Case Study: InfiniteFileLife digital asset management system

InfiniteFileLife, from ADIC, is a digital archive system that will enable Sony Music’s assets to outlive the media they are...

InfiniteFileLife, from ADIC, is a digital archive system that will enable Sony Music’s assets to outlive the media they are stored on


The musical legacy of a century



Sony Music, Inc. has several recording labels including Epic, Legacy, Sony Classical and Columbia. In addition to producing and marketing works by its current artists, Sony Music owns the Columbia/CBS Records archives master recordings, album covers and images of artists from the world's oldest recording company. A catalogue of the archive, which contains over 400,000 recordings and more than half a million images, reads like a history of 20th-century music.



At the inception of the project, many of the old master recordings and images were in a state of severe deterioration, and as for the more recent artifacts, it was only a matter of time. "There is no such thing as media which last forever," says Sony Music's director of Technology, Malcolm Davidson. "Accepting that philosophy, we asked ourselves what characteristics we would need for a system of checking the quality of the media over time, of cyclically testing them to see if they're failing, and replacing the media before the quality of the sound or image deteriorates." Davidson and Marc Kirkeby, director of Archives Development for Sony Music, embarked on a pioneering quest to put together a digital archive system that would enable Sony Music's assets to outlive the media they were stored on. When Sony spoke to ADIC, a technology called InfiniteFileLife was talked about.



InfiniteFileLife was originally designed for storing petroleum-exploration seismic surveys and national-defense archives; applications with strict requirements for the preservation of data because future data analysis depended on the availability and high fidelity of the collected data. ADIC's InfiniteFileLife allows systematic monitoring and timely replacement of media with secondary copies, or complete transfer to newer recording technologies. The ADIC Automated Media Library open architecture and mixed-media capability guarantees that future recording technologies can be easily integrated into the system. Because InfiniteFileLife extends the life of data past media shelf life indefinitely, it was critical in Sony Music's choice of ADIC.



Asset preservation and asset access



"The two keys to what we're doing are Asset Preservation and Asset Management," says Davidson. The two efforts are intertwined, because each of the million-plus items preserved in the archive must be readily accessible for the regular quality checks. Asset Management, enabled by a database and browser, and storage management software provides reliable, easy access.



The archive has been online since August 1996, with work proceeding in the preservation of the oldest and most-deteriorated masters as well as the recordings of the most popular artists. "For our current artists, it gives them a feeling of safety and comfort that their work is being preserved. However, we do not know what will be deemed valuable a hundred years from now. And I mean, artistically valuable, not just financially valuable. So it's an important point that we are archiving absolutely everything."



The special problems of preserving intellectual property



By definition, intellectual property is a creative work independent of the medium on which it is recorded. There is a high likelihood that organisations preserving intellectual property will have multiple media formats to store. Over time, hardware and software obsolescence may exacerbate the problem of access to the material. Creative work stored on original media may be hard to catalogue and unwieldy to store and retrieve, thus it is subject to loss. Added to these are the problems of security and protecting copyright.



Fortunately, the audio and visual works of art may be transferred to new media indefinitely. With proper care, no nuance of the original work is lost, all will be available, year after year and decade after decade. That is why the concept of InfiniteFileLife applies so well to intellectual property preservation.



The Sony archive configuration



Sony Music is actively archiving both music and images. Audio recordings are digitised at a studio, then loaded onto removable hard disk drives for transfer to a "load station" workstation in the Music Archive department. Images are digitised in the Art and Graphics department and loaded onto a separate "load station". Each of the load stations is connected via FDDI to the Silicon Graphics' Challenge series server, which archives the music and graphics files to the ADIC AML/E nightly. AMASS software provides ADIC archival storage management. Sony Music's digital audio archive system includes a Silicon Graphics Challenge DM class server connected, via SCSI, to an ADIC AML/E Automated Media Library. AMASS software from ADIC manages the archive file system and directs the actions of the AML. This configuration reflects the project's concern with reliability and quality for the long run, and meets Sony Music's standards for accessibility and preservation.



Also vital to the system is a long-term growth path because Sony Music expects its archive, once fully established, to continue to grow at a rate of 1-2 per cent a year. "This project is a dynamic, living thing. We're constantly evaluating the need to upgrade and to purchase new technology," says Malcolm Davidson. According to Davidson, the ADIC library's modular, expandable construction, its open architecture, and its hardware and software compatibility made it the best choice for archiving a potentially-unlimited number of assets and ensuring future accessibility to them. Sony Music's current AML/E library was delivered as a five Terabyte system, and is expandable to hundreds of Terabytes simply by adding more media storage capacity. AMASS software provides direct access to the library, as if it were a single large magnetic disk drive.



The AML/E Automated Media Library's open architecture allows integration of drives from ADIC and other vendors, including future technologies. The Sony Music library has the potential to mix media in the same library. So, for example, a mixture of tape and optical media may be supported.



Sony's digital asset management system was developed with the help of the ADIC Integrated Storage Solutions Team, which provided system engineering and integration services such as:



Technical requirements analysis


Computer systems sizing, configuration and tuning


Custom software definition and development


Acceptance testing at the factory and at the Sony Music site


A single responsible source for the total archive solution



Compiled by Geoff Marshall




( 1999 Silicon Graphics, Inc.



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