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Case Study: MAID service for Time Warner Cable

No more tape archives for old TV news reports.

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Time Warner Cable (TWC) is major cable TV supplier in the USA, with almost 11 million subscribers in 27 states. It employs nearly 30,000 people across the US with corporate offices located in Stamford, CT and Charlotte, NC. TWC offers TV news, movies on demand, high-definition TV, digital video recorders, broadband data transmission, wireless home networking and digital telephone calls. The TV news service offers local TV news to subscribers. It is delivered to them over the cable network from hard disk storage in TWC's facilities, which, naturally, provides a fast response to the news editors.

But HDD space is limited and as fresh news comes in and gets stored on disk the older stories are bled off to a tape archive. That gives the capacity that Time Warner Cable wants, but not the speed.

When news editors want to reference an older story in the archive then they have to wait. The system identifies the tape; the system loads the tape; the system searches the tape and, eventually the story is fed, at tape speed, into the editor's workstation.

Chris Lemire, director of technology for Time Warner Local News Groups, said, "“Archived data on tape was simply not useful to us and the retrieval process was slow and cumbersome." But Time Warner was stuck; the choice was costly hard disk with low capacity or cheap tape with the capacity but not the speed. The company looked at and evaluated several alternatives. None met its needs for access speed, reliability and an affordable cost.

Then TWC came across Copan Systems which has devised a bridging solution. It puts a great number of hard drives into an array; many, many more than in conventional drive arrays. To solve the cooling problems such a dense array of drives would normally produce it only spins the drives that are needed. The result is called a Massive Array of Idle Disks - MAID - and Copan says it offers tape archive capacities at HDD speed. Copan also has a RAID scheme, so that provides the reliability needed.

Copan's flagship product, the Revolution 200T, utilizes this patent-pending MAID-based architecture, and its Power-Managed RAID scheme, to deliver massively scalable and reliable disk-based storage at affordable cost points. It can hold up to 896 drives in one rack unit - that's 112 drives in each of eight shelves - and offer 224TB of storage.

Companies are choosing the Revolution 200T to take the place of tape in backup/recovery and archive applications where the tape archive's response to file requests is so slow as to hold up the service these companies need to offer.

It looked good to Time Warner Cable; Lemire said, "“None of the other solutions considered could meet the access or reliability demands of our business. Copan (is) offering a competitive disk-based solution at the price and scale of tape.” TWC selected Copan’s Revolution 200T, to replace its tape library and so speed access to archived data.

Dave Davenport, CEO and president of COPAN Systems, said, “Copan‘s Revolution 200T fit in (the right) category by providing a solution that will more efficiently and cost-effectively manage Time Warner Cable’s data, helping their editors gain immediate access to the content they need, when they need it.”

THis is Copan's first public major sale. Its technology is innovative and mould-breaking. No one other suppliers offers what it does and customers are naturally cautious. Copan is a new company, still private, and backed by venture capital. It's managed by executives with experience from HDS, StorageTek, Veritas, Dell and Compaq (now HP). Existing customers are in the financial, government, media and service provider industries.

As organisations face a need to have fast access to archived data, either for adding older clips to new TV stories or, for example, to have fast access to compliance queries, then having a disk-based archive looks a good bet. Tape is inherently and irredeemably slow. Once a tape cartridge is on the shelf then, however fast a library is at locating and loading that cartridge, it is still minutes slower than disk. Professional people, costly editors and such like, are kicking their expensive heels doing nothing while this is going on.

A tape archive is a very cost-effective way of storing massive amounts of data which you can't afford to throw away. But once the costs of costly and idle heel kicking and slower service delivery are taken into account then maybe the cost equation tilts towards disk. It could be that your digital archive, like that of TWC, needs a MAID service to get it responding faster.


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