Videography – January 1998

Transoft Goes on a High Fibre Diet
By Sheldon Liebman

A little over a year ago, we took a look at how Transoft Technology Corporation was using SCSI to create an environment where multiple users could share access to high speed storage devices in a workgroup environment. We also reported that the company was looking at Fibre Channel as one way to improve the performance of their system.

Today, Transoft has transformed itself into a Fibre Channel company. According to Robin Deshayes, Transoft’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing, "The scope of the Fibre Channel product is so great, it covers all the SCSI functions and then some." The company still ships a SCSI product to one of its OEM customers, but all the new products that have been introduced since our last story are designed around the Fibre Channel architecture. Initially this was limited to the Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loop (FC-AL) topology. However, recent product announcements support Fibre Channel in a switched network environment.

Support for multiple network topologies is one of Fibre Channel’s greatest strengths. Another one is that Fibre Channel is designed for both networking and storage subsystems. Transoft currently offers StudioBOSS FC software to address the networking side. For storage, the company offers ProTOWER FC and ProRAID FC storage subsystems. Recently, Transoft has also started to qualify products from other storage vendors. This month, they should be announcing several strategic partnerships that will greatly expand the number of options available for StudioBOSS users.

Who’s the BOSS?
Over the past year, the StudioBOSS product line has been expanded significantly. It now includes support for multiple platforms and is available in a number of configurations to address the needs of different types of users. At this point, the company has released products for Mac, SGI and Windows NT environments.

On the Mac, Transoft provides a cross-platform tool that can be used to link together a number of Mac stations or to connect Macs with other platforms. For SGI users, there are two versions of StudioBOSS. The native version can be used to link SGI machines to each other and a separate cross-platform version is required if the SGIs are to be connected to other platforms. The Windows NT environment is the newest one for Transoft. A native version of StudioBOSS is currently shipping and the cross-platform version is in beta test at a number of companies. The company expects it to be shipping by the time you read this story.

In addition to supporting the major computing platforms for video, Transoft is also creating different versions of StudioBOSS to better reflect the size and needs of the customers purchasing the product. Originally packaged in a "one size fits all" version, the Macintosh version of StudioBOSS has now been broken up into three different flavors. Based on the success of these products, the company is moving ahead with plans to offer the SGI and NT versions in the same manner.

Got a Lite?
The original Mac version of StudioBOSS is now referred to as StudioBOSS Standard. This supports both native and cross-platform installations with no limit to the number of workstations or storage devices that can be connected together (as long as each workstation has a valid StudioBOSS license). StudioBOSS Standard is limited to the FC-AL environment, however. It cannot be used on a switched network.

For small, single platform workgroups, Transoft has introduced StudioBOSS Lite. In the current version, this configuration allows up to four Mac workstations to be connected together via FC-AL. Similarly, the NT version will connect up to four NT machines and the SGI version will work with up to four SGIs. In all cases, you can connect any number of storage subsystems to the network.

For larger or more complex installations, Transoft offers a StudioBOSS Pro version of the Macintosh software. With StudioBOSS Pro, the company can now support a switched Fibre Channel network and has added security drivers to the system. "In a closed workgroup," explains Deshayes, "you don’t usually need the security features. Once you get into rentals or multiple suites, though, you don’t want people to have unrestricted access to everyone else’s directories."

The three versions of the Macintosh software are priced at $1995 per seat for StudioBOSS Lite, $3495 for StudioBOSS Standard and $4995 for StudioBOSS Pro. Equivalent pricing for the NT and SGI versions has not yet been determined, although Transoft indicates that the NT and Mac prices will be fairly similar with the SGI pricing a little higher.

It’s a RAID
At the same time Transoft has been expanding the networking side of their product line, there has been an incredible amount of activity in the area of Fibre Channel compatible storage. Fibre Channel storage subsystems have been around for a while, but most were built by taking a bunch of SCSI disks and linking them through a single Fibre Channel controller.

Today, the promise of Fibre Channel native drives is finally being met and the result is that pricing has come down significantly. Deshayes points out that when Transoft "first started shipping, a 72 GigaByte (GB) ProTOWER was over $35,000. Today, it’s around $20K."

This is very important for Transoft because the storage portion of a system seems to exhibit a lot of price sensitivity. The storage subsystem also has a lot to do with the performance of a Fibre Channel network. "The drive generates the bandwidth for the whole loop," comments Deshayes. "In the second quarter of 1998, Seagate says they’ll be shipping a new, 10,000 RPM Cheetah drive that’s 50% faster than the current generation." With this new drive, Deshayes expects single drive systems to support a sustained data rate of 15 MegaBytes per second (MBps). At that speed, she says, "you may not need to stripe drives together" in many environments.

If you do want to stripe disks together, Transoft offers two different storage solutions directly. Their ProTOWER product links up to 10 disk drives together in a JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks) configuration to provide a maximum of 90 GB of total storage. Today, that configuration is priced under $25,000.

For a true RAID environment, Transoft offers the ProRAID product line. This hardware RAID system can support up to 180 GB of storage today and is priced at under $90,000. The extra cost is due largely to the hardware RAID controller that is a part of this high performance, high reliability system.

Expanded Options, Expanded Solutions
As Transoft has moved into Fibre Channel and has increased the variety of products it can offer, the company has also undergone an explosive growth in sales. Last year, the company was still primarily selling products into the Pre-Press market and other areas that used SCSI heavily. Today, the video side of the company dominates.

"Our products are currently being used on 8 feature films," states Deshayes. "We’re also in a number of networks and at many broadcast television stations and post houses." The company is also starting to make inroads in video-related areas like game development.

One company that’s using StudioBOSS is Big Shoulders Video Productions in Chicago. They have three Avid suites connected together and a 72 GB ProTOWER disk array for shared storage. The result is that they can provide faster turnaround to their clients. "We can edit in one room while we’re digitizing in another," says Dave Burkett, Director of Post Production at Big Shoulders. "While one system is being used to load the editor, someone else can cut it together at the same time."

There’s a much larger StudioBOSS network in place at Creative Café, an audio production house in Los Angeles. At Creative Café, there are 10 Digidesign systems connected together and sharing 144 GB of storage in two ProTOWERs. Eventually, they plan to connect up to 50 stations together and transfer their entire sound library into a digital format.

"Using independent suites, there’s a lot of redundancy," explains Supervising Editor Dean Beville. "144 GB of shared storage is like 500 GB in our old configuration." Using a shared server also eliminates the need to move equipment around at Creative Café. "We can spend less time worrying about the flow of data and the management issues," adds Beville. "This gives us faster access to our tools and to the creative process."

Faster networking. Lots of storage. Increased creativity and productivity. Sounds like we could all benefit from adding some Fibre to our lives.

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