How Aspera Brings MythBusters from the Set to Your TV

How about something a little lighter for your Friday reading? Last week at the BroadcastAsia 2013 conference, Beyond International, the production company behind MythBusters and a slew of other shows, announced an expansion to its deployment of Aspera’s “fasp” (fast, adaptive, secure protocol) file transfer technology.

Beyond International isn’t the only entertainment production company to use Aspera technology in its production workflow. The company also counts Weta Digital, Universal Pictures, UFC, and PBS among its customers. Aspera software also played a role in the production of James Cameron’s Avatar. So what is it about fasp that has Hollywood hooked?

To put it simply, fasp allows companies with very large file transfer needs and very distributed workforces and workflows to move huge files securely over long distances much more quickly than they could with FTP, according to Aspera.

“The challenge in moving data over the Internet is in the bottlenecks that exist in the TCP protocol,” Richard Heitmann, Aspera’s VP of marketing, told me in an interview earlier this week. TCP’s flow rate control mechanism often reduces transfer rates far below what high-bandwidth WAN pipes should be able to handle.

Latency, dropouts, and slow speeds make international FTP transfers of large files, such as the high-resolution videos generated by media productions, problematic. Fasp, on the other hand, allows for theoretically unlimited speed. “There’s no limit to how fast it can go; the only limit is the size of your network pipe,” Heitmann said. The company claims actual transfer speeds “hundreds of times faster than FTP/HTTP,” with “guaranteed delivery time regardless of file size, transfer distance, or network conditions,” according to the company website.

“Distance doesn’t matter—it takes the same amount of time to send a large file from L.A. to New York as it would to send it from L.A. to London or Singapore,” Heitmann said.

This is, of course, particularly attractive to production companies, which often work under tight deadlines but must film footage in locations far removed from post-production facilities. Beyond International, for instance, shoots MythBusters in the San Francisco Bay Area, but must then move footage to production company offices in Australia and from there to the show’s executive producer in London. Speed is crucial to the show’s production.

Also of interest to Aspera’s high-profile customers: security. Data transfer technology should maintain the confidentiality and integrity of all files moved. To ensure this, Aspera “uses encryption over the wire, so that the data is encrypted at the source and then transmitted over the wire in an encrypted format,” Heitmann said. And if a customer needs additional security, “We also have the option to encrypt at rest, so data can remain encrypted after it lands at its destination. Unless you have the passphrase, you can’t decrypt it and see the contents,” he said. Finally, Heitmann added, “we inspect every data packet as it gets transferred, so what you receive is exactly the same as what was sent.”

Invented by network engineers and Aspera co-founders Michelle Munsen and Serban Simu—now president/CEO and VP of engineering, respectively—fasp is a software solution designed to work well with companies’ existing infrastructures. It requires no additional hardware, and as an added bonus, its rate control mechanism preserves bandwidth for other business-critical applications while maximizing transfer speeds.

At the end of the day, fasp gives widely distributed workforces LAN-like functionality over the WAN, as Enterprise Networking Planet‘s Art Cole previously reported.

“Inside a local area network or a campus network, you don’t have a lot of latency; you can move big data very quickly. The minute you go outside to a wide area network, you get hit with latency and packet loss that impacts the congestion control algorithm, and bad things happen. We make the WAN operate more like a LAN because fasp is not subject to those limitations,” Heitmann said.

Hollywood isn’t the only industry in need of fast, secure, reliable big data transfer, of course. According to Heitmann, other industries are taking advantage of fasp’s capabilities, among them government, oil and gas, and the life sciences, which utilize fasp for such use cases as the transport of genome sequences.

Has Aspera hit on the optimal solution for large file transfers? Dan Tapster, executive producer of MythBusters, seems to think so.

“We don’t just like Aspera,” he said. “We love it!”

ENP editor Jude Chao Jude Chao is Executive Editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Follow her on Twitter @judechao.

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