Avoiding the “Shared Storage and…” Trap.

by James McKenna

Recently, a very knowledgeable friend said that the shared storage market right now is more of “Shared Storage and...” discussion, as these products are seen by the market as relatively all the same except for what comes along with them. At least that’s what the NAS providers would have you think.

There is a lot of marketing by storage companies around features that have little impact on the actual storage network, and are simply designed to make the storage more valuable. In turn, customers may end up limiting their field of vision to nearly identical shared storage companies that differentiate themselves only through varying collections of add-on features.

You didn't know you needed that.

Cases in point, shared storage and… encoding; shared storage and… asset management; shared storage and… ingest. You may really learn to appreciate the shared storage and… dry cleaning. In all seriousness, there are valid concerns with file-based workflows that need to be addressed. The fact that many customers are learning about possible solutions to these concerns through the process of shopping for shared storage is a good thing. However, the storage provider will have one thing in mind when showing off these value-add features: “buy my storage”.

This is expected in the sales process but the picture gets a bit foggy when the core storage technology is glossed over in favor of the value-add features. This is where things can go wrong, and a customer may be convinced that all shared storage is the same and end up looking only at the other stuff that the product includes.

Network-attached storage has plateaued. The 10Gb, 40Gb and higher link speeds have given most of the content creation market what it needs in terms of fast backbone technology. There is really nothing new that Microsoft or Apple provides that makes network mapped drives appear any differently to the client workstation and operator.  Knowing this, the customer has a choice - throw in the towel and deal with the idea that it doesn’t get any better than a mapped SMB drive on their desktop, or look for a higher technology.

Look at the storage system first.

Higher technology exists, and it has value-added features too. The trick is to find a company that starts the demonstration by talking about their unique shared storage features, and 45 minutes later gets into the workflow value-add. A customer may be very interested in how a product offering can help automate and manage their workflow, but having a manageable and reliable shared storage network should be the primary concern. In this way, when facility requirements grow beyond the value-add feature set, new encoding, playout, ingest and asset management can be added to the workflow by best-of-breed providers who develop those products as their core technology.

When someone receives a demo of a Facilis product, they first learn about the virtualized drive set, the optimized shared file system, and unique project-based volume management. Finally, they’ll see the value-added features, such as FastTracker, an asset tracking software that’s a great start for most facilities who want to design a workflow around secure access of camera masters and collaborative media sharing in their facility. There are also methods of using Adobe Media Encoder and NDI playout and ingest applications to automate, offload and centralize these processes, all on the Facilis server.

The FastTracker product also includes an Adobe Panel, for Premiere Pro CC and After Effects CC. This feature displays indexed assets directly in the Adobe interface, for easy access into the project. In addition, a proxy encoder that creates low-bitrate versions of camera masters for access as a preview or proxy for viewing offline media.

Shared storage is designed to provide centralization, and improve collaboration and resource scheduling at the facility, and enable the use of higher bitrate formats across growing workgroups. The “Shared Storage and…” marketing is here to stay, but savvy customers know that there’s higher technology available behind the add-on features, and that’s where the real value of the shared storage system lies.