The US National Basketball Association (NBA) is leveraging technology typically used for genomics research, climate modelling and advanced scientific research to archive decades of footage and better communicate with its fans and teams around the world.

Seven years ago, the NBA was faced with the problem of how to breathe life into racks of decaying video and film that make up a 50+ year library of over 500,000 hours of basketball game footage. Not only did it need to preserve this content, but also repurpose it for multiple digital markets.

Transferring the whole lot onto a spinning disk array was out of the question. It would have been prohibitively expensive – not only in terms of the acquisition cost of the disk, but in terms of the power and cooling required to keep it running.

The NBA therefore decided to use a tiered storage virtualisation product from SGI, called Data Migration Facility (DMF), which ties together a relatively small amount of disk on the front end with the massive tape library where all of the content resides.

“To the users it all just looks like disk – it looks like one big file system – but to the administrators, it gives them the ability to expand the volume of tape in the robot only when they need it, and at a dramatically lower cost than it would be if it was on disk,” he said.

Each NBA game has about 9 cameras shooting a 3-hour long HD resolution file, so trawling through all this footage to find 15 seconds of the best shot has traditionally been a time-consuming operation.

DMF enables the user to zoom to a specific point on the tape and extract the 15 seconds that they need. This is because the headers (inodes) of the files are always on disk, so when a user clicks on a file or a link within a browser, the portion of the file that they want starts to stream.

“That's really what made this work for them. They could manage this rapid access to data tape in the same way that it would to disk,” said Christofferson.

By moving to SGI's system, NBA has been able to expand the monetisation of its archived content dramatically. A certain amount of content is free to download at from the website, but both commercial customers (such as television networks) and consumers can also subscribe to custom feeds, or pay to use clips from games on their own website.

NBA teams also access between 1,000 and 3,000 clips a day just for researching other teams in preparation for future for games. So far, over 2.4 billion videos have been viewed in 215 countries, and the time between a live event occurring and any subscriber being able to receive a clip of  video is now just 30 seconds.

However, SGI is still only half way through digitising the 500,000 hours of historical content in NBA's library, and about 25,000 hours of new content are added each year from current season games. Moreover, new camera angles are constantly being added, and some games are now shot in 3D, tripling the volume of content.

SGI expects that it will take another two to four years to complete the archive project. The organisation has already upgraded to a new digital content facility in New Jersey that is processing around 38TB a day of new and historical game footage.

NBA has an advantage over a lot of other leagues, according to Christofferson, because it has ownership rights to all the content. Baseball, for example, has a much more distributed ownership model, and the US National Football League also has a different system.

“None of these other sports are organised to manage and monetise content the way the NBA does,” he said. “Together with SGI, the NBA has really pioneered this.”