Pac-10 finds success with digital game exchange
By Ken Kerschbaumer
A day in the life of the typical college football video coordinator during the season is filled with tape dubs, trips to airport to pick up and drop off game films, and filling out express mail shipping forms. But for video coordinators in the Pac-10 conference those days are over as they successfully completed a full season of exchanging game films via file transfer over Internet 2. And it was an overwhelming success.
“Not one Pac-10 school sent a tape via courier to another Pac-10 school,” says Ken Norris, video coordinator for the UCLA Bruins and a key driver of the digital exchange initiative. “We had to send a couple out to schools in other conferences but even Notre Dame and North Carolina used the system when they played Pac-10 schools.”
The core technology used to transfer games is bbFTP, file transfer software that is optimized for files larger than 2GB and uses encoded usernames and passwords at the connection for security. Designed by IN2P3 Computing Center in Lyon, France, it also features automatic retry, on-the-fly data compression, and multi-stream transfer.
“It actually can struggle with smaller files,” says Norris. “In tests it would actually take longer to send a 1 GB file than a 2 GB file.”
Thanks to Internet 2 the universities typically found themselves with network connections wide enough to transfer 1 Gbps. The end result? Downloads of 20 GB files in less than 10 minutes over the 1 Gig pipes and less than 30 minutes over 100 Mbps pipes.
Norris says Chris Thomas, a senior network engineer with UCLA’s Office of Information Technology, played a key role in the deployment of a Unix-based server system that cost less than $8,000 but has 6TB of storage and can store two years worth of Pac-10 games. He also helped write a graphical user interface (GUI) three weeks before the start of the season that worked flawlessly.
“We were error free on every transfer,” says Norris who adds that the only glitches were some timeout problems.
While five Pac-10 video coordinators rely on XOS Technologies SportsPro editor, four use the XOS Director system and one uses DSV Football Pro editing software all were able to exchange footage over the system.
“Those of us who use SportsPro acquire game video on NLT drives and we basically manipulate the video within SportsPro, create a clean master and one clip for offensive, defensive, and special teams plays,” says Norris. “We then take the NLT drives and copy them onto the Gateway computer in about 10 to 15 minutes and then transfer that file to the main server in about five minutes.”
For Norris and the other coordinators the system is freeing up hours of time. Previously Norris would drive after a game from the Rose Bowl back to the UCLA campus, transfer the video and then come in the next morning as the GAs merged data. But now he doesn’t have to arrive until 1 p.m. as the GAs can merge the data themselves. “Within two hours of getting back to the stadium my job is done,” he says. “And the coaches are having game video on their computers sooner than ever.”
The biggest factor in the speed of the system isn’t the network speed but the drive speed of the local Gateway computer. “”It’s the drive speed that really hinders what this system is capable of,” says Norris. Another problem is that the vast amount of data being exchanged can raise a red flag on the edge of the campus system and put the brakes on the flow of data.
What’s next? Norris is already eyeing improvements on the networks to allow the transfer of AVI files. New codecs are also on the horizon and the conference has done some testing with multicasting on the Internet.
While the concept of digital game exchange is nothing new every day, with network connections and compression codecs advancing, it continues to change and evolve. National broadcast networks, for example, could tap into the system and digitally access clips for pre-game shows instead of relying on DVD copies to be express mailed. And NFL coaches and scouts could more easily check out lesser-known talents. Simply put, it’s all in play.
“Eventually the networks are going to get content around even more quickly and faster,” he says. “Someday you might even have every college conference on a central server that everyone can access.”