A Workflow Playbook for Migrating Your Media Assets to a MAM

This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated with the latest information on media asset management.

As a media professional, you’ve probably come across some…let’s say, “creative” file naming conventions in your day. While it’s hilarious, “Episode 6: OH YEAH BABY THIS IS THE RIGHT ONE LOL.mp4” isn’t going to be the easiest thing to find years later when you’re searching through hundreds of files for…the right one.

Whether you make videos, images, or music, the more you produce, the more difficult those assets become to manage, organize, find, and protect. Managing files by carefully placing them in specific folders and implementing more logical naming conventions can only get you so far. At some point, as the scale of your business grows, you’ll find your current way of organizing and searching for assets can’t keep up.

Getting your assets into a media asset management (MAM) system will make your library much easier to navigate. You’ll be able to quickly search for the exact media you need for a new project. Your team will be more efficient and organized, and you will be able to deliver your finished content faster.

In this post, we’ll explain some asset management basics and introduce five key plays you can put into practice to get the most out of your assets, including how to move them into an asset management system or migrate from an older system to a new one. Read on to learn more.

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Assets and Metadata

Before you start building a playbook to get the most from your creative assets, let’s review a few key concepts.

Asset: A rich media file with intrinsic metadata.

An asset is simply a file that is the result of your creative operation. Most often, it is a rich media file like an image or a video. Typically, these files are captured or created in a raw state, then your creative team adds value to that raw asset by editing it together with other assets to create a finished story that in turn, becomes another asset to manage.

Metadata: Information about a file, either embedded within the file itself or associated with the file by another system, typically a MAM application.

Any given file carries information about itself that can be understood by your laptop or workstation’s operating system. Some of these seem obvious, like the name of the file, how much storage space it occupies, when it was first created, and when it was last modified. These would all be helpful ways to try to find one particular file you are looking for among thousands just using the tools available in your OS’s file manager.

File Metadata

There’s usually another level of metadata embedded in media files that is not so obvious but potentially enormously useful: metadata embedded in the file when it’s created by a camera, film scanner, or output by a program.

Results of a file inspected by an operating system's file manager
An example of metadata embedded in a rich media file.

For example, this image taken in Backblaze’s data center carries all kinds of interesting information. When I inspect the file on macOS’s Finder with Get Info, I can see a wealth of information. I now know the image’s dimensions and when the image was taken, as well as exactly what kind of camera took this picture and the lens settings that were used.

As you can see, this metadata could be very useful if you want to find all images taken on that day, or even images taken with that same camera, focal length, F-stop, or exposure.

When a File and Folder System Can’t Keep Up

Going through files one at a time to find the one you need is incredibly inefficient. Yet that’s how things still work in many creative environments—an ad hoc system of folders plus the memory of whoever’s been with the team longest. Files are often kept on the same storage used for production or even on an external hard drive.

Teams quickly outgrow that system when they find themselves juggling multiple hard drives or they run out of space on production storage. Worst of all, assets kept on a single hard drive are vulnerable to disk damage or to being accidentally copied or overwritten.

Why Your Assets Need to be Managed

To meet this challenge, creative teams have often turned to MAMs. A MAM automatically extracts all of the assets’ inherent metadata, helps move files to protected storage, and makes them instantly available to MAM users. In a way, these MAMs become a private media search engine where any file attribute can be a search query to instantly uncover the needed files in even the largest media asset libraries.

Beyond that, asset management systems are rapidly becoming highly effective collaboration and workflow tools. For example, tagging a series of files as Field Interviews — April 2019, or flagging an edited piece of content as HOLD — do not show customer can be very useful indeed.

The Inner Workings of a Media Asset Manager

When you add files into an asset management system, the application inspects each file, extracting every available bit of information about the file, noting the file’s location on storage, and often creating a smaller stand-in or proxy version of the file that is easier to present to users.

To keep track of this information, asset manager applications employ a database and keep information about your files in it. This way, when you’re searching for a particular set of files among your entire asset library, you can simply make a query of your asset manager’s database in an instant rather than rifling through your entire asset library storage system. The application takes the results of that database query and retrieves the files you need.

A MAM Case Study: Complex Networks

Complex Networks used a TerraBlock by Facilis storage device. As acquisitions added new groups to their team, they found they were starting to run out of space. Whenever the local shared storage filled up, they would pull assets off to give everybody enough room to continue working.

They found media asset management provider iconik and immediately recognized its advantages. They moved all of their assets there, and, with Backblaze’s integration with iconik, backed them all up to the Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage. They’re now free to focus on what they do best—making culture-defining content—rather than spending time searching for assets.

The Asset Migration Playbook

Whether you need to move from a file and folder based system to a new asset manager, or have been using an older system and want to move to a new one without losing all of the metadata that you have painstakingly developed, a sound playbook for migrating your assets can help guide you. Below we’ll explain five plays you can use to approach your asset management journey:

  1. Protecting Assets Saved in a Folder Hierarchy Without an Asset Management System.
  2. Moving Assets Saved in a Folder Hierarchy into Your Asset Management System and Archiving in Cloud Storage.
  3. Getting a Lot of Assets on Local Storage into Your Asset Management System and Backing Up to Cloud Storage.
  4. Moving from One Asset Manager System to a New One Without Losing Metadata.
  5. Moving Quickly from a MAM on Local Storage to a Cloud-based System.

Play 1: Protecting Assets Saved in a Folder Hierarchy Without an Asset Management System

In this scenario, your assets are in a set of files and folders, and you aren’t ready to implement your asset management system yet.

The first consideration is for the safety of the assets. Files on a single hard drive are vulnerable, so if you are not ready to choose an asset manager your first priority should be to get those files into a secure cloud storage service like Backblaze B2.

Check out our post, “How Backup and Archive Are Different for Professional Media Workflows,” for a detailed guide on backing up and archiving your assets and best practices for doing so.

Then, when you have chosen an asset management system, you can simply point the system at your cloud-based asset storage to extract the metadata out of the files and populate the asset information in your asset manager.

The TL/DR Version:

  1. Get assets archived or moved to cloud storage.
  2. Choose your asset management system.
  3. Ingest assets directly from your cloud storage.

Play 2: Moving Assets Saved in a Folder Hierarchy Into Your Asset Management System and Archiving in Cloud Storage

In this scenario, you’ve chosen your asset management system, and need to get your local assets in files and folders ingested and protected in the most efficient way possible.

You’ll ingest all of your files into your asset manager from local storage, then back them up to cloud storage. Once your asset manager has been configured with your cloud storage credentials, it can automatically move a copy of local files to the cloud for you. Later, when you have confirmed that the file has been copied to the cloud, you can safely delete the local copy.

The TL/DR Version:

  1. Ingest assets from local storage directly into your asset manager system
  2. From within your asset manager system archive a copy of files to your cloud storage
  3. Once safely archived, the local copy can be deleted

Play 3: Getting a Lot of Assets on Local Storage into Your Asset Management System and Backing Up to Cloud Storage

If you have a lot of content, more than say, 20TB, you will want to use a rapid ingest service similar to the Backblaze Fireball system. You copy the files to the Backblaze Fireball, Backblaze puts them directly into your asset management bucket, and the asset manager is then updated with the file’s new location in your Backblaze B2 account.

This can be a manual process, or can be done with scripting to make the process faster.

You can read about one such migration using this play here:
“iconik and Backblaze: The Cloud Production Solution You’ve Always Wanted.”

The TL/DR Version:

  1. Ingest assets from local storage directly into your asset manager system.
  2. Archive your local assets to Fireball (up to 90TB at a time).
  3. Once the files have been uploaded by Backblaze, relink the new location of the cloud copy in your asset management system.

You can read more about the Backblaze Fireball on our website.

Play 4: Moving from One Asset Manager System to a New One Without Losing Metadata

In this scenario you have an existing asset management system and need to move to a new one as efficiently as possible. You want to take advantage of your new system’s features and safeguard in cloud storage in a way that does not impact your existing production.

Some asset management systems will allow you to export the database contents in a format that can be imported by a new system. Some older systems may not have that feature and will require the expertise of a database expert to manually extract the metadata. Either way, you can expect to need to map the fields from the old system to the fields in the new system.

Making a copy of your old database is a must. Don’t work on the primary copy, and be sure to conduct tests on small groups of files as you’re migrating from the older system to the new. You need to ensure that the metadata is correct in the new system, with special attention that the actual file location is mapped properly. It’s wise to keep the old system up and running for a while before completely phasing it out.

The TL/DR Version:

  1. Export the database from the old system.
  2. Import the records into the new system.
  3. Ensure that the metadata is correct in the new system and file locations are working properly.
  4. Make archive copies of your files to cloud storage.
  5. Once the new system has been running through a few production cycles, it’s safe to power down the old system.

Play 5: Moving Quickly from a MAM on Local Storage to a Cloud-based System

In this variation of Play 4, you can move content to object storage with a rapid ingest service like Backblaze Fireball at the same time that you migrate to a cloud-based system. This step will benefit from scripting to create records in your new system with all of your metadata, then relink with the actual file location in your cloud storage all in one pass.

You should test that your asset management system can recognize a file already in the system without creating a duplicate copy of the file. This is done differently by each asset management system.

The TL/DR Version:

  1. Export the database from the old system.
  2. Import the records into the new system while creating placeholder records with the metadata only.
  3. Archive your local assets to the Backblaze Fireball (up to 90TB at a time).
  4. Once the files have been uploaded by Backblaze, relink the cloud based location to the asset record.
Bonus Play: Using Cloud Storage to Scale a Media Heavy Workload

Photographer Gavin Wade was dissatisfied with digital image delivery systems in 2014, so he set out to create a better platform for photographers worldwide—CloudSpot. Rapid growth led storage costs for the 120 million assets he had under management to snowball under legacy provider Amazon S3.

CloudSpot proceeded to move its 700 TB to Backblaze in six days with no service disruption, reducing broader operating costs 50% and data transfer costs 90%.

Wrapping Up

Every creative environment is different, but all need the same thing: to be able to find assets fast and organize content to enhance productivity and rest easy knowing that content is safe.

With these plays, you can take that step and be ready for any future production challenges and opportunities.

If you’re interested in learning more, download our e-book on optimizing media workflows.

About Amanda Fesunoff

Amanda Fesunoff is the product marketing manager at Backblaze, focused on assisting professionals with optimizing their media-heavy workflows using the Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage platform. A transplant from the Sales team, she applies her extensive knowledge of customer needs and product usage to continually improve the customer experience. In her free time, she loves absorbing new perspectives through media such as TV, film, and music. If you want to chat more about media management in the cloud, connect with her on LinkedIn.