Storage requirements for production and post-production have increased exponentially over the past few years, and that growth shows no sign of slowing down. With things like 4K, 8K and collaboration that takes place across continents, being able to access and store data has become an essential part of any project.
The folks at Other World Computing (OWC) have been an active part of this process for almost three decades and Jen Soule, President at OWC, knows that first-hand. She’s worked closely with other departments and team members to help with not just one person’s needs or challenges, but to identify problems or issues that are more universal. Being able to approach these sort of challenges in different ways and from multiple perspectives has helped give OWC a very real advantage when it comes to identifying storage needs and strategic implementation.
We talked with Jen to explore how the approach around storage has changed and how professionals can and should figure out their current and future storage needs. In this exclusive interview, she discusses the challenges she sees production professionals run into over and over, what working in the cloud versus working locally really means and plenty more.
ProVideo Coalition: Tell us about your career and about OWC.
Jen Soule: These are one and the same. I joined OWC right out of college as a temp in the sales department since education jobs were hard to find at the time. Initially, I was certain I was still going to be a teacher because I loved working with kids in hopes of inspiring them and giving them the skills needed for the best possible future. However, the start-up business world is an exciting, interesting and challenging place. When Larry (O’Connor – OWC founder and CEO) offered me a full-time position, I decided to change my career path; and as they say, the rest is history.
People have asked if it’s a decision I ever regretted and I’m happy to say it isn’t because of OWC’s founding philosophy. We don’t just sell products, we work closely with our customers to determine their pain points, find the right solutions for them and really build relationships, rather than just racking up sales numbers. We believe in using resources wisely and educating and empowering our customers to get more from their machines.
Our – and my – biggest challenge is to make certain we consistently deliver a clear vision of what OWC is without adding needless layers and complexity. Part of how we do that is by giving our team members the autonomy they need to make decisions that are in the best interest of the customer because in the long term, that is what is best for the company.
Every department, every individual is focused on doing their job exactly right and my job is to ensure that we don’t have silos of information but efficiently and effectively communicate information to every member of the team. Hoarding information – good or bad – isn’t an option; and one of my major goals is to help our team members understand that succeed or fail, we take what we need from the experience, share it with others and all move forward, hopefully wiser and better equipped to tackle the next challenge.
How have you seen the company and the industry grow and change?
I am constantly amazed at the way the industry is growing and evolving. Our computers and devices are more powerful and more refined that at any other point and I don’t see any end to the evolutions and revolutions.
And this powerful family of devices that are constantly pushing the envelope as to what is possible; create new business opportunities every day and really empower people.
When I started at OWC, I was handed a stapled pack of papers with a list of our product part numbers and prices. I’d continually mark it up as things changed, as they often did with a commodity like memory. Customer interaction was almost exclusively via the phone with purchase orders arriving via fax or mail. Now, most interaction is through email, text, social media and phone, with virtually nothing coming through by fax or in the mail. This makes sense as people look to get more done faster.
People want to find the information they need quickly, so they can better understand the product options and make an informed decision about the best solution for their needs. To support this, we continuously add instructions, videos and additional information and resources. And if something isn’t there or isn’t clear and we’re told about it…we add it or change it because we want the information we provide to be useful.
I do miss the personal touch and connection that a phone call provides, but appreciate how much easier it is for customers to find what they need online or fire off an email or chat and talk to us only when they have a more involved question or require specific assistance. As long as our customers ultimately get the full value from and extend the life of their technology investments, we’re happy with whatever medium works best for them!
Does being a member of the Apple Developer Program affect how the company approaches the market?
Because we listen to our customers, we have our own focus; and a very good idea of what products we need to offer. However, being a part of the Apple Developer Program does provide a lot of good information we can use during our product development process.
It is also key to the ongoing support of Apple products and our own. Being a program member helps us determine our products’ compatibility more quickly so we can provide our customers with timely updates as soon as a new OS or enhancement is released. This is especially important to the production/post production community because being able to budget and prepare for timely updates can make the difference between timely/profitable delivery … or not!
What are some of your products that we should know about?
Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt.
Our customers – especially in the cinematography/production field – push the limits of their machine's capability. We are developing a lot of new storage and storage interface solutions that are faster, better, more robust; and every day production and post production professionals are surprising us as to what they want to do and are doing with those products and solutions.
Thunderbolt-based products are proving to be very popular in the marketplace because they remove a critical bottleneck in their workflow … and our customers, especially creative professionals, want more and more of them!
That’s why we recently developed a new storage solution that is tailor made for people in cinema production. We connected three of our ThunderBay 4 units to a new Mac Pro providing 36TB of capacity and benchmarked performance that clocked at nearly 4000MB/s!
The complete bundle is priced at less than $3,000 … that’s hard to beat!
Our SSD line is also a powerhouse for production environments and we have models approved by industry leaders such as Sound Devices and Atomos.
Visual performance benchmarks showing Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3.
How can storage considerations affect an entire production, all the way from pre-production to distribution?
Digital content is a vicious task-master for people in the industry. It devours storage capacity at faster and faster rates – great for storage vendors, not so great for everyone else. Based on years of working with professionals, we always recommend carefully calculating the amount of storage needed and then erring on the side of having more capacity…just in case.
Also, the work today doesn’t just happen in a darkened room in front of a workstation. We see more and more people doing pre-production on location, connected to an in-the-field system, so small, “portable” desktop or laptop storage is key, as is having the insurance of a good backup drive (or two). Today’s digital cameras use flash-based SD cards or SSDs, which can take the rugged environment/handling, but are more expensive per gigabyte. That’s why external, portable hard drives are very popular – high capacity and inexpensive. That way, the faster cards and drives can be used multiple times after the insurance copies are transferred to multiple larger capacity, cheaper storage solutions. As most of your audience is aware, you just never know what can happen and it is nearly impossible to recreate that magic shot.
As a rule of thumb, our customers tell us that content acquisition consumes about 20 percent of their storage usage. Production/post production accounts for about 40 percent, distribution uses about 10 percent and then archiving takes up the remaining 30 percent or so.
That adds up quickly, so for any project, it is easy for the storage requirements to just balloon. A 4K hour-long movie is four times more vivid than an HD video, but it often ends up consuming 10-12TB of storage.
What are some of the challenges you see people run into over and over when it comes to storage?
The most devastating thing I hear over and over is someone telling me they thought their data was safe because they used an external drive or a redundant RAID set-up.
Drive storage today is extremely reliable and continues to improve (and become less expensive); but problems will occur and when they do, you want to 100% sure your data is safe, because the alternative is expensive and career threatening.
Data is truly secure only when it is exists in multiple locations. We tell people to think about it in two ways. First, does the data exist in full (in full is the key part) on more than one drive or set of drives? If it doesn't, then any problem, theft or loss can be catastrophic. Next, does the data exist in full in more than one physical location? If your two or three copies of the data are in the same building and that building burns down or is destroyed by a natural disaster, how secure was your data?
Nothing provides 100 percent assurance, but multiple copies in multiple locations vastly improves your odds and those copies are cheap compared to trying to reshoot a scene or recreate an entire video project – if that is even possible!
What is the best way for an individual and/or for a production as a whole to assess whether or not they need to reconsider how they’re approaching their storage needs?
Individuals and teams really need to sit down and assess if there are points where all of the work they are doing has a single point of vulnerability. You can take this to as crazy a level as you want.
I know people that have very sound setups that also make sure they have a copy of their content in another state or country and place additional copies in safety deposit boxes.
The best place to start though is in choosing one thing… say raw data and the various trial and error FX work and thinking about where all of that content is located.
If that material is just in the computer because you’re in the middle of the project and it’s easier to work on everything when it is right there, then you need to take the first important step of adding an external drive. That includes implementing a regular automated back-up program or Time Machine solution so when content is added or new sequences are worked on they are immediately mirrored to your external storage device.
Once that is done and the process is as second nature as breathing, then you have to determine what added steps you want to take, such as copies in multiple locations, that you can live with and work with.
Keep in mind that there is a point where you aren’t just professional, you’re paranoid, but I’ll let you decide where that point is.
What are some of the challenges your company faces in meeting the needs of the broad spectrum of production teams – one-person Indies, small teams, large organizations? There have to be some differences, some similarities?
Everyone needs storage and lots of it.
What we see in the larger organizations is a growing problem with the data management and access. When one person needs access, that is easy, but as soon as you have multiple people accessing files (especially if they are in far-flung locations as is often the case in post work with specialists located across town or maybe even half-way around the globe), you have to start looking at a more sophisticated workflow management system.
That was one of the challenges we addressed with our Jupiter SAN. The central production team can grant any number of people access to the entire project or specific scenes – often at the same time – but still ensure that each workstation or location has the capacity and speed they need to do their color correcting, editing, special effects and changes/enhancements.
At the same time, the project lead can ensure the individual’s work isn’t comingled with the complete project until it is fully reviewed/approved.
There is a lot of hype (noise) on doing everything in the cloud or doing everything local. Is there a balance for production people?
The cloud is a blessing to content project owners and to production/post production professionals, but it has also been oversold.
The cloud has given production/post production people the freedom to live and work where they want for their families and themselves. If you’re a seasoned professional in a particular phase of the workflow, you can be in Kauai; New Zealand; Croatia; Austin, TX or Woodstock, IL and the Cloud (internet) puts your expertise, talents and tools in the center of the workflow.
Producers/project owners know they aren’t limited to the people across the hall or across the street, but can pick the best regardless of physical location. This can provide cost and schedule benefits for the producers, while letting professionals live where they are happiest and have the best quality of life.
So working through the cloud does offer a lot of benefits.
The downside comes more from the security and also from the accessibility side. Internet connections are not 100 percent reliable and often not as fast as video projects demand. It is also still a new industry where security/privacy/content protection standards are a work in progress.
Even when the content is fully encrypted, there is a chance that it can be hacked or stolen. However, as long as you retain the original and only send work in progress segments, you can be relatively sure your work product will remain intact.
Would I send a complete or nearly complete project through the cloud? No.
Would I use the cloud to store my work as many of the cloud provider’s advocate? Not as the primary, but the cloud is definitely a viable option as a secondary location.
I prefer local, physical storage since it is faster to access and minimizes points of failure, loss and corruption; but as I talked about before, it is important to have your data in multiple locations so for many people, the cloud is great for that.
Do you think the speed of technology is in some ways inhibiting people’s desire to embrace technological changes? For instance, not everyone is sold on the merits of 4K, but there’s already talk about going to 8K.
It is a challenge for the capture/production/distribution industry.
Equipment is expensive and when the change is happening as rapidly as it is, it is difficult to justify, absorb and amortize the investment costs. Then too, there is the need to learn all the new features/nuances of the hardware/software/workflow, which is no small expense.
As video resolution and frame rates increase, camera image complexity increases and stereoscopic projects multiply, the storage capacity and bandwidth performance requirements become staggering.
A video engineer recently showed me that 16,000 x 8,000 pixel resolution, 24 bi/pixel, 300 fps raw video content could require 414 TB/hr. If the producer used four cameras to create data for a “free viewpoint” presentation, the raw data would be 1.66 PB for an hour of content.
Obviously, that is good news for storage solution producers that are dedicated to delivering high- performance/high-capacity solutions like OWC, but it places tremendous pressure on post video professionals.
At the same time technology seems to be accelerating it is also becoming easier to use and much more economical. Do you see that as a blessing or a curse? Why?
The roadmap I just spelled out places more emphasis and value on professional content producers. It is true that low-cost 4K cameras are widely available and cloud-software makes it very affordable for more people to develop movie/video projects and post them on YouTube or on over-the-air channels. As they say, competition is a good thing for the consumers, who are more and more discerning, but I also think it is a good thing for the producers. As more amateurs attempt their own productions, they personally gain appreciation for how amazing professional, high-quality productions really are. But for those professionals that are still trying to get the most out of their last investment in the latest and greatest, the quality gap becomes apparent all too fast.
Of course either way, I think there will be more attention paid to and appreciation of professional production/post production so the work behind the scenes will gain the recognition it deserves.