What’s Unified About “Unified Storage”?
“Unified storage.” Another example of a tech-side term stuffed with descriptive confidence. It’s storage, and it’s unified, silly! Nobody wants to be the dummy who doesn’t know what’s so unified about it. (Right?!)
So off we go. Starting with a reminder that we’re still in the middle of the gigantic transition to IP video. Service providers are scattered along a continuum of “now” and “next.” Anything expressed in past tense is still happening.
Quick refresher: IP video is that fertile catalyst to “cloud,” TV Everywhere, multi-platform, cross-platform, and however else we’re describing the transit of subscription television signals into homes, through a box that’s more cable modem than set-top. And from that broadband “gateway,” out to connected screens — tablets, laptops, phones.
In the old days of digital cable (meaning a few years ago), the only thing the network needed to store, really, were the assets of video on demand (VOD). Recall, too, that those early offerings of cable VOD were mostly digital movies.
Shipping VOD content to cable systems traditionally involved a “pitcher,” to blast the assets up into geosynchronous orbit, and “catchers,” at recipient headends. Storage resources were vastly distributed, across an operator’s footprint.
Transport v. Storage
The economics of Big Networks involve (ceaseless) evaluations of the cost of transport, vs. the cost of storage. Now, storage is cheap. (Think about how many Gigs you can stuff in your pocket right now.)
It follows that the first unification of storage is architectural: Centralize storage. Big “origin” servers in the “middle” of the network. Closer to consumers, and holding the most popular stuff, smaller “caching” servers. Everything linked up over fiber — from national backbones, to regional rings, to last mile.
Meanwhile, along the continuum, most operators built out a different on-demand pipeline for their broadband footprint. That way, their customers could stream video titles onto their other screens: PCs, laptops, tablets, connected TVs, phones.
Supporting duplicative paths is inefficient, particularly in centralized architectures. Especially the ingest.
It follows that the second thing that gets “unified” in “unified storage” is the work of ingesting both traditional and IP-based on-demand assets.
A third element being unified, in unified storage: Metadata. Establishing and manipulating it is faster and more comprehensive in IP than in “traditional” VOD. Why: Because video assets in the online world are resourced with editors. Their job is to increase the chances that an asset will show up in a web search.
So: Unified storage is part architectural, part ingest, part metadata. In all cases, the momentum, tools, and spotlight is on the web-styled way of doing things. Be there or be … un-unified?