Happy ending to film distribution firm’s file transfer tale


A Brazilian movie distribution firm’s film file transfer saga has a happy ending thanks to Canadian technology.

The firm – Rain Network of Sao Paulo – replaced a costly satellite-based film transmission system with a cheaper but faster Web-based application developed by Unlimi-Tech Software Inc. of Ottawa.

And the payoff was stupendous.

FileCatalyst file transfer software from Unlimi-Tech has enabled Rain Network – a distributor of independently produced movies to more than 155 theatres worldwide – to dramatically cut transmission costs and signal latency issues.

Founded in 2002, Rain Network distributes films to 130 South American, 23 U.S. and five United Kingdom venues.

Prior to adopting a software-based file transfer system, the company transmitted digitized movies to theatres via satellite feed.

Rain Network compressed its digitized movies and transmitted them via an upstream signal to a satellite service provider. The provider used to then beam down the signal as a multi-cast to movie theatres served by Rain Network.

The system was reliable and provided great performance but these came at a price.

“The satellite system cost nearly 10 times what we now pay for the FileCatalyst software,” said Fernando Fortes, technical manager at Rain Network’s Brazil office.

He said the satellite set up also limited distribution to theatres equipped with a proper satellite dish. Hooking up a new venue was costly and time consuming.

In addition, he said using satellite transmission “makes no sense if you’re not sending enormous amounts of data.”

The company decided to explore several Internet-based alternatives last year. For instance, Rain Network transmitted compressed digital files via cable and digital subscriber line (DSL) connections.

However, the firm discovered these methods came with their own set of problems. Sometimes poor connections or weather disturbances resulted in cut transmission or lost data packets.

Rain Network transmits more than 250 feature films a month, each around 15 to 20 Gbytes in size. A feature film may be transmitted several times to various locations depending on demand. Fernando said this amounts to at least one terabyte of data every month. When transmissions were cut, or a data packet lost, the company had to resend the whole file again, according to Glen da Silva, a manager at Rain Network. The system didn’t allow for resending only the lost or delayed segment.

“We could be sending the same 20 GB several times,” recalled da Silva. “We’re charged by the amount of data we transmit, and a troublesome connection means money down the drain.”

With some software, file transfer protocols did not allow for full use of available bandwidth and this slowed transmission, the Rain Network executive said. “It took us up to 10 hours to transfer 20 GB of data in some instances.”

Several months ago the company decided to give FileCatalyst a try, and in retrospect da Silva says that was a great decision.

He said the new system has cut transmission time down to one to two hours.

Fortes relates some other benefits. “We found that the software allowed us to use the full bandwidth of any given connection and it maintained the integrity of the file.”

FileCatalyst maximizes allocated bandwidth and is ideal for quick transmission of large data sets, according to Chris Bailey, CEO of Unlimi-Tech.

He said the software is capable of delivering data three to 50 times faster than systems based on file transfer protocol (FTP) or hypertext transfer.

The inherent characteristics of transmission control protocol (TCP) make it highly susceptible to network latency and packet loss, Bailey said. “Even in stable networks, TCP output is always lower that the actual available line speed.”

For instance, he said, on a 45 Mbits per second (mbps) network, experiencing packet loss of 0.1 percent and a delay of 10 milliseconds, FTP transfers can peak at 30 mbps.

By contrast, FileCatalyst is able to yield outputs slightly less than 100 per cent that of available line speeds at 44 mbps, even when the network is exposed to two per cent packet loss, said Bailey.

FileCatalyst utilizes user datagram protocol (UDP), which is ideal for sending short message packets called datagrams.

However, packet transmission via UDP is not guaranteed. If packets are not delivered a message must be sent back to sender to request transmission. At higher loads this extra network chatter can result in costly retransmission and performance degradation. FileCatalyst makes use of Raptor Codes. In case of packet loss the code directs the sender to re-transmit only those parts of the message that were lost, said Bailey.

Additionally, he said, FileCatalyst does not care in which order packets arrive. The system rearranges data in the proper order once all the packets are received. This allows for much faster transmission speeds.

He said the system does not require end-user installation and the software is a universal plug-and-play product that supports Windows, Linux, Solaris and Mac OSX operating systems.

Although, Rain Network decided to deploy FileCatalyst on a Web-based network, Bailey said the software can also be adapted for satellite-based systems.

For instance, he said the software is used by military organizations to transmit critical information via satellite to ground forces in hostile territory.

A scientific expedition in the Antarctic also uses FileCatalyst to transmit up to 80 GB of scientific reports daily. Relying on an available satellite window of transmission, that amount of data would have taken weeks to transmit, said Bailey.

Rain Network execs say they are thankful for how Unlimi-Tech worked with them to tailor FileCatalyst to their needs.

Most theatres have small servers that could experience performance issues if the machines were used to receive data, while showing movies at the same time.

To get around this, Rain Network only transmits data to a theatre when it is not showing any movies. Packet loss and broken transmissions often mean delays that disrupt this sensitive schedule.

“Unlimi-Tech was able to configure FileCatalyst to automatically compress and send data to theatres only during a certain period,” said Fortes.

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