Red Bee Media, a broadcast media vaulting service, stores film, TV programmes and advertisements on tape for its customers. When needed for playing the media is delivered for broadcast on TV or mobile phone or some other playing platform. Red Bee Media specialises in digital media storage and offers a range of services required to promote, play-out and provide access to broadcast content across all media, from television to mobile phones. It is majority owned by Macquarie Capital Alliance Group.

Not normal backup but an active archive

Red Bee Media is currently responsible for vaulting thousands of tapes for clients such as the BBC, and it is imperative that the digital content is monitored, preserved and stored effectively. The value of Red Bee Media’s business lies in the data and content it stores for its clients on magnetic tapes. It is essential that the company can be confident that all the content stored on the tapes can be instantly retrieved and, that at the point of writing each tape, a good-performing drive is used, writing to a good-performing cartridge to ensure its retrieval.

In March 2006 Tony West, Red Bee Media’s IT head, decided he needed to look at better ways of monitoring and safeguarding the media estate.

He said: “We look after media which stores television programmes, commercials and films and at any time this can be requested to go live on air. Unlike in other industries, where backups are only used for disaster recovery, our media needs to be constantly accessible and is the key asset to our clients. Bearing this in mind we needed to follow best-practice methods to reassure our clients that their content is safe. We also wanted to be able to proactively prove best practice in the case of an audit.”

Previously there was no media monitoring solution available on the market. Red Bee Media could not predict when a tape or drive in its data centre could. Each new tape generation sees more complicated tape drives being introduced; making responsibility for monitoring tape more complicated than it has been previously. Red Bee Media wanted to reduce this risk.

West explained: “Modern day tapes and drives are more sensitive than previous versions and are therefore subject to more complications. As with any technology there is always a risk and we decided to mitigate this by utilising a media monitoring product. We needed to quickly identify if there was a problem with any of our tapes or drives, and if so, what the problem was and how to solve it. For example, a factor as small as dust can impact the performance of a tape. We wanted a tool which could analyse our systems, so that we would not have to investigate each tape or drive to pinpoint problems.”

Error logs were not enough

West was introduced to a media monitoring tool, StorSentry, by Imation partner Hi-Stor Technologies. Following an evaluation West was impressed; the tool which could allow his team to monitor its tape storage media, identify problems and proactively reduce the chances of media failure. So Red Bee went ahead and spent £42,000 on purchasing StorSentry.

Prior to installing StorSentry the IT team was monitoring its drives and tapes though error logs. However, these did not identify what the problem was – for example whether the issue stemmed from the drive or the media. StorSentry gave the team increased visibility of its drives, allowing them to locate precise information such as when media should be changed to ensure that content was not at risk. The tool also checks that the drive and media combination of the library is working at an optimal level, as well as establishing if data migration from one type of media to another is required.

StorSentry software is non-intrusive and is installed on the media servers. It tool gives an overview of the state of the drives and the media, through a detailed inventory, and provides the IT team with three grades of alerts for media problems (warning, failure and critical). Red Bee Media has configured the Imation alert system to the highest alert setting so that it takes no risk with emerging problems and has less tolerance for failure.

StorSentry enables West’s IT team to check if cartridges have reached a pre-set age or usage limit, and the pre-set error threshold. It also gathers information on the number of mount operations, duration of use as well as read/write deterioration rate. Within these alerts are advice and information on how the IT manager could solve an identified problem. This allows the team to schedule the maintenance at a time that’s convenient for the business.

In addition, StorSentry helped Red Bee Media to obtain the optimum use from its drives in terms of throughput. The software provides an accurate overview of its archive allowing the team to identify if, for example, it is only using 10 percent of a particular drive’s capacity. By identifying poor throughput productivity can be increased with the same number of drives. The company can also anticipate future growth by looking at how much tape is currently being used and the rate at which it is growing.

Red Bee Media is also producing audit reports. These provide an expert overview of exactly what is going on in its datacentre and identifies potential problems.

West said: “StorSentry has proved a great success. The software identifies potential problems before they occur giving us time to fix them, so we don’t have to worry about whether our magnetic tapes are wearing out. We are now absolutely confident that our clients’ data is safe because errors are flagged to us earlier.”

“Our management team know that it is getting the best out of our investment, and the product alleviates the pain of day-to-day performance management at an operational level. We have been using Imation’s professional services consultation to further identify and reduce the risks of storing content and we have already purchased more StorSentry licences.”