Managing digital assets is a huge part of working with digital media at any scale. There are several reasons it’s important to use dedicated software to keep track of your media:
- Instant search-ability is key and good cataloging software in conjunction with robust metadata makes that possible.
- The media you’re searching for may be offline, whether unavailable or in archive and you may need to find it, or find information about it.
- You may not remember the organization of a project long-shelved
Assets destined for archive when a production wraps are moved to archive or “cold storage”. This is usually a different, space-saving solution destined for long-term reliability. Often times, those assets will be divided geographically, a practice I’ve already mentioned is common with digital media during production as well.
This software is key to it all. It will track media on ingest and “index” or “catalog” it as you work with and move the media. The following list represents a broad range of prices and feature sets.
Professional solutions are a bit out of the scope of this lesson, but Vanage, a professional solution from Telestream is a solid choice. Similar solutions include Levels Beyond, eMAM, Primestream, Cantemo Portal and Veritone. At this enterprise level, various 3rd party companies exist to help studios integrate the MAM software, the media servers, web hosting solutions, and all the bits of programming in between. NSA, run by Bryson Jones is an excellent and friendly resource.
- EditShare Flow: For the user-base of this site, this is my ultimate recommendation. You can get started with Flow for $60/month and it provides the right balance of power for price. With this solution, you are responsible for running and maintaining the Flow server from your own Ubuntu installation, whether on premise in a physical machine, or in the cloud on a VM. This might sound intimidating, but, especially utilizing the B2 cloud backbone for your object storage, this solution allows you to get a very robust set of features and easy access from wherever you are, while customizing the price you pay since you’re in control of the server and hosting. EditShare has reportedly used proprietary formats in the past which I need to do some research to. The danger of any MAM is that once you’ve committed to really populating it with a lifetime of metadata, migrating platforms can be nightmarish.
- CatDV: Probably the most popular MAM. This is oft-cited as the “affordable” option, as in closer to $500 starting out. The thing is, at this price point you don’t get access to the catalog beyond a single workstation which isn’t nearly as much fun. CatDV is so multifunctional it’s tough to figure out which of its components does what. This is a massive piece of many softwares but it’s customizability means it grows with you. Bryson Jones is the big evangelist for CatDV and a bit of Googling will reveal some decent demos by him. One has to buy the cheapest “CatDV Workgroup Server” to get the web abilities, which means to really get this up and running similar to EditShare your price starts at $7000 plus the service contract. You pay more for additional components, some of which might come as a surprise, e.g. the Pegasus version for R3D playback. Rolphe, creator of CatDV, initially sought to make something to help navigate his home videos and photos (circa 2000). While its beginnings were humble, it doesn’t feel like there’s a ‘prosumer’ focus at all in CatDV; while it started as consumer-focused shareware, they’re money is clearly now in enterprise-level clients. Its specialties include high customizability; it scales very well; has all the features where smaller products serve a single niche; it’s secure, reliable, and big enough it’s not disappearing overnight.
- Iconik: Of all the MAMs I tested, this one I found the most forward-thinking. It’s built on the idea of a true software-as-a-service approach. They make media management simple. They run and maintain the server, they host your proxies; you search/access/tag across a plethora of devices. My only issue here is you pay for this ease-of-use. Iconik’s plans start at closer to $110/month (for one admin user+one browse user) which is beyond the pocketbook of many of our users.
- Cantemo Portal: The pricey big brother and predecessor to Iconik. Its feature set is incredibly broad and modern. You have to contact them to buy credits for use of their software on a month-by-month subscription basis based on usage. Other than that hard-to-predict pricing methodology the software looks quite robust if it’s in your price range.
- KeyFlow Pro: If Final Cut Pro is your NLE of choice and you love Apple products this one make a lot of sense for the feature set.
- KYNO: Oh how I want to love KYNO. In some situations it’s the perfect tool. Unfortunately, there’s no underlying database or catalog. It’s not a full-fledged MAM. From KYNO: “Many of the features like tagging, descriptive metadata support and filtering give it a MAM kind of feel but its scope is currently rather a very light-weight support of production processes rather than long-term archival.” KYNO scans the data on your drive and then writes hidden XML files next to it with the metadata info you specify. While it’s nice that there’s no import/ingest step, in the long run that’s because you’re not really indexing the media to a database, so searching quickly across the entirety of a large volume or remote access to that database isn’t possible.
- Axle: Axle is a bit simplistic, but easy to use. It’s more just a web platform for getting footage up so multiple people can comment and share it.
- Alorsoft Media Indexer
- YoYotta: Not a full-featured MAM by any means, but this handy tool for checksumming and LTO archive is one way to catalog and access your data. I list it here because you can get a fair amount of utility out of the program, considering it’s cataloging your media as you ingest and backup. Martin, developer of YoYotta, is an awesome, attentive individual, and I believe this software is growing in the right direction.
- NeoFinder: NeoFinder is amazing for the price. It’s biggest weaknesses for my use are no support for NLEs and video workflow, and the networking option basically relies on every machine having a license of NeoFinder (albeit can be Mac or PC) and accessing shared storage. It doesn’t have a browser-based, easy-to-share with whomever, sort of option. But it’s got great support, checksummed backups, AI-based asset recognition, good format support. etc.
- Mac OS Finder: Primitive tagging features, not OS agnostic, and unreliable on network shares.
- Bridge: If you can tweak its centralized cache to be shareable, Adobe Bridge can be a useable MAM.
Important features to consider:
- Offline Image Proxies
- Offline Video Proxies
- Keyword Tagging
- Multi-user Access via a web server
- Mobile Access
- NLE compatibility
Tape (LTO) vs Hard Drive
- Linear vs Random Access
- Upfront Cost
There are a lot of opinions on it, but basically powered off disks are generally considered less reliable than tape. If they aren’t being used, HDDs are more subject to failure. They’re physically larger, have moving parts, and are more pricey than LTO. LTO-8 provides 12TB uncompressed and 30TB of compressed data capacity on a single cartridge priced around $100. But, bear in mind that LTO’s costs are quite front-loaded. You’ll need to buy the drive ($2k+)and the tapes and software. LTO tapes are rated at 30-yr longevity. LTO advances quickly and is only backwards compatible up to two versions. It’s linear, tape-based storage so there’s no skipping to the middle of it quickly to overwrite an old file–essentially you keep the old file and just write a new one to the end of the tape.
“With the introduction of LTFS, The LTO appears as a device and allows you to drag and drop files to and from the tape. In short, it allows the LTO drive interface to function like a regular hard drive. This removed the need for any special software and made saving and copying files much more intuitive for the user. It also has the added advantage of making LTO drives compatible across all the major operating systems.”
NAS for Archive?
As you should know, NAS refers to “Network-Attached Storage” as opposed to “Direct-Attached Storage”. It’s got spinning disks inside, and is intended for active storage, but if your storage requirements are minimal it can work as you grow. The nice thing here is that the NAS provider gives you software for managing digital assets. Just be aware that much of the metadata cataloging you do (especially with video files) is not going to be transferable.
QNAP (e.g. TVS-882ST3 or Bob’s recommendation TS-1685)
I use a Synology RS3614xs+ a 12-bay, 35TB usable, and at home I use a DS1515+
Synology Hybrid RAID
Quad Core Xeon processor with enterprise features like dual power supplies and swap-ability. You can also buy a 10Gb Ethernet adapter for it.
Drobo vs UnRAID?
Drobo comes as DAS or NAS, but caps out at 12 bays or 128TB max. It’s not typically meant to be an archive solution but some students have had success with it. It’s meant to be user friendly and easily upgradeable with any sort of drive.
UnRAID is like a more customizable, easier-scalable NAS, but similar to Synology and QNAP. With unRAID, you can start with a single drive and grow it with an array of random, mismatched drives from there. With Synology, you can swap an old drive for a new, larger, one, allow it to rebuild, and one-by-one upgrade them all. Or you can get a $500 5-bay external expansion bay.
“The people who get the most out of it are probably the ones doing a lot more with it – Dockers, applications, VMs, etc.”