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High quality content is crucial for successfully reaching out to stakeholders. Consumers and enterprises alike have accepted its power and impact, and base their lives and systems around content. Mobility has gone ahead and freed us from the notion that our content has to stay safe at home – we now carry everything personal wherever we go. Photos, documents, records, contacts – we have access to it all wherever we are. We carry our entertainment along as well - books, music, movies, TV – all in electronic form. Our appetite for content has reached ravenous proportions and storage technology is racing to keep pace with content consumption.
At a personal level, smart portables (phones, tablets, etc) have become proxy companions. They help, sustain, record and entertain on an hourly basis. These companions need to be fed and the content that feeds them has to be housed. The blueprint for the storage that houses these myriad streams of content has been evolving rapidly. Personal data usage has increased exponentially over the last decade, and a Gartner forecast predicts that average storage per household would have grown to 3.3 terabytes (TB) by 2016.
Driving this need for digital storage at the consumer level are the visual and animation-rich interactions that we use our phones for: Videos, movies, gaming, photo- and videography. Visual and animated content, by far, is the most dense data – quickly gobbling up available memory. The data for some of these activities (like videos) is, of course, transient. Today we all want to record our daily highlights, not just the special occasions, thereby making photography and videography increasingly popular. The memory requirements for these are growing rapidly in order to keep pace with the improvements in camera and video technology. Technology that was earlier available only in high-end specialised cameras is now available and much in demand on smartphones. And images that are shot using these features require much more memory to process and store.
For example, burst mode photography is very popular for capturing photos where the subject is in motion (like in sports photography). A simple click or hold action by the photographer produces many photos of the subject in quick succession, capturing the range of the motion or action. Naturally, this requires much more memory – there may be 10 or 15 images in place of a single shot! And then there is RAW image compatibility, which allows a smartphone camera to capture every “raw” detail of the image and store it unprocessed. A RAW image is 3 to 4 times the size of the compressed JPEG version, but amateur photographers today want to keep control of the processing. This is in contrast to “lossy” formats like the popular JPEG, where the camera compresses the image to the final one, deciding what’s important and “losing” the rest.
In the world of videography, the latest 4k technology has been gaining widespread adoption, offering twice the resolution and clarity of its HD predecessor. Consequently, the demand for smartphones with 4k cameras has been increasing. Of course, the cost of such vivid clarity is massive storage growth - 4k output requires almost double the memory. A 30 minute 4k video, for example, would need well over 10 GB of a phone’s memory.
4k is certainly a visual treat. With 4 times the number of pixels as HD, movies have more sharpness and detail, making viewing them a much more immersive experience. However, the technology has posed significant challenges for the animation industry. Digital animation has always been a computing intensive process. Studios harness thousands of computers into a “render farm” to provide the computing power that animators need to produce the individual frames that make up a scene, which are then stitched together for the final composite movie. Moving these already high resolution images between animators requires massive amounts of memory. To illustrate, peak memory usage for the movie Despicable 2 reached 680 terabytes and that was for HD; today 4k technology requires twice the number of frames per seconds to provide the necessary resolution with additional rich detail in the quality and depth of movement. All this translates to a much higher animation work load and longer production times.
The animation industry is not limited to only movies and entertainment. Animation is widely used in the business world across verticals for marketing collateral as well training and support. The industry will most certainly need to boost their technical infrastructure for more computing power and to handle much larger volumes of content. Flash based storage provides the speed and the memory capacity (running into terabytes) that the industry needs for faster processing and rendering. The concerns about the increased cost is a natural one but the heartening news is that flash prices have been on the downswing and the perception that flash is more expensive than traditional HDD is fast giving way to the understanding that when both total cost of acquisition and total cost of ownership is taken into account, flash is advantageous since it offers savings on hardware infrastructure, as well as operational and maintenance costs (thanks to lower hardware purchases, lower energy consumption and space requirements, and higher reliability).
Flash storage technology has stayed in tune with these market developments, particularly those related to mobile devices. Understanding the need for larger capacity as well as performance and reliability, flash offers a range of solutions from embedded flash chips to high density add-on memory cards. These flash offerings are not limited to consumer use but are also very relevant and easily scaled to industry requirements. In particular, the need for flash technology is critical to the animation industry which is grappling with the move to 4k technology.
So, while content will continue its inexorable growth, it is receiving able support from the storage industry. Flash technology in particular has been continuously and rapidly innovating to offer solutions (embedded and add-on) with high performance and capacity parameters that are critical to manage content-heavy verticals.
(This article expresses the views of the author and not necessarily that of his employer.)
- By Vivek Tyagi, Director for India business development, SanDisk Commercial sales and Support at Western Digital Corporation