When Sony purchased CBS Records in the late 1980s, the company got more than a record company. In the CBS vaults were more than 600,000 recorded items and more than 500,000 album covers, photos and outtakes.
It was a gold mine, but one the company was largely unable to access because of its sheer vastness. Executives wanted to digitize the collection but realized that doing so would require a heavy-duty storage system.
"We realized the need to protect the assets to make them available for repurposing or for other projects," said Malcolm Davidson, vice president of technology at Sony Music Entertainment, New York. The archive dates back to the mid-1890s, he said.
A call to one of its storage vendors led Sony to a meeting with executives at Open Systems Solutions Inc. (OSSI), a Yardley, Pa.-based solution provider specializing in storage with an emphasis on the entertainment industry.
Sony had recognized early in the process that it was up against a staggering data-storage problem. A typical album, if on a CD, can require up to 650 Mbytes of capacity for 74 minutes of music, or about 10 Mbytes per minute, said Davidson. High-resolution images of the graphics, such as album covers and posters, can easily chew up 40 Mbytes to 75 Mbytes each, he said.
Sony had first contacted ADIC, a Redmond, Wash.-based manufacturer of tape libraries. But since ADIC doesn't work with hard-drive-based storage devices, the vendor put Davidson in touch with OSSI.
OSSI was a natural choice for the job because of its extensive experience in the entertainment business, said Dan Carson, OSSI's vice president of marketing. The company counts among its clients Sony Pictures, DreamWorks and Rhythm and Hues, a Los Angeles-based post-production editing firm responsible for the special effects of films including "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."
OSSI is a long-term partner of LSI Logic, a Milpitas, Calif., vendor of MetaStor arrays. The solution provider chose the MetaStor for the job because Sony required a sustained throughput of 80 Mbps, as well as reliability features including dual controllers and automatic failover, Carson said.
The MetaStor is connected to a Sun Microsystems 450 server that sits between the array and a pair of ADIC tape libraries to act as a gateway for Sony employees looking to access data. One library is used for local near-line storage and the other is used to generate backup tapes for off-site storage.
The biggest challenge was getting ADIC's AMASS hierarchical storage management software to interface correctly with the MetaStor array, which acts like short-term, near-line storage, Carson said. Most hierarchical management applications don't expect data files on near-line storage to be accessed on a regular basis.
At Sony, however, the OSSI solution pulls these files to a hard-drive array for short-term access and then moves them back to tape. Essentially, it operates like a huge library putting frequently accessed music or other information closer to users.
That's where OSSI's experience paid off, Carson said. "It took us a fair amount of brain power," he said. "It is a unique application."
Sony's main digitizing operation is in New York, but the company has smaller operations in Europe and Australia. A new digitizing facility is slated to open this month in Mexico, and another in Brazil is in the planning stages.
Initially, OSSI took the lead in the installation and integration of Sony's digitizing solutions, said Carson. "Then Sony decided they wanted us to train their own people to do it," he said.
OSSI is still responsible for sourcing upgrades and new purchases. "We miss out on the services revenue," Carson said. "But it's a small price to pay to work with a company like this."
Aside from the normal glitches encountered with any big system, the solution has worked as designed,and OSSI has been there through it all. In one instance last year, staff members didn't allocate enough time for upgrading partitions and had to take the system down to complete a full backup, Davidson said. "OSSI was very supportive, very helpful," he said.
Davidson would not estimate how long it would take to digitize the entire audio and graphics library.
"We have been focusing on digitizing new assets going forward, more important material and a lot of legacy assets," he said. "It's a long-term project, but we have to start somewhere."