In the marketing battle between tape and disk there is a high-end enterprise niche front, and there are no clear winners. Suppliers of tape libraries, clustered NAS disk file systems and even holographic storage are positioning themselves as having the best storage product for the market. A look at the market though shows that are distinct market niches for the three technologies.

Video-storing customers need the following key three storage criteria:-

1. Lots of capacity. Videos take up a lot of room and there can be millions of the, We're in terabyte land and heading towards the petabyte area.
2. Certainty of storage. These videos are supplied to customers. They must be found and supplied without fail. It;'s write once; read many (WORM) territory.
3. Low cost. These video archives cannot be kept on front line disk. With tens of terabytes to store, even hundreds, such media is simply out of the question.

Intuitively we feel a tape library has the capacity, cost and WORM qualities needed. Holographic disk probably has the capacity and WORM'ness but maybe not the cost profile. Disk has the capacity if you can cluster arrays together. You can provide WORM'ness through software, but cost? Surely disk is going to be inferior to tape every time. Maybe there's a performance need too, which would give disk an edge in that department..


Isilon just announced a really big win for disk-based video storage. NBC Universal, one of the world’s biggest media and entertainment companies, has chosen Isilon IQ to archive and access growing stores of entertainment TV and production, movies, news, and sports. NBC Universal plans to deploy multiple petabytes of clustered Isilon storage in its main production and broadcast operations. NBC is also deploying Isilon IQ to facilitate its coverage of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

This Olympic Games Isilon use has a precedent within NBC. It used Isilon kit for its coverage of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino. Part of the attraction is the fast access time of disk: “With the rapid move to digital media and broadband connections, the broadcast industry has forever changed,” said David Evans, a storage director at Global Operations, NBC Universal.

“This shift in the broadcast paradigm – multiple distribution channels, formats, and consumption models – has resulted in massive increases in the amount and importance of archived media. It is not enough to simply store this content; it must also be always on-line and instantly accessible. Isilon IQ is uniquely architected to address the business needs of NBC Universal, enabling us to transform our digital media assets into new breakthroughs in the creation, management and delivery of high-quality programming.”

Isilon is being deployed to compliment and, in some cases, replace traditional tape based technology which allows for faster access times and increased reliability. NBC Universal’s multiple broadcast and production units now have instant access to its vast libraries of media programming regardless of physical location,

Next summer in Beijing, NBC is primed to deliver the first-ever television broadcast of the Olympic Games available completely in High Definition. NBC is going to store the majority of the 2008 Beijing Games proxy and broadband content on Isilon storage. Isilon, pleased as punch, states it will provide 'NBC producers with unprecedented, highly reliable access to critical content for rapid review, identification and selection operations necessary to quickly produce and deliver groundbreaking coverage of Beijing Olympics in the United States.'

Clearly the access speed and physical location independence are vital to this news media customer. Craig Lau, IT VP at NBC Olympics, said: “In order to deliver the unprecedented coverage of the Beijing Olympics, we need a storage solution that can reliably deliver unparalleled access to content for our broadcast team, both on-site in Beijing and at our multiple broadcast centers in the United States."

BlueArc is sharing in the disk-based video storage fun with Weta Digital. It was formed 13 years ago in, of all places, New Zealand, by film director Peter Jackson and others to provide visual effects to movies. After having its physical effects part split off, one of its first projects was to provide the special effects (SFX) for the film Heavenly Creatures. This needed one computer, a film scanner and a film recorder. Since then the Lord of the Rings trilogy has happened, followed by King Kong, and Weta D now has up to 600 people working on projects using a so-called Renderwall suppercomputer with 4,400 processors backed by a BlueArc Titan super-NAS system.

Again access speed is the key here. Tape would just be too slow and the expense of disk is worth it in productivity terms.

Sun StorageTek tape technology

Lest you think that Isilon and BlueArc are tape's death knell be assured; they are not. Techworld has featured a case study recently describing the video storage used by Thought Equity Motion (TEM). It provides motion imagery licensing and management for the entertainment, creative and corporate production industries. TEM is experiencing rapid growth due to the increasing demand for digitized video clips, accessible over the internet, for use in feature films, television programs, advertising and corporate presentations. Customers such as the NCAA, HBO Archives, National Geographic and Sony Pictures are TEM users that are increasing TEM's growth.

TEM utilises a Sun StorageTek L700 tape library infrastructure to store its video vault; this is an online vault from which videos are received from source companies and delivered on-demand to customers. No other storage media comes close to the effectiveness of tape in terms of its cost, capacity and reliability for TEM's storage needs.

It has added a Sun StorageTek T10000 tape drive and cartridges to this library; there was a straightforward upgrade path. The tape library infrastructure is connected on a storage area network (SAN) managed from a single console with Sun StorageTek Storage Archive Manager software, providing TEM with an integrated way to manage its data over its entire lifecycle.

The T10000 cartridges hold 500GB of raw data compared to the previous T9940B generation's 200GB. This has enabled TEM to more than double its storage capacity within its existing data centre.

TEM needed a high-performance storage solution to keep pace with customer demands while storing more data with fewer drives to reduce data center footprint, power consumption and long-range storage hardware costs. By deploying the T10000 drives it has been able to scale its petabyte-level storage environment in cost- effective increments to keep pace with its customers' requirements for rapid access to the large film and video files.

Sounds good, but it is not a one-off. Here is another tape-based video storage case study: Red Bee Media in the UK. And another using Sun StorageTek Streamline tape libraries; Ascent Media.

Where access speed is less important than cost then tape has a distinct edge over disk.

Is InPhase's Tapestry holographic technology in tune with the video storage market?

Holographic storage suffers with slow access and I/O - 20MB/sec - and cost near disk than tape. At least that is the presumption. Yet supplier InPhase is busy setting up supply deals in the video market. Here are some recent announcements:-

Ikegami Tsushinki, a Tokyo-based maker of high-definition broadcast television cameras and production equipment, will introduce a version of the InPhase Tapestry holographic storage drive under the Ikegami brand name and marketed for the company’s Editcam and Editcam HD professional tapeless camcorders. It provides, InPhase states, a cost-effective, tapeless solution for archiving large video files acquired with Editcam and Editcam HD tapeless camcorders. The Tapestry300R drive will store 300 gigabytes (GB) of video on a single 5 ¼-inch disc, at a transfer rate of 20 megabytes per second (MB/s) to deliver the highest-capacity optical storage solution on the market.

For sure. UDO doesn't reach that yet. But disk surely does. But, but ... disk is not removable at this capacity level. So we have a specialised market niche here, the in-camera holographic drive. InPhase has announced that Panasonic’s P2 line of solid-state camcorders will also support its holographic storage product as a preferred archive format.

Turner Entertainment, part of the US TV broadcaster, is interested in using the holo drives. It has a multi-tiered video storage set with Sun StorageTek libraries being the fifth tier, quite a way from its front line. This fifth tier acts as the archive tier for programs and movies. The tape delivers video data at 960mbit/sec and holds 500GB. It is clearly superior to InPhase's Tapestry holo gear, with its 160Mbit/sec and 300GB capacity.

Tom Inglefield, a media and entertainment solutions manager at Sun Microsystems, has stated that there will soon be a tipping point when holography passes tape in storage and throughput. Inphase is predicting 1.6 TB disks and 960Mbit/sec throughput.

Unless tape can approach or match holo''s capacity and I/O points and retain cost advantages it does begin to look as if video suppliers will begin to look at holo as a potential video archive media as well as an in-camera recording medium. For access speed-dependent video applications though it would appear already that disk has the advantage and should keep it.