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Big Blue shoots for silver screen

As Hollywood turns the switch to digital, IBM is gearing up to grab more business by introducing souped-up technology for video and audio production.

As Hollywood goes ever more digital, IBM is gearing up to grab some of its business by introducing souped-up technology for production and editing of video and audio.

The technology, called General Parallel File System (GPFS), is a cluster of computing systems with massive storage capabilities and collaborative editing tools for digital content. Media producers, digital editors and animators can use it to concurrently work on postproduction of streamed audio and video in different places around the world, IBM said. For example, moviemakers working on the same project from London and Los Angeles could edit a digital film and see the changes take place simultaneously, helping them save time in the development process.

The move comes as many technology companies are rushing to be the next star in Hollywood. Recently, Microsoft founder Bill Gates threw a lavish party in Los Angeles to showcase the company's latest audio and video streaming system, Windows Media 9 Series.

Tech companies are eager to capture new business opportunities brought about by a push for digital content. Increasingly, movie studios and media producers are creating entertainment in digital formats so that it can be transposed easily to multiple formats including DVDs, digital cable, digital cinema and the Internet.

"As more and more content goes digital and less and less goes to (celluloid) film then there's an upside opportunity for many players," said Richard Doherty, president of research group Envisioneering. "The world has a huge appetite for American-orchestrated content, and more and more often it pays to start digital so you can keep all your options open."

Developed at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., the GPFS technology evolved from Tiger Shark, an enterprise computing system for video archiving introduced in 1996. Companies including Bell Atlantic and Hong Kong Telecom used Tiger Shark for such applications as video-on-demand, data mining and scientific computing.

IBM updated the system for media by creating a middle layer for content management and a new interface for the desktop, so that content creators can manipulate the tools on the PC.

"What we've been doing for years with data and numbers, we're now about to do with rich media," said IBM spokeswoman Lisa Figueira. "We have this supercomputing history. We've reconfigured some of the nodes to be able to provide producers, editors and content creators with some high-powered tools."

The technology rounds out the company's tools for content management, which media producers like cable network CNN use to store and index libraries of digital video. In addition, IBM sells technology for content storage and distribution. In recent weeks, the company signed a deal with video-on-demand site MovieLink, a joint venture between five major movie studios. The Culver City, Calif.-based company said it would use IBM technology to store and deliver digital movies for its upcoming on-demand Internet movie service.

GPFS is available on IBM pSeries servers and runs on Linux clusters and the AIX operating system. At customer sites, it delivers access to up to 500 terabytes of data. GPFS establishes a base storage framework for future open industry standards as they evolve.