Enterprise Digital Asset Management – Part 1: System Planning

As file sizes and internet speeds continue to increase, it’s critical that computer storage and networking infrastructure keep pace—especially in the midst of a high-performance media production workflow. Any hiccup in the process can cause delivery delays, cost overages, and unhappy clients, team members, or advertisers).

So how can large-scale media producers build out a digital asset management system (DAM) that’s set up to scale easily as the demands upon it grow? We decided to let the experts weigh in.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve reached out to a number of companies working with clients at the highest and most complicated levels of media asset management and/or video production. We want to provide you an inside look at how they do what they do in hopes that you can take-aways some tips and insights that will help your own enterprise-level organization.

One of the companies we interviewed was Scale Logic, a mid-west-based provider of enterprise-level media management solutions. We invited their Chief Technology Officer, Daryl Heinis, to take us through their approach to building DAMs for some of their larger clients, and to give our readers insights into the various factors IT pros need to consider when spec’ing and purchasing equipment.

Building or updating a digital asset management system can be chaotic in today’s ever-changing environment, but the founders of Scale Logic have been at it for over 20 years. In that time, they’ve served large-scale clients across all major industry sectors, especially media and entertainment companies.

Understanding large-scale challenges

When most people think of DAMs, they focus on archiving and storage. The fact is that DAMs also enable work to flow smoothly and reliably between directors, editors, producers, and the numerous stakeholders in the media production continuum. It’s just the first of many reasons why it’s important for IT teams to work with professionals who understand not just your business paradigm—but also the ways in which it’s likely to change over time.

Planning for DAM also has to consider the ways your business interfaces and interacts with other infrastructure setups. Does your business have departments or offices in various locations—whether within the same complex or on different continents—that maintain their systems locally and function as autonomous “islands”? Do you frequently do business with outside vendors or contributors, such as VFX creators, who need to exchange large files on a regular basis? Or is your business distributing or broadcasting time-sensitive material?

Creating a meaningful blueprint

The term “future proofing” gets tossed around a lot, and while it’s challenging to achieve a truly future-proof solution (because you can never totally predict what the next big technological game-changer will be), a solid plan can certainly help avoid the kinds of klugey systems that set you up for future headaches.

It’s why DAM planning should always start with an overall assessment of your organization’s workflow needs. That way, you can start out with a thorough technical blueprint that guides your team toward the hardware and software solutions that meet your needs best. Of course, a good blueprint does more than just provide a current solution—it also serves as the foundation for long-term growth.

In general, enterprise organizations share several common pain points. Most are dealing with some combination of many collaborators and stakeholders, all of whom need quick access to assets. This is further complicated when they are spread across a number of locations and have to deliver material securely, while sticking to tight deadlines. And then, of course, you need the space to store it long term.

But no two organizations are alike and each has its own set of specific requirements.

As the world’s largest retailer, Walmart was just beginning to recognize its needs as a media creator in 2004. The company’s rapid growth presented significant storage challenges for its in-house production and broadcasting operation: Walmart Event Solutions.

Upgrading the company’s media asset management (MAM) solution was also a key priority that was addressed in tandem with the hardware and storage refresh. An experienced team worked together, melding existing assets and metadata with new storage and data transfer technology using Cantemo Portal.

Today, Walmart Event Solutions has six of Scale Logics Genesis RX2 systems split between two different sites, connected by 96-port and 48-port Brocade switches (each switch can deliver up to 16Gbps of throughput to each connected client). Later this year, the company will bring two more sites online, one for Sam’s Club and the other for Walmart. Scale Logic is currently working with Walmart Event Solutions to add another switch to connect the new locations.

As internet speeds get faster and as the cloud becomes even more reliable and seamless to use in corporate environments, Walmart Event Solutions will now be able to upload all of their projects on site during shooting, and then be able to edit those proxy files locally (they shoot at 4K and edit in ProRes 1080p). This allows their creative teams to work at top speed, with fewer technology-related delays.

But the technical challenges of scaling a DAM vary wildly across industries, especially as ever-increasing resolutions demand more and more performance from workflow infrastructure. The technical needs of enterprise-scale video keep changing, and so a sustainable DAM must be able to change at the same pace.

For example, most broadcasters are now looking for uncompressed data, which at UHD resolution at 30fps requires a bitrate of nearly 3Gb/s. Media storage and management solutions can’t be slow, weak, or unreliable: too much depends on maximum uptime, with even a small amount of downtime costing thousands in lost productivity and missed deadlines that can jeopardize client relationships.

The key to an efficient media management process is working with the right tools and vendors. Ask them questions and make sure they understand your current environment. When considering performance, looking at your current infrastructure is a necessary first step in assessing bottlenecks.

One organization that did just that is Turning Point Ministries, a US-based religious organization with TV and radio content that reaches millions of viewers around the world.

Given the quantity of content they produce—their online editing system contains up to 1.2PB of media—Turning Point required core storage infrastructure with an 8-10 year lifespan and high aggregate throughput for a minimum of 10-15 simultaneous editing systems (both Mac and PC using Avid Media Composer).

They also needed the solution to integrate with a variety of applications that were central to their production pipeline (programs like CatDV, Telestream Vantage, Archiware) and a manufacturer agnostic primary SAN, HyperFS running on an enterprise Genesis DS block RAID. By building the SAN this way, they ensured their infrastructure would be highly scalable well into the future.

With their new DAM system in place, Turning Point was able to eliminate the daily workflow slowdowns that plagued their approval deadlines. This is exactly what a well-engineered solution for storage and file management can achieve. Editors are no longer confined to rigid file structures, technical resources aren’t taxed as heavily keeping up with the workload, and project overhead is greatly reduced for stakeholders and collaborators.

Advice from the experts

One additional point to consider when choosing a partner to design and spec a DAM is the partner’s own vendor network and relationships. In general, “vendor neutral” partners can provide the best solutions for any given customer. It’s also a good idea to seek out customized support services for manufacturers of your network and storage infrastructure (Dell, Isilon, NetApp, etc). It is advisable that you arrange this support with your DAM partner, so that your organization has full access to support through a single contact.

If you’re looking for a partner to help build your DAM, here are some things that will increase the long term value of your system, and decrease the unexpected twists and turns of your growing workflow needs.

  • Work with seasoned tools and vendors. Always ask them questions related to your particular needs, and make sure they understand your current environment and the direction your industry is heading.
  • When considering performance, look at your current infrastructure and its limitations, and make fixing the bottlenecks a priority for DAM planning.
  • Be sure to assess the key factors of your archiving strategy that will change as your workflow grows and scales to your future needs.
  • It is imperative that you implement data protection from the very beginning. One of the most common ways to minimize downtime and lost productivity is to implement failover protocols. You DAM must have robust capabilities in this regard

The key takeaway

Because enterprise organizations make significant investments in their DAMs, it’s important for them to partner with a company who understands their business model and has proven expertise in their sector of the industry. A poorly planned system that seems cost-effective in the short term will inevitably lead to extra expenses downstream. Many have tried to cut corners on cost, and they almost all inevitably regret that decision.

It is far costlier to reinvent a whole new system than it is to expand one that has an intelligent foundation. And, as we all know, enterprise businesses typically don’t have the luxury of time to reinvent and reinstall a new system and retrain their many users. When a DIY approach isn’t an option, working with an experienced team of experts might be your best strategy.

And no modern DAM would be complete without a flexible and robust video feedback and review solution. Frame.io can power custom, enterprise-level workflows that perfectly match your team’s needs, with plenty of room to grow.

Lisa McNamara

Lisa McNamara is Frame.io's senior content writer and a frequent contributor to The Frame.io Insider. She has worked in film and video post-production approximately since dinosaurs roamed the planet.