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Software // Information Management
10:01 AM

Turner Debuts New Storage Show

Cable-Television company switches from tapes to digital storage to handle content more efficiently

Clyde Smith

"Our media used to be the enemy," senior VP Smith says.
When it comes to placing a cost and a value on data, few face the challenges that confront the film and television industries. To companies in those markets, a terabyte of data--a program, a movie, or a high-priced commercial--could easily be worth millions of dollars.

The cable-television business, with hundreds of channels, has been slow to embrace technology that could help it store, manage, and secure such data, which it calls content. Turner Broadcasting System is in the process of making changes to the way it handles content, and the media company is changing its technology infrastructure to handle new processes it's putting in place.

Turner is moving from high-end, proprietary computer and storage systems to low-cost, commodity servers and storage, says Clyde Smith, senior VP for broadcast engineering, research and development, and quality assurance and metrics at Turner. "The aim is to centralize commercial programming of onetime data that is distributed to many sources."

Most television content is contained on videotape and is often transferred in and out of tape storage. That process can be laborious and results in crucial points of failure--a tape can break or a tape drive can fail. Turner is deploying systems to resolve those problems by handling all commercials for its TV channels online.

Once Turner has its systems in production for commercials--it's aiming for October--major content providers such as Sony Columbia, Universal, and Warner Brothers should also be online, sending their content to Turner through file transfer. That's just the start, Smith says. It will take years before thousands of smaller cable systems and smaller content providers are able to send or receive information electronically.

Turner is using Clariion storage hardware and Avalon-Intelligent Data Management storage-management software from EMC Corp., with a petabyte of tape libraries from Storage Technology Corp., to develop and implement centralized programming. Numbers on efficiency and savings aren't available yet, but Smith says they should be outstanding. He wouldn't talk about the cost.

With the software, content moves automatically between hard disks and tape drives, based on performance needs. Turner is in the early stage of what some vendors call information-life-cycle management, Smith says.

"Our media used to be the enemy," he says. "As long as our data only sat on tape drives, we could never be an on-demand company."

Turner also had other problems. The storage-management software it used would delete some broadcast shows or commercials stored on the tape drives when certain usage levels were reached. Even worse, Turner had to make separate copies of shows and commercials for each network and cable operator. That will change in the next several months. Once the systems are in place, content will reside on servers, and it will take fewer people to conduct file transfers online.

Smith plans to implement similar processes in areas such as Internet and broadband services. "We should be able to supply a wider variety of products much more quickly," he says.

No single vendor has a complete and integrated information-life-cycle-management system, says Mike Fisch, an IT analyst at research firm Clipper Group. EMC's products will let customers move data around, but it's application specific and ignores areas such as E-mail archiving. "So some customers could reach pragmatic results," he says, "though enterprise [information-life-cycle management] is still years away."

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