Magazine Article | October 1, 2003

Strike Out Inflexible Storage

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

A multiple TB disk subsystem gives the Colorado Rockies Baseball Club online access to digital video clips captured and archived pitch-by-pitch.

Integrated Solutions, October 2003

If you need to know when it's time to scale up your storage resources, just ask your users. In fact, you won't even have to ask them. They'll let you know. They'll let you know every time they discover that key files can't be saved because storage capacity is no longer available. They'll let you know whenever they struggle to find files that have been moved offline or, worse, deleted.

Keeping pace with storage needs has become even more challenging for those organizations needing to store rich media or large graphics files. Healthcare providers, for example, store electronic versions of lab tests, X rays, and files from other medical imaging processes. Even if your organization isn't being pushed, as are healthcare organizations, by compliance-based retention demands, it will likely find itself storing large digital image or digital video files. Corporations are maintaining video clips, for instance, related to activities such as company meetings, training sessions, and promotional campaigns.

One niche industry becoming heavily reliant on digital video storage is professional sports. Many teams archive digital video clips of game footage accessed by coaches and players for training, coaching, and scouting purposes. The Colorado Rockies Baseball Club (Denver) is one such user. In the three seasons since it purchased a digital video capture system, the club has learned that maintaining online clips of every pitch from several seasons requires a scalable storage solution.

Throw The Hard Stuff At Digital Content
The digital video capture system the Rockies purchased in 2001 was custom-designed by Compuware to run on a Dell server with direct attached storage. That storage had a maximum capacity of 400 GB, which seemed like plenty until the actual season got underway. The Rockies began capturing video clips of every pitch, often from multiple angles. Before the halfway point in the first season, the team's IT staff was about to use up the entire 400 GB. So, it began deleting files captured earlier in the season.

After players and coaches complained about the loss of key clips, the staff started the second season burning older clips to a network attached DVD writer. But that didn't satisfy users, who had only begun to use the system and were quick to abandon it. Says Matt Stack, baseball systems administrator for the Rockies, "Players didn't have the patience to wait for video clips to queue up from DVDs, and many of them stopped using the system."

So, the club decided to upgrade its online storage capabilities. Out went the direct attached server storage; in came a Fibre Channel-attached, RAID (redundant array of independent disks)-based hard disk subsystem: a BladeStore unit from StorageTek (Louisville, CO). The unit is currently configured for 5 TB of online disk storage and can scale to 150 TB. Backing the BladeStore is a StorageTek L40 tape library outfitted with LTO (linear tape open) drives and media.

Now, as the video feed enters the digital capture system (located behind the dugout, inside the team clubhouse), a coach tags the clip of each pitch with various database markers, indicating such things as where the ball traveled after it was hit. After the metatagging process, the clip is sent via a Gigabit Ethernet connection from the clubhouse to the data center housing the BladeStore unit. Getting the clip immediately logged into the SQL database and stored for access is critical during home games. Players often follow an at-bat by going into the clubhouse to review the pitch sequence in preparation for the next go-round against the same pitcher.

ATA Means Lower Ticket Prices
With the scalable disk solution in place, the Rockies can now comfortably capture and store video clips from all games during the season. According to Stack, a season's worth of digital video requires approximately 1.6 TB of online storage. That's because each video feed from a single game requires about 5 GB of storage. Currently, the Rockies have the digital video system set up to capture the television broadcast feed at all 162 regular season games. During the 81 home games at Coors Field, the team captures two additional views of its batters and pitchers from various cameras located in video bays around the stadium. So, for home games, 15 GB of storage are currently required.

At this point, the Rockies plan to maintain no more than three seasons of video online. Given the changing nature of team rosters and player mechanics, there is little need to view particular performances from longer ago. Nevertheless, the Rockies are considering capturing additional digital video during home games. "Typically, we turn off the pitcher cameras while our player is batting, and we don't capture the feed from the batter cameras while our guy is pitching," says Stack. "But, particularly for scouting and trading purposes, we're considering capturing all angles all the time so we have more views of opposing players than we get from the television broadcast feed."

The system's ability to make clips available for online querying and retrieval is making believers of the players and coaches. "Now that data is at their fingertips, players are using the system more frequently," says Stack. "And, the new coaching staff has really embraced it." In addition to the benefits for players and coaches, the BladeStore system gives the Rockies a storage solution it can afford to scale. Stack attributes most of the savings to the BladeStore's use of low-cost ATA (advanced technology attachment) drives. "Compared to some of the hardware from big box vendors we reviewed, the BladeStore with ATA was about half the price."