GbE within the Facilis Hub shared storage platform. The storage solution provides flexible, scalable, high-bandwidth connectivity for Apple’s new Mac Pro, iMac Pro and Mac mini. Facilis’ Hub shared storage platform uses ATTO Celerity 32Gb and 16Gb Fibre Channel HBAs and Fastframe 25GB Ethernet NICs. Facilis Hub represents the evolution of the Facilis shared file system with block-level virtualization and multi-connectivity built for demanding media production workflows.
In addition, Facilis servers include ATTO 12Gb ExpressSAS HBAs. These technologies allow Facilis to create powerful solutions that fulfill a diverse set of customer connectivity needs and workflow demands.
With a new infusion of funding and the addition of many new managers, Editshare has a new next-generation file system and management console, the EFS 2020. The new EFS is designed to support collaborative workflows with up to a 20% performance improvement and with an easy-to-use user interface that also provides administrators and technicians with useful media management tools.
The EFS 2020 also has File Auditing, which offers a realtime, purpose-built content auditing platform for the entire production workflow. File Auditing tracks all content movement on the server, including a deliberately obscured change. According to Editshare, EFS 2020 File Auditing provides a complete, user-friendly activity report with a detailed trail back to the instigator.
Promise introduced its Pegasus32 series storage systems. It used Intel’s latest Titan Ridge Thunderbolt 3 chip and can power hosts up to 85W and offers up to 112TB of raw capacity with an eight-drive system. It supports Thunderbolt at up to 40Gbps or USB 3.2 at 10Gbps. It includes HW RAID-5 protection with hot-swappable 7,200 RPM HDDs and dual Thunderbolt 3 ports that allow daisy-chaining of peripheral devices.
Although Serial AT Attached (SATA) and Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) HDDs and SSDs are widely used, these older interfaces — which were based upon the needs of HDDs when they were developed — can restrict the data rate and latency that SSDs would be capable of. This has led to the wide use of an interface that brings more of the internal performance of the SSD to the computers it’s connected to. This new interface is called NVMe, which can be extended over various fabric networks such as InfiniBand, Fibre Channel and, more recently, Ethernet.
NVMe SSDs are finding increased use as primary storage for many applications, including media post projects, since they can provide the performance that large high-data-rate projects require. NVMe SSDs also provide lower latency to content than HDDs, which is important for media pros. With the lower price of SSD storage, their total cost of ownership has declined, making them even more attractive for high-performance applications, such as post production and VFX.
At IBC 2019, Dell EMC was showing its new PowerMax storage system. This included dual-port Intel Optane SSDs as persistent storage and NVMe-oF using 32Gb Fibre Channel I/O modules, directors and 32Gb NVMe host adapters using Dell EMC PowerPath multipathing software.
According to Dell EMC, this end-to-end NVMe and Intel Optane architecture provides customers with a faster, more efficient storage system that delivers the following performance improvements:
• Up to 15 million I/Os
• Up to 350GB/sec bandwidth
• Up to 50% better response times
• Sub-100µs read response times
The built-in machine learning engine uses predictive analytics and pattern recognition to automatically place data on the correct media type (Optane or Flash memory) based upon its I/O profile. It can analyze and forecast 40 million data sets in real time, driving 6 billion decisions per day. PowerMax works with several plugins for virtualization and container storage, as well as Ansible modules. It can also be part of a multi-cloud storage architecture with Dell EMC Cloud Storage Services.
Quantum introduced its F-Series NVMe storage system to help media professionals power their modern post workflows.
It features SSD storage capacities up to 184TB. High uptime is ensured by dual-ported SSDs, dual-node servers and redundant power supplies. The NVMe SSDs allow performance of about one million random reads per second, with latencies of under 20 microseconds. Quantum found that NVMe storage can deliver more than 10 times the read and write throughput performance with a single client compared with NFS and SMB attached clients.
The NVMe SSDs support a huge amount of parallel processing. The F-Series array uses Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) networking technology to provide direct access between workstations and the NVMe storage devices. The F-Series array was designed for video data. It is made to handle the performance requirements of multiple streams of 4K+, high-frame-rate data as well as other types of unstructured data.
These capabilities enable editors in several rooms to work on multiple streams of 4K and even 8K video using one storage volume. The higher performance of NVMe SSDs avoids the over-provisioning of storage often required with HDD-based storage systems.
Private and Public Cloud for M&E
Digital media workflows are increasingly using either on-premises or remote cloud storage (shared data center storage) of various types for project collaboration or for access to online services and tools, such as rendering and content delivery services. Below are a few recent developments in public and private cloud storage.
Avid’s Cloudspaces allows projects and back-up media in the cloud, freeing up on-site Avid Nexis workspaces. Avid’s preferred cloud-hosting platform is Microsoft Azure, which has been making major inroads for cloud storage for the M&E industry by providing valuable partnerships and services for the industry.
The Facilis Object Cloud virtualizes cloud and LTO storage into a cache volume on the server, available on the client desktops through the Facilis shared file system and providing a highly scalable object storage cache. Facilis also announced that it had partnered with Wasabi for cloud storage.
Cloudian makes private cloud storage for the M&E industry, and at IBC it announced its HyperStore Xtreme. HyperStore Xtreme is said to provide ready access to video content whenever and wherever needed and unlock its full value through AI and other analytics applications.
The Cloudian HyperStore Xtreme is built on an ultra-dense Seagate server platform. The solution enables users to store and manage over 55,000 hours of 4K video (UAVC-4K, Ultra HD format) within just 12U of rack space. The company says that this represents a 75% space savings over what it would take to achieve the same capacity with an LTO-8 tape library.
Scality’s Ring 8 is a software-defined system that handles large-scale, on-prem storage of unstructured data. It is useful for petabyte-scale storage and beyond, and it works across multiple clouds as well as core and edge environments. The Extended Data Management (XDM) also allows integrating cloud data orchestration into the ring. The new version adds stringent security, multi-tenancy and cloud-native application support.
Media and entertainment storage and bandwidth demands are driving the use of more storage and new storage products, such as NVMe SSDs and NVMe-oF. While the use of NAND flash and other SSDs is growing, so is demand for HDDs for colder storage and the use of tape or cloud storage (which can be HDD or tape in the data center) for archiving. Cloud storage is growing to support collaborative work, cloud-based service providers and content distribution through online channels. Various types of AI tools are being used to generate metadata and even to manage storage and data resources, expanding upon standard media asset management tools.
Tom Coughlin, president of Coughlin Associates, is a digital storage analyst and business and technology consultant. He has over 37 years in the data storage industry, with engineering and management positions at several companies.