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SGI's New Digital Legacy

SGI's line of work station and storage systems designed to allow for fast access to data files for digital content will get an addition at NAB when the company demonstrates the ability to record and playback MXF content from Sony's eVTR at the NAB MPEG Forum.

The company's Media Server for Broadcast will play a major role at its own booth and it will be tied in with four or five media management systems at the show, demonstrating SGI's open platform approach.

"In the next few months broadcasters will begin to realize that we're talking about taking digital video islands and getting rid of the problem of working with formats," says Chris Golson, SGI director of media industries group. "We're talking about simple digital data that has a file structure underneath it. Once that's understood you can put any analog or digital format on top of it."

SGI's system taps into the company's Origin 300 platform. Golson says the stability of the Origin platform provides the sort of throughput and scalability demanded by the broadcast industry. It minimizes encoding and decoding of content by keeping the content in data form.

The key to SGI's approach is not to attack the market with boxes but instead employ digital data IT infrastructure, on top of which the user can place other products, applications and operating systems. Making it all work together smoothly is CXFS—Clustered Extensible File Format—SGI's data file system.

"It's been proven to be robust and you can kick it from here to hell and it will never break," adds Golson. "All materials can be seen by the different applications or operating systems and those products fundamentally see the storage as if they're directly attached to it."

One reason for the system's stability is that it's based on Irix and is 64-bit rather than the more traditional 32-bit approach found in the market. It's also been around for a few years, so it's been subjected to more than its share of tweaking and improvements. Optional networking connections include Gigabit Ethernet and ATM, and Fibre Channel can be used within the network, allowing video files to be transferred at speeds greater than 2GB per second. According to Golson, that capability is important when it comes to moving HD content or any other content that requires a pipe that can handle traffic at 50 Mbps or more.

"Our competency is digital infrastructure and networking," says Golson. "We leave editing and asset management to other companies."

The broadcast market, which embraces more IT-based technologies every day, is refining its approach to digital video as well. But when broadcasters realize the advantages of digital data infrastructure, Golson says, storage and networking technology will really take off.

"They'll realize that SDI's limited to 270 Mbps and that tying into a certain format isn't the best approach," he says. "There are advantages in IT that haven't been tapped by broadcasters. By approaching digital data as digital video they have inherent limits on scalability. But once the move to seeing it as digital data they'll get to air more quickly, and time to air is how a broadcaster makes their money."