Magazine Article | January 1, 1999

Hollywood Goes High Tech With RAID

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Los Angeles company rents digital audio equipment to film studios to assist film and sound editors.

Integrated Solutions, January-February 1999
When we watch a big Hollywood blockbuster movie, few of us pay much attention to the editing. However, editing - whether it be film editing or sound editing - is vital to every motion picture. Without it, many movies would not make sense. At the very least, the music and voice soundtracks would be out of sync.

Not surprisingly, film and sound editors have turned to technology to make their jobs easier and more convenient. Now, they use computerized audio and video editing systems, which they rent. Most of these systems incorporate RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) as an integral part of their systems. They use RAID to store and provide quick access to the data with which they're working.

Why Rent High-Tech Editing Equipment Instead Of Buying It?
A unique company, Digital Difference, in Burbank, near Hollywood, CA, specializes in renting audio and video editing systems, including RAID, to the production companies, which actually make the movies. Digital Difference employs 11 people and had gross sales of $1.5 million in its last fiscal year.

Why would these production companies rent the systems instead of buying them? They rent for two very good reasons. The first is that each movie is a separate endeavor with a separate budget. Even large studios routinely make deals with small production companies. Often, each department in the production company, e.g. the sound department, has its own budget. If the sound department for a particular movie bought expensive electronic equipment, it might go over budget.

In any case, when the movie is completed, the company would have to find a buyer for the used equipment. The second reason involves the rapidity with which technology changes. Even if the companies could afford to buy the electronic editing systems, most of the equipment would be obsolescent within six months to a year and they would have to buy new equipment. So, renting the equipment from Digital Difference makes good sense.

Finding The Proper Equipment To Offer
Digital Difference was founded by its President, Kevin Hearst. He concluded that the best way to solve the film production companies' needs was to buy audio and video editing systems to rent to them. His technicians would then build individualized RAID systems to meet the specialized needs of the production companies.

When he tried to find appropriate RAID components, he ran into a problem. Film and sound editors' facilities are often geographically separated. (For example a movie's sound stage might be in Burbank, but the sound editor's lab might be in Santa Monica, 15 miles away.) Therefore, the hard drives in the RAID system often have to be transported from one site to another. The problem was that, with most RAID components, removing the hard drive meant taking the whole driver offline, which cost time and money.

Fortunately, Hearst had earlier dealt with a VAR, Spectrum Trading, headquartered in Monterey, CA, with branch offices in Seattle, Portland,OR, and Denver. When he explained his problem to Ryan Morganstein, president of Spectrum Trading, Morganstein suggested a solution. Kingston Technology Company, one of Spectrum's vendors, had the answer.

Hearst had worked with Kingston equipment in the past, so he knew Kingston manufactured quality products. Kingston manufactures Data Silo® stand-alone expansion chassis and Data Express® internal removable receiving frames and drive carriers. By combining the two, Digital Difference is able to offer its clients shared drives without having to power down their RAID systems.

The End Result
According to Chris Miller, vice president of operations for Digital Difference, customers are often leery of the RAID systems at first. But, invariably, within two weeks, the customers love them. Miller says that, as RAID technology is constantly changing, Digital Difference must change with it. To keep up with this changing technology, he is constantly upgrading the equipment his company rents to the production companies.