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U2 gets flash storage array as data, video needs balloon

U2 used to use dozens of USB flash drives and a backpack to port its video and data around. The band has now grown into an all-flash storage array as it plays to two massive screens.

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NEW YORK---Rock band U2 were dozens of USB flash drives and a stolen backpack away from being screwed in 2011. Now, U2 is packing a flash storage array designed for small businesses, and a decent amount of abuse.

U2 is winding up its first leg of its North America iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour 2015 with eight shows at Madison Square Garden. The shows are creating multiple terabytes of video and archive material that used to be delivered on USB drives.

Now U2 has traded up to EMC's VNXe3200, an all flash array that will run about $25,000 and is typically designed for smaller enterprises. The VNXe3200 can store up to 450TB of data.

For U2's increasingly video-heavy tour---the band has a massive screen that has current footage, archive material, animations and a walkway for band members to walk through, play in, and create special effects---there's a need to store and call up data on the fly. U2 has deployed 2 PRG Nocturne V-Thru LED Screens, each measuring 29m by 7m for the tour.

EMC has coupled the VNXe3200 with its Data Domain backup technology.

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Christopher Ratcliffe, senior vice president of EMC's core technologies unit, said U2 called him while he was grocery shopping for tour help. Ratcliffe has worked on a few special events and knows Stefaan "Smasher" Desmedt, who runs video for U2 and other acts, through a partnership with LiveNation.

The storage requirements for U2 roughly went like this:

  • Make it easy since there aren't IT people. U2's tour employs roughly 130 folks, but operates as a small business. The video and creative people choose and run the technology.
  • Provide a form factor that can be put in a flight case and thrown around by roadies. EMC's U2 system is a 2 unit rack.
  • Be able to expand as U2 creates and archives content.
  • Create a system that can suck in data from the 28 HD cameras deployed during a show.
  • U2's last tour collected data---video, prerendered and live---worth about 100GB. Today's tour requires 10x that data tab.

EMC's flash array is connected to Macs and PCs, and content is rendered on network attached storage. Most of the content is large and uncompressed.

The kinks in the system were worked out in a 6 week tech run through, where an arena in an undisclosed location was rented for stage setup. From there, the band played for about four weeks to prep set lists.

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U2's business case for collecting data and archiving it is simple. The band makes little money on selling albums. In fact, U2 is likely to collect more from T-shirts than songs. Today, musicians make their money via tours and collecting video and other data that may be monetized at some point. "If there's a blue screen behind Bono someone is losing his job," quipped Ratcliffe.

One notable point from U2's storage strategy is that there isn't a cloud plan yet. U2 needs on-premise storage due to latency. Information needs to be called up on the fly given the band may call an audible quickly.

As U2 starts its European leg of its tour, Ratcliffe said EMC will likely add capacity to the storage system. Traditional disk will likely be added to keep costs down and hold data that doesn't need to be accessed quickly. There is also talk of a cloud option at some point for archiving.