IBM lends supercomputing muscle to video production

From the laboratory to the cutting room floor, IBM Corp. is looking for some of its most advanced supercomputing software to work as a powerful editing tool for the entertainment industry.

IBM plans to promote its General Parallel File System (GPFS) at the International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam, which ends Tuesday.

IBM first developed GPFS -- code-named Tiger Shark -- to handle large-scale multimedia files. The technology was used by U.S. laboratories for demanding computing tasks such as simulating nuclear weapons tests.

Now, companies like Cable News Network (CNN) are using the file system to store huge video files and let a number of people edit the files at the same time. IBM, in Armonk, New York, has coupled its Media Asset Management software with GPFS running on its high end servers to give Hollywood a new tool, said Scott Burnett, IBM's digital media business development executive.

"We are taking supercomputing technology out of the national labs and research groups and bringing it to the real world," Burnett said.

File systems help organize how information is stored on and retrieved from disks. GPFS has been tuned to let multiple users open and make changes to the same file at the same time. As CNN, for example, records video of a political debate, one editing team can chop up the footage for the nighty news, while another team prepares it for a feature to run the next day, Burnett said.

The file system's ability to handle huge files also makes it possible for every team to work with an original recording of the footage instead of copies. The file system also speeds the time it takes for an end user working on a PC to alter files located in a complex web of servers and storage systems, according to IBM.

IBM is looking for media companies to adopt this technology as a way of coping with the large files used in producing high definition films and television.

"The media and entertainment industry is the one that pushes the envelope," Burnett said.

Companies interested in the technology will need to buy IBM's top-of-the-line servers to run the Media Asset Management software and GPFS. Both products currently work on IBM's pSeries servers that support both AIX -- a flavor of Unix -- and the Linux operating systems. CNN paid US$20 million for its system, IBM said.

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