Videography – April 1998

Jazz and SGI Sing a Duet
by Sheldon Liebman

Last fall, we introduced Videography readers to Jazz Media Network, a Montreal-based start-up with some pretty innovative ideas about creating a powerful environment for collaborative production. Jazz doesn’t have "customers," they have "members." Their goal is not a large "user base," but rather the creation of a "Jazz Community." Their business model is based on creating partnerships, not just selling a product.

In order for Jazz to be successful, they need to offer more than just bandwidth – the Jazz concept represents a complete infrastructure for network-enabled production. As a result, the company is developing close relationships with companies that have the tools and/or the vision to help create this infrastructure. One of the key players in this area is Silicon Graphics, the leading supplier of high performance workstations and LANs to the production and post-production industries. At NAB, SGI and Jazz announced a strategic partnership that will ultimately help both companies become more successful in the networked production arena.

Over the past few years, we’ve covered a number of companies and products that provide various levels of collaboration. In some cases, the tools are simply large data pipes that allow files to be quickly transferred between locations. In others, software has been created to allow simultaneous viewing and annotation of video projects. Some products are designed for local use while others are geared toward long distance relationships.

Jazz is trying to create the best of all worlds through a concept called the Jazz Operating Center (JOC). In every city where Jazz has a presence, a JOC will exist that links together all the community members in that city. Today, JOCs are open in Montreal, Toronto and Los Angeles. Jazz has announced plans to open at least three more before the end of 1998 in Chicago, New York and London. By themselves, the JOCs are capable of linking together a large number of companies in any city. However, Jazz is also creating extremely high-speed links between the JOCs themselves, which expands the Jazz network to allow connections between every member in every city that has a JOC.

It All Starts with SGI
The backbone of each Jazz Operating Center is the SGI Origin2000 server. This particular product was chosen because it offers a tremendous amount of scalability. According to François Gariepy, Chief Technical Officer at Jazz, "SGI lets you connect O2000 servers together with virtually no contention. If you pair 2 or 3 O2000 machines together, you basically get 2 or 3 times the speed."

There is also a smaller version of the server called the Origin200. For about one third the price, the O200 provides a platform that is completely compatible with the O2000 from a software point of view. "When we start adding smaller cities to the network," says Gariepy, "we can install an O200 and the same software works." As the JOCs grow, multiple O200s can be connected together or replaced by an O2000.

Another reason Jazz uses the SGI server is its support for many different types of network connections. SGI machines can be connected to just about any speed network, from basic 10 Megabit per second (Mbps) Ethernet all the way up to very fast networks like ATM and HIPPI.

Finally, the SGI servers can run advanced SGI software like MediaCache and Studio Central. MediaCache turns an SGI system into a multi-channel, random access video player and handles a wide variety of media formats. Studio Central offers an asset management system with a level of security, version control and database independence. Taken together, these products go beyond a traditional server to create what SGI calls a Video Computing Platform.

This platform is necessary for Jazz to meet its goals. At the same time, Jazz is helping SGI realize their goal of providing an infrastructure for collaborative workgroups in entertainment. Jason Danielson is Manager, Strategic Relations for Advanced Media Products at SGI. He says that they "really like Jazz’s vision of linking post houses with advertising agencies and other customers." In the past, adds Danielson, "companies were just tying post houses together. This is a benefit in terms of efficiency, but it doesn’t provide a way for you to get more customers. Jazz allows customers to work with their vendors more efficiently."

The Cross Platform Connection
Every member of the Jazz community will be linked to a JOC through the use of a device called a Jazzbox. The Jazzbox provides a bridge between the internal network at a customer site and the SGI server(s) at a JOC. With the Jazzbox, both video and data signals are connected to the server so that they can be available to other Jazz members.

"The server is the key device that turns the data into video and the video into data," explains Gariepy. The video output of a tape deck or other device goes into a Jazzbox and a monitor can be driven from it. If these inputs and outputs are switched, the signals can come from or go to just about anywhere in a facility. They can also be controlled from PC or SGI clients today and will work with Mac clients over the next few months. Jazz has devoted a lot of time to making sure these clients behave identically.

"SGI and NT clients run exactly the same user interface," comments Gariepy. "The Mac client will have exactly the same GUI. I insist on that. Some other products are cross-platform, but the interface is not the same." In order to achieve this goal, Jazz uses Java, which does a certain level of adaptation on each platform. The biggest difference between the platforms, he says, is in the windowing, "so we’ve tried to adapt a look with as little windowing as possible."

The diversity of the client machines is another reason to use SGI. According to Danielson, "SGI servers have proven to be very effective in heterogeneous environments. Given how many clients they want to put on this network and the diverse type of networking connections to the LANs at the clients, there are many benefits to working with a Unix server." Exactly how many clients will be connected to a JOC? Jazz doesn’t want to commit to a specific number. However, Gariepy admits that "in theory we can have thousands of clients in a single city."

Multiple Speeds, Multiple Formats
Within a single city, Jazz offers the ability to move D1 resolution video in real-time. From one city to another, however, this type of guaranteed bandwidth is not always available. In addition, the company recognizes that as they expand, smaller companies may want to join the network with a lower level of service than the 40 Mbps Jazz is initially offering.

To address these needs, Jazz is implementing the ability to stream MPEG-2 video between facilities. By converting from D1 to MPEG-2, the data rate can be reduced to as low as 6 Mbps, providing two benefits. First, it’s easier to move between JOCs. Second, it’s easier to move around within a facility if necessary. The SGI servers again play a big role in this process. Coupled with MPEG-2 encoders and decoders from Optibase, the servers and Jazzbox work together to manage the process of converting from one format to another.

If video needs to be stored for later access, it’s kept on a server at the JOC. Accessing the video is accomplished through a VTR-like interface at a client machine that includes all traditional functions including shuttle and jog.

It’s Under Your Control
Beyond traditional video remote control, Jazz is also working closely with a number of high profile companies to offer unique services to the Jazz community. The list includes software developers like SoftImage, Avid and Discreet Logic. At NAB, Jazz demonstrated a SoftImage "viewer" that allows any Jazz client to load and view a SoftImage project even if the client does not own a SoftImage license.

From their NAB booth in the Sands, Jazz loaded a 3D scene from a computer in Los Angeles. From the Jazz interface, you could view the rendered scene and move the camera around in real-time. The originating computer must have a valid SoftImage license, but the viewing computer doesn’t need one. This has tremendous potential for the advertising, television and film industries.

Similar capabilities are being discussed with the other companies. One of the main goals for this year, says Gariepy, "is to recruit as many of these companies as possible." This includes not only software vendors, but other service providers as well. The network can include render farms, image databases, backup services or anything else that makes sense to enhance the value of the network to its members.

In its first 90 days of operation, the Jazz Media Network signed up over a dozen members in Canada. Los Angeles is signing up at a similar rate. Danielson says "SGI is committed to Jazz’s success. We want to see them in SGI post houses around the world." Richard Cormier, President of Jazz, has a broader viewpoint. "The next big thing in this industry is the concept of being network enabled. With Jazz, cross-platform, cross-environment, cross-enterprise production is now a reality."

Back to Recent L&S Marketing Articles