ERA IaaS at University of Salford

ERA University of Salford

Seagate Storage Arrays form basis of ERA designed Storage, Edit Management and MAM system for the University of Salford’s media and production courses

BACKGROUND

The University of Salford (UoS) is widely recognised in both academic and professional circles as a leading educational establishment in acoustics and media production. In 2011 the University moved its television and radio courses from its main campus just outside Salford city centre into the Orange Tower on the main piazza of MediaCityUK (MCUK).

This purpose-built hub for broadcasters, facility houses and production companies was created when redevelopment of the old Salford Quays docks area began in 2007. UoS was among the first institutions to consider moving to MCUK, along with the BBC, which had already committed to transfer many of its departments from London.

The UoS installed facilities that replicated for its students the experience of working at the main UK broadcasters. As well as TV and radio studios, this includes IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) cloud-based archiving, editing management programs for creating virtual workspaces and a sophisticated media asset management (MAM) system that gives users the ability to access projects remotely.

CREATING OPPORTUNITIES

Being based at MCUK also gives students the opportunity to be part of a media city-within-a-city that houses the production offices of BBC Children’s, BBC Learning and BBC Sport, plus studios for BBC Radios 5 Live and 6Music. There is also the central dock10 studio centre, plus the facilities of other media companies, including commercial broadcaster ITV.

UoS’s aim is to work with the industry to prepare its students for work in professional, real-world environments. To do this the university built two TV studios, three radio studios, video editing suites and classrooms, audio production and post-production areas and a media tech lab. The initial installation was completed in time for the start of term in October 2011.

BUILDING A COLLABORATIVE INFRASTRUCTURE

The underlying on-site infrastructure to enable collaborative working at the facilities was installed and maintained by specialist media/IT systems integrator ERA. This included servers, switches, storage and archiving. After nine years of use, the decision was taken to ‘refresh’ the whole set-up by replacing the storage devices, edit management software and, most crucially, the existing MAM with an IaaS based solution.

Whilst most of the original installation had served the facilities well, the MAM side was seen as problematic for a number of reasons. “The original system was bespoke and tried to be too big and do too many things,” explains Sean Baker, Commercial Director of ERA. “Because of that it was never fully adopted by the university and turned into an administration system. It wasn’t being used by the students other than for submitting their papers at the end of a course.”

In addition to that, Baker comments, the infrastructure hardware was coming to the end of its operational life. Because ERA had been supporting the original installation, the company was asked to specify new technology that would completely update the set-up. “This included replacing all the storage and introducing up-to-date edit management that would work with the wide range of editing operating systems used at the university,” says Baker. “As part of that there was the opportunity to install a very much simplified MAM that would go back to the core components required.”

MEDIA ASSET MANAGEMENT CAPABILITITY

A new storage system was built, based on Seagate’s 5U84 Storage Arrays, plus Seagate’s 84 bay expansion shelves managed by Pixstor. To provide full access to media on the Seagate stores, ERA recommended a new MAM system based on the Vidispine Vidivue system tailored to the UoS requirements. This allows students and lecturers to access files and projects from wherever they happen to be. It has also created a two-part – but fully integrated – infrastructure. The on-premise element comprises Seagate storage and the newly installed Tiger Spaces editing management, which is used with the edit systems. Off-premises operations are hosted by ERA at its data centre, which also utilises Seagate technology.

“The previous system was fully on-premise and didn’t give access to anyone off campus,” says Baker. “Now the students and lecturers can log into the MAM from home or anywhere else to upload, download, browse and view media data in proxy form. The key thing the university wanted was a working MAM system, but we also offered them remote access capability, a feature they were very keen to have.”

Vidispine allows users to log in from locations outside the Orange Tower. By using this system, it is possible to remotely upload data, submit assessments and send projects to lecturers for marking and review. Tiger Spaces is fully integrated with Vidispine on-premises and supports Avid Bin Locking. The system then ensures items cannot be edited once they have been submitted by the student. Tiger Spaces additionally enables students to work on data from any available workstation and then pass it between other students on the system.

James Russell, lecturer in BA Post-Production and Visual Effects at UoS, comments that the new infrastructure had to accommodate new requirements and the expansion of operations since 2001. “There had to be provision for a larger number of clients on the system, which now stands at 260, with fast edit storage,” he explains. “The ability to upload and download remotely was a big priority for both studios and staff. It means they no longer have to travel to the university to submit or mark papers, allowing them to work from home. Tiger Spaces also gives us crucial security and GDPR compliance, which was not optional. On top of that we have compatibility with all the workstations we use, including Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro and Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve, as well as other workflows, including render farming and studio traffic. Ultimately we have an industry standard installation that gives our students a learning experience as close to what they will encounter in the real-world as possible.”

The cloud archive at ERA’s data centre provides DR backup storage as well as long term archive storage allowing the UoS to easily access the data in the future via the COEUS interface. It is connected to the UoS over a VPN (virtual private network). Work on the installation began in July 2019 and 90 percent of the installation was ready to go for the start of the university’s new term in September.

Once all aspects of the installed technologies were fully functioning and integrated, ERA and the UoS began reviewing the potential for integrating the storage, edit management and MAM into other areas of the university, including the TV studios in the Orange Tower and back to the main Salford campus itself. Students are now able to access the system from any location, either by using a web login to the MAM system (allowing them to upload and download data as well as submit completed work) or connect to selected workstations for remote editing from a pool of machines on campus. This last feature enables users to edit at home and still have access to the full features of the Tiger MAM and everything on the Seagate storage system.


About the University of Salford

The University of Salford is located in the heart of Greater Manchester. They have more than 20,000 students, 2,000 staff and a global community of over 170,000 alumni.  They pioneer exceptional industry partnerships leading the way in real world experiences by preparing students for life. 

They work with industry to co-create the curriculum producing job-ready graduates primarily in health & well-being, engineering, digital and the creative sectors.  They are the fastest growing university in the North West and the fifth fastest in the UK. They are continuing to invest in the campus and facilities with a £300 million masterplan that will make them fit for the future. 

For further information:  http://www.salford.ac.uk  

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