Handling the pressures of success and growth
Complex Networks was founded in 2002 as a print magazine dedicated to popular street culture and targeted at young adults through topics such as music, fashion, food, personalities, and sports. The company’s subsequent shift from all-print to online-only digital operations has been highly successful, now boasting more than 100 websites, news feeds, and online channels. In 2016, the company was acquired by a Verizon-Hearst joint venture. Today it is home to online programs such as Hot Ones, Mostly Football, and Sneaker Shopping, which are particularly popular with millennial viewers.
The technical changes in moving to online-only digital operations required the company to overhaul its storage systems, as its early-generation infrastructure couldn’t meet the new demands.
“Producing online content presents different challenges than print, and as we produced more content over more platforms and with higher-resolution formats, we struggled to keep up on the workflow side,” said Jermaine Harrell, Manager of Video IT Operations at Complex Networks.
Harrell’s team originally added a NAS solution that was supposed to be designed for media production, but it came up short. The performance couldn’t support work on multiple projects and the higher-resolution formats.
“We had editors moving drives around to get higher performance on their workstations because they could only work at one-quarter or one-half resolution on the shared storage systems — and they kept hitting pause as servers needed re-booting or apps got updated,” Harrell explained. “It was a nightmare. Our shared storage system restricted our teams to working at only one-quarter to one-half of the ideal resolution needed. As a result, editors were using external hard drives to increase throughput and get higher performance on their workstations — this interrupted workflows and impacted overall efficiency.”
StorNext: The stand-out solution for modern video workflows
Harrell went to NAB Show in Las Vegas seeking a better solution. There, he met with Quantum to discuss its StorNext shared storage and advanced data management solution, which powers Quantum Xcellis scale-out workflow storage appliances.
“I talked to everybody I could find, and the one that stood out was the StorNext-based solution,” he said. “I was already familiar with StorNext from an earlier job in IT at Apple, but the discussion with Quantum was powerful. StorNext provides extremely high performance and file sharing capabilities, and it works well with our Mac environment. I was also impressed with the number of other companies using Quantum, including the biggest names in the media world.”
To be certain Quantum could meet its needs, Complex Networks engaged Chesapeake Systems, an integrator that specializes in helping users design and implement workflow solutions for rich-media environments. Chesapeake validated the company’s inclination to go with a StorNext-based solution, resulting in the deployment of a high-performance shared storage platform featuring Xcellis Workflow Director nodes and 500 TB of Quantum QXS hybrid flash-disk storage.
StorNext combines the industry’s fastest streaming file system with policy-driven data management spanning multiple storage tiers and locations, including disk, tape and the cloud. Powered by StorNext, Xcellis optimises media workflows by providing high-speed disk access, multi-protocol SAN and LAN client access, and single-pane-of-glass management and monitoring. QXS scores, scans and sorts data every five seconds and moves it between flash and spinning disk tiers as access patterns change, thereby optimising system performance and cost.
Powering greater creativity
Using the StorNext platform, 16 Complex Networks editors now enjoy direct Fibre Channel access to shared storage for high-performance processing, and roughly 40 more of the company’s creatives have access to the same content over Ethernet using StorNext gateway appliances. The LAN access, used for lower-performance tasks such as playback and ingest, provides higher performance than the old system, in part because the new network was specifically designed just for media work and is separated from the corporate Ethernet.
“We used to have five different teams working in isolation to produce primary content. Now, each of our editors have direct access to the same files through StorNext,” says Harrell. “Working in a single, shared storage environment has allowed for greatly improved efficiency —and StorNext’s performance allows our editors to directly work on the highest resolution content in full native 4K. Best of all, it’s opened the door to integrating a multitude of other services, allowing us to manage, edit, produce and distribute our content in ways we’d previously only dreamt of. StorNext has provided us with a reliable foundation to buildout the appropriate technological infrastructure needed to support the growth of a global brand and media empire.”
The StorNext-powered system has worked so well for Complex Networks that the company is planning another installation in its Los Angeles offices and is looking at expanding its archiving capabilities by adding Quantum LTO tape as an integrated tier through StorNext.
“Today, we move content to a commercial cloud...but we need to be able to handle more data and to get to it faster, so we’re looking at adding a Quantum LTO archive and integrating that tier through StorNext. It’s great to have that option,” said Harrell.