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National Geographic’s Digital Asset Management Workflow, Accelerated by SGI Technology, Greatly Simplifies Stock Footage Licensing


To completely transform a prestigious analog video archive and licensing business into a streamlined digital workflow, National Geographic Digital Motion, the archive and stock footage licensing agent for all National Geographic Television film and video, selected technology from SGI (NASDAQ: SGIC) as the major storage and file-sharing component of their new digital asset management system. Powered by SGI® technology, the new system installed last Fall dispenses with time-consuming on-premises videotape selection, editing and shipping of stock footage by providing fast and easy Web-based customer clip selection and ordering.

With more than a century’s worth of moving images from around the world—totaling 27,000-plus hours of archival film and video footage when SGI was first contacted two years ago—the images are used in all media from video games to advertising, educational materials and television programming. With new footage arriving all the time from both the National Geographic Television cable channel and the National Geographic Society itself, the archive and licensing facility needed the robust storage and shared-networking capabilities of SGI® InfiniteStorage Filesystem CXFS™ and SGI® InfiniteStorage arrays to optimize delivery of rich-media content and seamlessly support a variety of complex transactions.

In keeping with the National Geographic’s tradition of stunning visuals in their world renowned magazine, as well as on their high-definition cable channel, National Geographic’s key requirement was the ability to store content and deliver content to the Web in uncompressed format to maintain the highest possible quality. With assets ranging from 25 minutes to a few hours, a single asset in uncompressed 10-bit QuickTime in YCrCb can be anywhere from 20-30GB to 190GB in size. “The goal of National Geographic’s media asset management system is to make it easier for video producers and content developers to find video content, acquire it and use it more easily,” said Scott Norcross, Technical Operations Manager, National Geographic Digital Motion. “We had two major goals when we started the design of the system. The first was to create a film archive that we could use to protect the content that we’re digitizing. The second was to support a stock footage business that could be used by both internal and external users.”

Instead of receiving stock footage inquiries via phone, manually searching through shelves of videotape to service a request, editing together a selection of clips, then shipping out a video that a stock footage customer might possibly like, National Geographic now encodes their tapes into an asset management system backed with 34TB shared over two SGI InfiniteStorage TP9300 systems. The SGI storage is where National Geographic operators catalog the clips with key words, push them out to an external Web site to allow customers to preview the content, and determine exactly what they want to purchase. Once licensed, that content is played out via the SGI storage area network (SAN). It is then made available in multiple formats including standard-definition NTSC or PAL videotape or DVD as before, as well as delivered as files over FTP With the purchase of an additional 35TB of storage on a new SGI InfiniteStorage 4000 system and additional SGI CXFS shared filesystem licenses late last year, National Geographic will soon be able to encode clips in HD and offer customers all high-definition formats.

National Geographic designed the system and selected the various components. When it came time to decide on storage, they contacted OSSI, a well-known storage and integration firm. Seeing a requirement for access to large amounts of uncompressed content data—OSSI, an SGI channel partner, immediately suggested SGI InfiniteStorage to the client, citing SGI’s established expertise in handling large compressed or uncompressed video in broadcast and production facilities worldwide. Because a simple direct attached disk array would not fit their needs, SGI engineers suggested SGI CXFS shared filesystem and the benefits struck a chord with the way National Geographic envisioned architecting the system.

“One of the biggest challenges we have with the National Geographic system is just the amount of data that we need to bring into the system,” added Norcross. “At the end of 2006 we’d already ingested several thousand hours of source material and turned that into more than 30,000 clips of video content. When we encode video, we’re creating three different file formats at the same time: uncompressed, MPEG-2 and MPEG-1. The uncompressed data alone is about 100GB per hour, which obviously creates a very demanding environment for pulling data and storing it. We found that there is a significant advantage to both OSSI and SGI knowing the application environment and the kind of content we’re creating so that they could relate that to both their products and understand what we’re trying to do with the system. We’ve been very happy with the service and support we’ve received from OSSI and SGI’s engineering teams all throughout the implementation.”

SGI NAS and SAN infrastructure is designed to store and access large amounts of 64-bit data. CXFS eliminates the need for copying data, serving as the central shared file system. Instead of encoding on local systems, and then moving a file to the archive, with SGI CXFS they encode directly to central storage and once the encode is complete, the content be accessed by the next stage of the workflow without copying it. This saves a tremendous amount of time and brings ultimate efficiency into the workflow. SGI CXFS also met National Geographic’s criteria to support multiple operating system formats. Windows® is their primary platform but they also use Macs with Apple® Final Cut Pro®. National Geographic Digital Motion, through OSSI, initially purchased an SGI® Origin® 350 SAN server, a Brocade 4100 switch, two SGI® InfiniteStorage TP9300 systems with a total of 34TB useable space, and 10 SGI InfiniteStorage CFXS shared filesystem licenses. The SGI storage is divided into four file systems: there are two simultaneous encodes to CXFS, with each system encoding three video streams (QuickTime®, MPEG-2, and MPEG-1) plus some additional audio, and two transcode stations on CXFS. SGI CXFS is connected to the asset management system using Windows nodes. Archive of MPEG-2s and uncompressed QuickTime files is handled by a 900TB Sony® PetaSite® with four tape drives running an SGI CXFS client. In late 2006, National Geographic purchased 4 more SGI CXFS licenses for two more encode stations and two more transcode stations and an SGI InfiniteStorage4000 system with 35TB. They also upgraded the Sony PetaSite, ensuring a seamless cutover to HD in the near future.

“Unlike other storage vendors, SGI has a proven reputation for enhancing digital content management workflow efficiencies and increasing productivity through shared storage and server infrastructure for production and archive,” said Louise Ledeen, Market Segment Manager, Digital Content Management and Media, SGI. “As we can see at National Geographic, from the initial implementation through their future growth path into HD assets, SGI storage solutions offer scalability in every direction and interoperability with key applications and operating systems resulting in greater profitability for media and broadcast customers.”

National Geographic Digital Motion
National Geographic Digital Motion (formerly National Geographic Film Library) is the footage service of National Geographic Digital Media. This service licenses the Emmy Award-winning National Geographic Television-produced films and videotape. In addition, Digital Motion agents represent peer-level archives, in select territories around the world, including Australian Broadcasting Corporation, INA of France, National Film Board of Canada, the White House Historical Association, WPA Film Library, ZDF Enterprises of Germany and the World Bank. The Digital Motion searchable video database is at

SGI - Innovation for Results™
SGI (NASDAQ: SGIC) is a leader in high-performance computing. SGI delivers a complete range of high-performance server and storage solutions along with industry-leading professional services and support that enable its customers to overcome the challenges of complex data-intensive workflows and accelerate breakthrough discoveries, innovation and information transformation. SGI solutions help customers solve their computing challenges whether it’s enhancing the quality of life through drug research, designing and manufacturing safer and more efficient cars and airplanes, studying global climate, providing technologies for homeland security and defense, or helping enterprises manage large data. With offices worldwide, the company is headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., and can be found on the Web at


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