Sesame Workshop stores Sesame Street on disk

Sesame Workshop is a nonprofit educational organization best known for producing the popular PBS children’s series, Sesame Street, which has been around for 35 years.

According to Stephen Miller, an IT project manager at Sesame Workshop, production teams rely on being able to access and draw on the contents of past seasons’ shows in order to reuse certain clips in newer productions. Unfortunately, the editors’ ability to locate and preview specific clips from previous seasons has been severely hampered by the limitations of the Workshop’s legacy VOD system.

The organization has been storing the past few years of Sesame Street programming-about 6,000 clips-on several hundred Ampex tapes. This amounts to about 8TB of storage capacity, including the creation of two copies of the clips.

Using three large Ampex tape libraries designed for high-speed streaming, the system is capable of streaming any high- resolution clips in real-time from tape-not bad as long as editors already know which season and show to look for. However, if they don’t know ahead of time, and need to peruse the content of past shows, this system proved cumbersome and ineffective.

Sesame Workshop is using an ATABeast disk array from Nexsan to digitize and store more than 6,000 clips from recent Sesame Street seasons for rapid “playlist” viewing and retrieval and for a future VOD cable service.
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In October 2004, Sesame Workshop signed a joint agreement with Comcast, PBS, and HIT Entertainment to help launch a new 24-hour children’s TV channel and accompanying VOD programming.

Sesame Workshop is responsible for transferring its initial 6,000 Sesame Street segments onto disk, including the task of transcoding each segment into both low- and high-resolution video files for future viewing.

This task required replacing the Ampex tape library, connected to three servers, with a large disk-based repository that would be capable of processing the huge volume of data.

Miller and his team worked with IBM to determine the key elements involved in the new solution. Once Sesame Workshop performs the June 2005 hand-off of its disk-based Sesame library, IBM will then be responsible for managing and integrating the library into a collocated facility that will handle the VOD service.

Storage for Sesame Workshop’s new disk repository came in the form of a low-cost ATABeast disk array from Nexsan Technologies with almost 10TB of capacity. On the server side, the organization uses an IBM eServer BladeCenter to perform key functions in the tape-to-disk conversion process. The ATABeast storage subsystem was connected to each of the blades via a Fibre Channel SAN fabric.

Blades include an Ancept Media Server (AMS) from Stellent, which helps track and update the metadata that identifies each segment. The BladeCenter also contains a TeleStream FlipFactory blade responsible for transcoding each of the 6,000 clips from tape to disk.

First, files were copied over a Gigabit Ethernet LAN connection between the Ampex tape library and the AMS blade. Then the AMS blade sent each file via FTP to the FlipFactory blade that first makes a high-resolution video copy (MP2 format) of each clip and stores it on the ATABeast disk array. At the same time, the blade transcodes a lower-resolution (MP1) video file of the same segment for later viewing in QuickTime via an Internet browser. The low-resolution version is also stored in another ATABeast partition.

Once the new disk-based repository comes online, Miller expects the solution to improve Sesame Workshop’s current edit and production workflows by three to four orders of magnitude. “Using the ATABeast, our teams will be able to create a playlist and perform searches for all segments,” explains Miller. “Since it will all be digitized, users can quickly browse the metadata and low-resolution versions of a particular clip or segment.”

Looking forward, Miller plans to install several more ATABeast storage arrays to help tackle the next big job: digitizing the other 30 years of footage.

Michele Hope is a freelance writer. She can be reached at mhope@thestoragewriter.com.

This article was originally published on March 01, 2005