A mountain of video

The storage challenge faced by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is unlike any other. The independent regulator of the film and video industry is required not only to classify recordings, but also to store every DVD and video classified in the UK in a retrievable format.

It must keep a record of everything, in fact, since its founding in 1912. But the older recordings in the BBFC’s library of 160,000 items are now beginning to degrade, and the organisation recently decided to replace its analogue tape system with a digital alternative.

 “Tape itself can last up to 100 years, but the actual video equipment to play it is becoming hard to find, particularly spare parts,” explains Dave Harding, the BBFC’s assistant director.

Harding’s team considered a number of options for storing the content, including external outsourcing and hosting, before opting to archive the material themselves using a digital archiving infrastructure based on a Sun Microsystems open storage solution. Along with servers, StorageTek tape drives and archiving software, this included a 35-terabyte storage array.

The scope of the project required moving to new premises, which the BBFC opened in Bracknell before going live with the solution in August 2008.

 “The tapes are taken from an off-site vault in London and delivered in anonymous grey vans to Bracknell,” Harding explains. “There they are barcoded and fed to the tape drive, and the quality of the output is checked. The content is then shipped back to deep storage after high resolution files have been written to tape, and a lowresolution version to disk.”

The need for security was one of the reasons why the BBFC decided to run the project in house, Harding says.

“We had to think about the value of the material we have, some of which is not available to the public and has been refused classification,” he explains. “We felt much happier being in control of it all ourselves.” Furthermore, the film industry is required by law to submit content to the BBFC, and publishers place a great deal of trust in the organisation to handle their material securely.

Content is logged, watermarked and even fed through a key management server for encryption while it is on the storage array “to ease the industry’s mind”. The BBFC has so far converted around 10,000 of its 160,000 recordings and is proceeding at the rate of 700 a week.

The deployment came in slightly under budget, Harding says. But while things have largely gone smoothly, “it is always the unexpected things that turn out to be the most difficult”, he adds, recalling one particularly obstinate hurdle.

“There wasn’t enough power in the Bracknell premises,” he explains. “The engineering required to get electricity was difficult because the building had metre-deep foundations. It took three days’ solid work with a jackhammer.”

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