The Tech Guru series at NAB SHOW 08 covered various topics across the weekend. Amongst topics which were illuminated upon was ‘networking for a digital post production facility‘. The session conducted by David Bigelow of Grey Matter Entertainment was lucid and simple enough for newbies to get a takeaway, and informative enough for experts to benefit from it too.
Bigelow began by informing that a tech Guru was someone who knew stuff about computers and not just applications, in case of a field such as post production, the tech Guru should also understand non digital formats such as various kinds of tapes. Very akin to what technical directors are to animation, Bigelow explained that tech gurus were professionals who understood networking fundamentals and were experts in problem solving and putting together customized workflows and systems based on the goals of the project.
Why have a network?
“At its very basic level” explained Bigelow, “A network is something that with the help of a central hard drive creates a collaborative work environment. It reduces redundancy of copying data onto various hard drives and is the basic stepping stone to an organized structure”
He pointed out that a well administered network resulted in all round efficiency with routine editorial tasks executed at assistant edit stations. In a post production facility, the network brings editorial, graphics, composition, color correction, audio, finish and mastering into concurrent workflows as opposed to a typical linear format.
Talking about the prevalent types of throughput, Bigelow began with Ethernet. He pointed out that ethernet with a 10/100 Base T is a good start, however it is limited to simple networking uses. This is good to begin with, but for a digital post facility, it would certainly fall short of expectations.
At 1000 Base T, Gigabit Ethernet was the second and more powerful example. This throughput was fast enough for compressed editing across the network.
The Fiber Channel according to Bigelow is the current top notch for high throughput speeds and is capable of supporting uncompressed HD and 2K. This requires proper implementation and administration.
Bigelow listed and described components of a network next
– RJ45 Ethernet, Fibre Cabling
The tech Guru shared that Hubs were the dumbest members of the network and all they did was distribute packets
Smarter devices that connect computers on a network and route traffic data in a more managed and efficient way
Internet gateways that give each computer its unique IP
Talking about networking topologies, Bigelow shared some history of the earlier networks which were all linear and the current networks which are all matrix and starlike in design and architecture.
The thing with the Linear network was it was much simpler and easier to set up and used less cabling too, but any error or issue broke the whole network.
He explained some of the pros and cons about current topologies including NAS (Network Attached Storage), DAM (Digital Asset Management) and SAN (Storage Area Network) and also spoke about the possibilities the World Wide Web offered in this respect.
NAS – Network Attached Storage
A lower cost storage device used to centralize assets and work files to anyone on the network. It performs no functions other than a ‘bit bucket’ of data.
– Lower costs
– Makes backup easy and reliable
– Creates a central ‘drop location’ for all to work with
– Saves on burned media costs
– Improves the workflow immediately
– Not capable of higher bandwidth tasks such as editing over a network
– Slow to move large media files over NAS
DAM – Digital Asset Management
DAM is further up the chain in terms of systems and topologies shared Bigelow. It is a system that creates a centralized repository for digital files that allow content to be archived, searched and retrieved.
– Makes finding of media faster
– More Organized
– Allows for collaborative editing workflow
– Requires some amount of training and planning into making DAM maximize its potential
– Needs initial databases to be developed
– Not true shared storage
SAN – Storage Area Network
It’s a connection of hard drives and is a high speed subnet of shared storage devices.
– True Collaborative editing and workflow (Bigelow remarked that this was great for CG & VFX)
– Allows every edit system to have access to all media (As long as permissions are set up)
– Projects can easily pass through a non linear process. All departments can keep sequences as they are locked.
– Very Expensive. Requires Fibre channel cabling and switches are Host Bus Adapters for every workstation.
– Requires robust installation steps and the IT dept in the sudio would not be able to set up without assistance from resellers
– Very Addictive.. you will never want to work without it once you have it and that’s not possible.
Talking about other interesting developments, Bigelow pointed out that soon the Internet itself was going to be used in a much more focused manner for collaborative workflows in digital visual media. He gave an example where some projects he worked on – with review cuts posted to flash and uploaded online with creative inputs coming in terms of edit decisions remotely on the low res versions and the same being then synced to the actual resolution in HD.
On being asked whether studios could implement both NAS and SAN architectures, wherein graphics department that dealt in stills could be on NAS and the video and edit department which dealt in the much heavier files could be on SAN, Bigelow’s opinion was that it would be very very difficult. He said it wouldn’t be physically difficult to put it up, but from the functionality point of view it could result in several issues and throughput bottlenecks within the various components of the workstation and also across the network. It would also require two physically separate cards on each workstation…
Bigelow ended his presentation mentioning that it was essential to look at each implementation on the basis of the goals and to create customized solutions rather than generalizing on the technology that one needs to go for.