Media organizations' business continuity plans typically detail how and where to archive audio and video, as well as graphics and animation files. But what about provisions for metadata backup? Media and its associated metadata are the most important assets in any media production, and business continuity requires an adequate backup strategy for those assets, so they are available even if something goes wrong.
Losing metadata in the event of a disaster—or even losing timely access to it—means finding desired media assets becomes a time-consuming and cumbersome process. It can greatly diminish the efficiency gains of modern media workflows and, if it means a story does not make it to air or is delayed going online or to social, that can lead to reduced revenue as a result, as the competition will beat you to the punch. Metadata backups are therefore essential for a media organization's resilience.
Common Pitfalls in Media Backup Solutions
Most organizations already have some backup solution in place, but it's usually an imperfect one. Often, the technology supporting the plan is a custom-built solution that backs-up media but frequently makes no provision for metadata backup.
There are other problems with custom builds, too. Perhaps the most obvious are the constant software updates that must be managed—and what happens when the person who developed the system leaves the business? As with other IT systems, planning for and executing these updates are simple facts of life. But when the system involved is the one responsible for maintaining business continuity in the event of a disaster, there is no room for being tardy or inattentive. Therefore, any serious business continuity plans must allocate adequate IT department resources to this task, and more resources are needed to update a custom build than to simply implement a patch from a third-party vendor.
Considerations for an Integrated Media and Metadata Backup
At the highest level, business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) strategies are built on the premise that media organizations must back up both media and metadata. However, getting into the weeds of implementing any strategy to save and restore audio, video, graphics, and other media assets, as well as metadata, requires media organizations to make more detailed decisions. These include deciding how often to sync data, how long to keep synced data, where to store it, what to do with stored metadata, and whether to prioritize immediate access to backed-up media files and metadata over cheaper options with slower restoration times.
How Often to Sync?
The answer to this question will vary from organization to organization and task to task. Some will want to back up media files and metadata continuously—just in case there is a catastrophic loss of a server, power, or access to a facility.
Others might find backing up once a day to be sufficient. For instance, an editor in a post facility might get shots from a crew once a day. In this instance, it may only be necessary to sync once, perhaps overnight, when no one is in the system.
Still others, such as news organizations, probably do not want to sync everything, but rather wish to focus on backing-up key files and metadata. In this instance, syncing a couple of times per day may be most appropriate—but it really comes down to the organization's specific needs.
Each media organization can only answer this question for itself based on its unique business and operational requirements. The good news is that most are likely already manually backing up content and therefore have a feel for what is right for their particular organization.
What to Do With Stored Data?
When considering BC/DR strategies, it is helpful to think about striking the right balance between accessibility and cost. For example, preventing the loss of media assets and metadata currently in production requires the restoration of immediate access, but for content in other stages of the production lifecycle, media storage with certain accessibility limitations, and therefore lowered costs, may be appropriate. Thus, while automatic backup of metadata and content on separate but equally accessible production and storage servers could be the right choice for this week's content, files and metadata that are a week or two old may be better stored on lower-performance, and therefore less expensive, servers. As time goes on, moving those assets to an even cheaper medium, such as LTO data tape or deep archive storage in the cloud may make the most sense.
What to Do With Metadata?
Backing up metadata transforms the sledgehammer approach of backing everything up on a continual or scheduled basis into a more elegant process.
Once the raw content is backed up, the only thing that changes over time is the metadata associated with it—perhaps some enhanced logging information, for example. Thus, the only thing that needs to be backed up on a regular basis going forward is the metadata.
Given the value of metadata, the natural question is, what to do with it? Where and how should it be stored? The answer is to do the same things that would be done to media, using the same medium for automatic backup and storing it in the same file structure. This will enable simple syncing in the event of a catastrophe.
Immediate Access vs. Slower Restoration
As media organizations mull over all of the issues that must be considered when laying plans for automatic backup and file syncing, it's also important they do not lose sight of what they are trying to accomplish. If the goal is to enable automatic backup and syncing to protect against the loss of a production system 10 minutes before a newscast goes to air, speed and accessibility will guide decisions about storage.
However, if the goal is to find a storage solution for content and metadata that's a few weeks old, it's unlikely the same speed and accessibility will be necessary. Slower, lower-cost storage can be deployed. Once content is a month or more old, longer-term, still-cheaper media storage may be the right solution. There is a trade-off because when less expensive solutions are used, the time necessary to restore assets increases. Considering how urgently they would need certain types of media in the event of a disaster will help organizations decide how to make that trade-off.
On the most basic level, every media organization deciding what to do about disaster recovery and business continuity must answer a single question: What are they prepared to lose?
In other words, what risks are they willing to take? As media organizations ponder the most appropriate BC/DR strategy and consider all the minutia involved in setting a course forward, keeping this big-picture question in the back of their mind will prove to be enormously valuable.