Cable television is an unforgiving industry, especially for nonprofit channels that need to stay relevant in the face of new competitors, new mediums, and new consumption habits. For CatholicTV, America’s first Catholic television station, success is about anticipating what’s next and adapting early, making strategic technology investments that allow it to stay one step ahead of the market while keeping costs in check.
As CatholicTV’s CTO, Mark Quella has led the business from one transformation to the next for more than 30 years. “We’ve been streaming since 1995, years before the explosion of online platforms, and that’s a major reason for our success today—we got there early,” he says. “If we tried to launch a new cable channel in 2021, we’d have a better chance of getting a walk-in dentist appointment,” Quella adds with a smile.
“The Pure solution is straightforward, painless to implement, and gives me confidence in our ability to manage through threats in an increasingly hostile environment.” –Mark Quella, CTO, CatholicTV
In this spirit of cost-conscious innovation, CatholicTV recently modernized its data storage with Pure Storage® FlashBlade® to support ultra-high-definition (UHD) formats and data-intensive mediums like virtual reality (VR) studio productions. In doing so, Quella and his team have foregone traditional upgrade cycles and costs, allowing them to focus on supporting the business in its ambition to secure donations and continue delivering high-quality programming around the world.
More Data Demands More Capacity
Two forces drove CatholicTV away from spinning disk storage and toward Pure’s flash-based solution. First, the company’s 15,000RPM disk technology no longer met its capacity or performance needs for UHD and VR content.
“When it comes to storage for video, you can never have enough,” explains Quella. “Let’s say the Pope delivers a speech in Africa that we want to broadcast globally. We’ll create a first recording with the original soundtrack from the event, but we simultaneously need to create the same video with four different audio tracks in four languages. What’s more, we make two recordings of everything, so that a simple video suddenly turns into hundreds of gigabytes of data,” he says.
Secondly, and crucial for Quella, the support fees CatholicTV paid to its previous storage provider were getting more expensive with each renewal cycle, putting financial pressure on the organization that it could no longer accept.
“Data storage is critical to what we do at CatholicTV, so even though our costs grew, we renewed our contract every three years,” Quella recalls. “That was until our most recent upgrade cycle when the proposed support fee was higher than the cost of a new system. It was time for us to take a more sustainable approach.”
“Like an Answer to Our Prayers”
“As a non-profit, I can’t just throw out my technology every few years like a commercial TV operation. I need to think long-term, and Pure FlashBlade was the answer to my prayers,” says Quella, recalling the conditions that led him to choose Pure over its competitors.
Quella was attracted by Pure’s extensible storage, which was ideally suited for video production and the management of unstructured data sets. With the promise of a more scalable approach to capacity and performance simultaneously, CatholicTV chose FlashBlade’s unified fast file and object (UFFO) platform as the foundation of its unstructured data and media asset system. Quella also selected FlashArray™ as the high-performance SAN for building the on-premises virtualized server farm.
The company continues to run its legacy disk storage in parallel to Pure which only highlights the stark contrast in performance and operating costs between the two solutions. “When I give tours of our building, I have this rack full of disk drives spinning and blowing like a dragon, and then there’s the FlashBlade sitting quietly above them, delivering three times the capacity and 10 times the speed,” says Quella.
A Native SMB Solution
Another major consideration for Quella was the fact that FlashBlade is compatible with Server Message Block (SMB), the all-encompassing protocol used by Windows machines to share files and resources over a company’s IT network.
As CatholicTV builds out its VR production systems, the graphic systems it relies on to fuel these experiences are based on graphics stored in shared SMB project folders. Each project is, in turn, made up of thousands of files of different sizes, all of which need to be loaded and modified all at once in real time.
This is a tall order for any storage system, but with the SMB support offered in FlashBlade, CatholicTV was able to reduce latency and charge ahead with its VR ambitions. “Given our needs, Pure provided us with an SMB version of FlashBlade that we used for six months to run video tests on to cut down latency,” says Quella. “By the end of that period, we could open thousands of graphics files in just six seconds, down from several minutes. Needless to say, we were over the moon.”
A Partnership That Delivers 100%
Of course, the performance benefits of flash storage were only half the story for CatholicTV. Quella was equally sold on the ongoing savings with Evergreen Storage™. “Pure’s Evergreen Storage subscription model helped to drain the pool of angst that I previously had about maintenance service contracts spiraling out of control,” says Quella. “On top of which, we eliminated the stress of replacing disks and risking costly downtime.”
The peace of mind extends to data security, with CatholicTV also using the SafeMode™ snapshots feature in Pure FlashBlade. “I’ve been in the communications business for 40 years, but I’ve never been more worried about cybersecurity than now, and CatholicTV hasn’t even been under attack yet,” says Quella. “The Pure solution is straightforward, painless to implement, and gives me confidence in our ability to manage through threats in an increasingly hostile environment.”
Reflecting on his company’s journey to date, Quella draws an all-important parallel between Pure’s ongoing guidance and CatholicTV’s success. “Pure technology ticks every box, but their collaboration with us played just as big a part in making us more efficient,” he says. “Today, we can run at 100% capacity and 100% performance, 100% of the time, and I literally can’t ask for more.”
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