National Geographic moves media archive to cloud

The organization's data stores are growing into petabytes

The National Geographic Society on Monday announced that it is in the process of moving its backup and archive of large unstructured multimedia files to a public cloud service.

The move is in response to at least four significant archive platform upgrades over the decades that the organization has stored video, photo and graphics electronically. The physical storage box upgrades, along with the data migration process, became too expensive and unwieldy, NatGeo said.

The organization chose Nirvanix's Cloud Storage Network because it was among a few companies that use physical tapes and disk drives to upload data rather than a public network.

The 124-year-old NatGeo said its archive is in the 100TB range today, but it will be moving into petabytes of capacity in the near future, and the costs of upgrading systems and migrating data became too expensive.

NatGeo also sees an advantage in using a cloud service for distributing its content and collaborating with editorial resources around the globe.

"There's no question that it's the kind of thing we'd look to leverage in the future with our video editors. The traditional office is going away. We all know that," said Dan Backer, NatGeo's director of infrastructure systems.

"You want to hire the best possible video producer you can find. If that video producer is in New York City and the data is in Washington D.C., there's going to be a transfer problem," Backer added.

The Nirvanix cloud service allows NatGeo to deploy an appliance in any location and begin uploading content.

The file data includes not only its award winning video and photography content, but PDFs of completed NatGeo magazines, as well as Quark Express and EPS files.

Backer said benchmark tests showed there's little to no performance difference between uploading media content via an onsite hierarchical storage management (HSM) system or a cloud provider.

"The cloud NAS and some of the additional controller types allow us to buffer some of that content as well, so we can improve delivery time," he said.

Steve Duplessie, founder and analyst at market research firm ESG, said NatGeo's move to the cloud is an example of a wave of new thinking in the media industry.

"National Geographic is another prime example of people saying, 'Why am I continuing to do all this myself when there is clearly an easier and better way,' " he said.

Nirvanix will store NatGeo's content using the New Technology File System (NTFS) standard for Windows.

Using the Nirvanix CloudNAS Gateway, NatGeo is able to encrypt data both in flight and at rest and securely transfer data to any of Nirvanix's eight globally distributed cloud storage data centers.

The majority of NatGeo's content is on magnetic tape media. Content is also stored on hard disk drives and optical disc. Over the past two decades, the organization migrated data from different tape media to optical disc to network-attached storage.

The organization upgraded its systems and migrated data every three to five years. Backer said NatGeo won't be closing its Washington-based data center, but moving to the cloud will allow them to reduce equipment, maintenance and power use.

NetGeo has estimated that not having to maintain its storage systems, upgrade them or migrate data over the next five years will save the institution money in the six-figure range.

Having its data in the cloud will also open new opportunities for the society to sell its content.

"One of the great things about putting it in the cloud is that now I don't have to start to build VPNs to my partners," Backer said. "I can develop an API call ... allowing partners to have access to certain buckets of content."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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