AWS Case Study: How Digital ReLab Enables Digital-Asset Management Using Amazon EFS


Based in Virginia, Digital ReLab develops tools that save media companies time and money on digital-asset management while opening new revenue streams through monetization of existing assets.

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It was clear from the outset that AWS was the right choice for getting our solution to the cloud. The scalability and security are second to none, and Amazon S3 is the cloud-storage platform of choice across the digital media industry."

Nate Casey
Vice President, Product Strategy, Digital ReLab

The Challenge

Making Media Easy to Find—and Monetize

Digital technology has enabled an explosion of media. As file stores grow to petabyte scale, digital-asset management (DAM) can quickly become challenging, making it difficult for companies to keep audio and video content organized. Digital ReLab aims to solve those challenges with an open system that media companies can use to easily organize and manage files and integrate them into custom media workflows.

“Our founder, a recording studio owner, initially built a platform to organize his own digital media assets,” says Nate Casey, vice president of product strategy at Digital ReLab. “He was selected by Bob Dylan’s organization to provide a robust DAM system for its archives, and that led to our first clients and the development of our Starchive product.”

The company’s Starchive DAM solution uses metadata—rather than folders—to organize media files. This enables flexibility in ingesting, modifying, and managing files to meet workflow requirements. The company’s approach, called Open Media/Data/Storage (OpenMDS), is designed to work with any media type. Files are automatically transcoded to the file types an organization typically uses, simplifying the process of sharing and monetizing media. Digital ReLab’s clients each generate up to 5 TB of video content per day.

The flexibility of Starchive and OpenMDS makes it simple for clients to feed productive workflows. For example, the New York Philharmonic records its performances and makes them available to musicians using Starchive, which allows the organization to upload multi-tracks and make stereo files, create clips, add archival metadata, and deliver the final track to musicians the next day.

Why Amazon Web Services

The Cloud Opportunity

Digital ReLab’s offerings were originally built to run as on-premises software. As the organization began to look at commercialization, it became obvious that many media organizations were moving to the cloud, and that cloud infrastructure would provide the cost-effective scalability and manageability Digital ReLab would need to grow without massive capital investment.

The organization chose Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its cloud service provider, starting with a foundation of Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) for compute services and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) for long-term asset storage.

Casey says, “It was clear from the outset that AWS was the right choice for getting our solution to the cloud. The scalability and security are second to none, and Amazon S3 is the cloud storage platform of choice across the digital media industry. We can leverage the full range of AWS tools to help us optimize the process of getting content to the cloud, processing files, and making them available for whatever workflow the customer requires.”

The Benefits

Bridging the Divide

However, moving a solution originally built for deployment on a monolithic server architecture to the cloud presented challenges. “The way the software was written at first made it difficult to take advantage of the elasticity of cloud storage,” says Luke Adams, chief technology officer at Digital ReLab.

Then the company discovered Amazon Elastic File System (Amazon EFS). When mounted on Amazon EC2 instances, Amazon EFS provides a standard file-system interface and access semantics, allowing organizations to seamlessly integrate it with existing applications and tools. Multiple Amazon EC2 instances can access an Amazon EFS file system simultaneously, so Amazon EFS can provide a common data source for workloads and applications running on more than one Amazon EC2 instance.

“Amazon EFS presents itself as a traditional network file system, so we can use one codebase for our on-premises and cloud offerings,” says Adams. “That saved us about six months of development time, enabling us to onboard clients into the AWS Cloud faster. At the same time, we get the scalability, elasticity, and flexibility of cloud storage.” Amazon EFS is also used as a web file server for latency-optimized processes and as a high-performing workspace for asynchronous and ephemeral tasks. Because it scales automatically, the company no longer has to overprovision Amazon EC2 volumes, reducing total cost of ownership by approximately 40 percent.

Using Amazon EFS enables Digital ReLab to distribute work-order logic across servers and use Auto Scaling groups to manage large transcoding jobs—all without having to re-architect the platform. Starchive can act as a unified, browser-based front end across on-premises and cloud storage. “We are storage-agnostic, so whether files are on a local drive, Amazon S3, Dropbox, or anywhere else, clients can access and manage them all through one interface,” says Adams.

Using AWS allows the company’s DevOps team to spend less time and effort on management tasks. “Amazon EFS is elastic, so we don’t have to provision new storage for cloud-based clients, which saves DevOps cycles compared to managing static volumes,” says John Leimgruber, senior engineer at Digital ReLab.

In addition, using Amazon EFS has streamlined the company’s ability to release software. Adams says, “We have a single-tenant architecture on most of our stack, so each client has its own instance of the application. Since they are all backed by a single Amazon EFS instance, it’s much easier to deploy new versions or stand up new clients.”

The team is also able to experiment with new services more rapidly. As more Digital ReLab clients move to the cloud, the organization can adapt at a pace that makes sense for its business. “With Amazon EFS, we can replace legacy services one by one, adding new architecture when appropriate,” says Adams.

Casey adds, “Amazon EFS enables us to be more experimental. We’re working on containerization and serverless approaches, yet we can still reuse our standard ability to mount the file system and access assets in a common way. That lets us combine the latest computing techniques with a standard DevOps experience.” As the digital content explosion continues, Digital ReLab’s commitment to openness and innovation will help artists, archivists, and media companies get more from their assets by continually improving how they organize, monetize, and deliver digital content.

Starchive architecture prior to implementing Amazon EFS.

Starchive architecture after implementing Amazon EFS.

About Digital ReLab

We’re a group of creators — designers, photographers, audio editors, musicians — who, truth be told, probably have no business engineering software.

Benefits of AWS

  • Adapted on-premises software to the cloud without re-architecting
  • Saved six months of development time
  • Eliminated need to overprovision static storage
  • Reduced total cost of ownership by 40%
  • Enabled clients to cost-effectively process up to 5 TB of digital content daily

AWS Services Used

Amazon S3

Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) is an object storage service that offers industry-leading scalability, data availability, security, and performance. 

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Amazon Elastic File System

Amazon Elastic File System (Amazon EFS) provides a simple, scalable, fully managed elastic NFS file system for use with AWS Cloud services and on-premises resources.

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Amazon EC2

Secure and resizable compute capacity in the cloud. Launch applications when needed without upfront commitments.

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