SBS teases viewers with Xserve system

The promotions department at SBS Television once had a tough task on its hands. For the team of people in charge of producing the in-house adverts and graphics that air between TV programs, making a 20-second teaser for a forthcoming feature film could be a trying experience.

“We’d have to send someone down to the tape library to fetch a VHS copy and we’d all watch the whole thing,” explains Piers Goodhew, SBS TV’s broadcast solutions manager. “Then the tape would be passed backwards and forwards between the producers, designers, subtitlers and program preparation unit. In the end, we had to sit down and find a better way.”

The results of that meeting were clear – the department needed to be networked with the rest of the building, and fast.

With the company working on a combination of PC and Macintosh across separate, ad hoc departmental networks, the best solution involved creating a Gigabit Ethernet sub-network on the building-wide LAN for all Macintosh end-clients.

In June 2003, Goodhew invited six vendors to the TV station’s offices to offer their networking and storage ideas. Four were considered.

“We had asked for a killer NFS server with fast, simultaneous in/out data rates,” Goodhew says. “At the start, none of the four suggested solutions worked.”

Over the following weeks, Goodhew and his team slowly dropped their expectations on data rates to give the providers more chance of matching the need. As they continued to compromise (from 10MBs down to 5MBs), the Apple Xserve and Xserve RAID- based system was the first to work and coped well with the bitrate demands.

After six weeks of the test running smoothly on demo boxes, Goodhew called Sydney-based broadcast production systems specialist Adimex and placed his order. He estimates that the total cost so far of the new network, including racks, switches, boxes and wiring, is at $250,000.

“Our RAIDs shipped in January 2004, so by the time they arrived Apple had released a new version and they had evolved into better machines,” Goodhew adds. “Instead of 14x180GB we were sent 14x250GB drive modules so we were thrilled with how it was working. Still, there were a few non-technical people that held back to start with.”

The challenge of converting a team of creative users to the new system – what Goodhew calls “human trouble” – was relatively small. Although the producers and editors were attached to their old ways, the advantages of being able to download an entire broadcast-quality movie and then edit, mix and dub the promo from the desktop (without going anywhere near another tape) were clear.

“Now all Macs can access the gigabit network, the edit suites and voiceover department have come online,” Goodhew says. “We solved our original problem and triggered a culture of Macintosh networking across the business. We’re still expanding the system - it’s not over yet.”

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