Videography – February 1998

High Speed Storage Solutions Make it Easy to Share
By Sheldon Liebman

One of the best things about the digital video age is that we are now able to work on projects without the fear that we’re going to mess up the video quality by using too many layers or making too many copies. On the other hand, keeping everything digital has greatly increased both the amount of storage we need and the speed at which we need to access it.

Thankfully, disk drive technology is advancing at a very rapid pace. Today, we can purchase 9-GigaByte (GB) drives for under $1000. The next generation of 18 GB drives is just around the corner. Advances in storage technology recently announced by IBM and other companies virtually guarantees that drives will continue to get bigger, faster, and less expensive per unit of storage.

When using these drives, there are multiple configuration choices to tailor performance to your needs. A single disk is capable of providing a certain level of throughput. Linking multiple disks together, however, can increase the overall bandwidth of a system. This can be done in two different ways.

One is to simply "stripe" the disks together using software that basically interleaves information among two or more disks. This increases performance without adding significantly to the cost of the hardware. The result is often referred to as a JBOD (Just a Bunch Of Disks) array. The second method is to create a RAID array, which provides data redundancy and protection, although it adds to the overall cost of a system. RAID arrays can be created through both software and hardware with different capabilities available depending on whose solution you purchase. Make sure any RAID solution you get is designed to give you everything you need.

Networking technology is also developing nicely, as regular readers of Videography are well aware. Fibre Channel and SSA receive most of the attention, but other types of fast networking make it possible to share large amounts of storage among small or medium size workgroups.

For direct connections to a single workstation, advances in SCSI and IDE technology offer speeds approaching 40 MegaBytes per second (MBps) without any requirement to share your information or your data pipe. If machines with these types of fast disks are connected to a network, the storage can be shared throughout the network in either a client-server or peer-to-peer architecture.

In a client-server configuration, one or more computers with fast disks can act as a server so that all users can access the storage over the network. In a peer-to-peer environment, individual users can share access to their disks over the network.

Although these types of network storage solutions are possible and are very inexpensive to implement, they may not provide the performance that’s necessary for true collaboration in a video environment. For one thing, the machine(s) with the fast disks needs to be turned on and operating properly. Also, any programs being run at the same time affect the ability of a workstation to provide continuous access to the storage.

For the best performance, video users are turning to storage solutions that can exist independent of a particular machine. Fibre Channel and SSA support networks containing both computers and storage devices without the requirement that the storage be directly tied to a particular workstation. In many cases, this results in higher flexibility and performance than solutions using storage tied to a particular machine.

Over the past year, the term "Storage Area Networks" (SAN) has been coined to describe a situation where a large pool of fast storage is available to all users on a network. Since this term is not directly tied to a single network protocol, there is no single way to implement a SAN solution. Many vendors and resellers are working hard to become experts in this area and to provide high quality solutions for bandwidth hungry applications like video.

Given the variety of pieces that have to work together for a SAN to operate effectively, this specialization is a welcome addition to our industry. Since many of the "standards" being used and considered are constantly changing, it isn’t easy for users to know whether hardware and software from different manufacturers is actually going to work well together. It’s important to find a vendor or reseller who accepts responsibility for bringing together all the pieces, testing them out with each other and standing behind the installed the solution.

Until all of the pieces can work seamlessly together, it’s also important to consider if the "open" solution you are trying to put together is actually more of a "proprietary" situation. Depending upon whose products you are using, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to go into any high-end storage solution with both eyes open.

For example, there aren’t a lot of companies that make SSA or Fibre Channel native disk drives. In the case of SSA, IBM dominates the market. For Fibre Channel, the big player is Seagate. Does this mean you shouldn’t consider either solution because it "locks you" into IBM or Seagate drives? Probably not. Although they could drastically affect the market by pulling out, it’s unlikely either company would do that.

Who Can We Play With?
Now that all the explanations and caveats have been listed, let’s look at which companies are actually offering products that can be used for fast storage. Because of the fast rate of change in technology and pricing, it almost doesn’t matter what size disks a company is selling or what they’re actually charging for their products. Within the next few months, all of that is going to change (if it hasn’t changed already). Instead, we’ll concentrate here on who is providing products, how many ways the products can be configured and which interfaces are being used.

Atto Technology - Until very recently, "Atto is SCSI" has been the motto of this company. Today, that’s been changed to "Atto is SCSI…and Fibre Channel." Although the company is still selling it’s SCSI products, Atto has introduced a full line of Fibre Channel networking products as well as a SCSI to Fibre Channel bridge that allows existing SCSI products to be connected to a Fibre Channel network.

Avid Technology - In a move that extends their reach beyond traditional non-linear hardware and software, Avid Technology recently announced MediaShare F/C, a high-performance, Fibre Channel solution for workgroup storage. Based on Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loop technology, MediaShare F/C supports multiple simultaneous streams of 2:1 compressed video to Avid’s PCI-based Media Composer and MCXpress for Macintosh systems. MediaShare F/C provides bandwidth of up to 100 MBps per loop and allows up to 500 meters between nodes.

Ciprico - Ciprico currently offers the 7000 Series of Fibre Channel-compatible RAID disk arrays. The 7000 Series is Ciprico’s fourth generation disk array and supports sustained data transfer rates of over 90 MBps, according to the company. Ciprico has also designed the 7000 Series to support both point-to-point and FC-AL connectivity. The software interface to the 7000 Series is based on SCSI, which insures compatibility with a wide range of software products.

Computech International – Although many people may not have heard of Computech (CTI), they have been quietly providing disk arrays for a number of years. Their new SMART ARRAY product is available in either a software or hardware RAID configuration and is fully redundant. CTI supplies SCSI compatible arrays and can also supply Fibre Channel solutions ranging from a few GigaBytes to over a TeraByte of storage. CTI arrays have been tested and certified by leading video editing companies including Media 100, Scitex Digital Video and Truevision.

Dataframe – When SuperMac was a major force in the Mac market, one of their product lines was called Dataframe. Today, a new company targeting networked storage is using that name. Based in Minnesota, the new Dataframe is concentrating initially on SSA connected storage, but plans to expand into other areas over time. The first products from this company are the TwinSSA and QuadSSA arrays, which are available with up to 36 GB of total storage. Dataframe is currently building a high quality reseller channel and plans to be in the Pathlight booth at NAB.

If I Had a Hammer
When video-compatible storage solutions were first introduced a few years ago, one of the companies making a splash was FWB with their Hammer storage solutions. After a few changes in ownership and management, the Hammer name is back in the form of Hammer Storage Solutions. Streamlogic, which had acquired the Hammer name, filed for Bankruptcy protection last year. Hammer Storage Solutions is trying to rise from those ashes by going back to what the company does best – providing high performance storage solutions. In December, the company announced support for the SGI O2 platform and sustained throughput of over 34 MBps on that platform. With the announcement, Hammer products can be used with Mac, PC and SGI environments. The company currently offers the SledgeHammer Pro disk array, JackHammer high-speed Ultra SCSI controller and RAIDWare software.

La Cie – Currently, La Cie provides a high speed SSA storage solution called the Speed2 (pronounced spee-dee-two). Speed2 solutions consist of a host adapter card, a five-drive storage tower with or without additional expansion drives and software that makes the array look like a SCSI device to the host. La Cie also provides high-speed SCSI solutions.

MegaDrive - MegaDrive’s disk arrays are heavily marketed to the video industry. To insure compatibility with many environments, the company works closely with video suppliers to test the systems together. For example, MegaDrive recently announced that Truevision qualified their Aria Fibre Channel disk array for use with the Targa 2000 RTX desktop digital video system. At the same time, the company announced that their Enterprise Ultra E-8 SE+ product, an Ultra SCSI array, is qualified for use with Discreet Logic’s FLINT desktop system. Another MegaDrive product, the EV-1000 RAID system, is currently being used to provide clustered storage over a HiPPI network with sustained aggregate throughput of over 600 MBps.

MegaDrive also announced the availability of Seagate’s 10,000-RPM Cheetah drives in the Aria product. Aria also uses dual arbitrated loops for full redundancy and can mix 3.5" and 5.25" drives in a single array.

Mercury Computer Systems - Mercury continues to expand their SuiteFusion storage architecture. SuiteFusion can be configured to work with a variety of network types (Fibre Channel, SCSI or SSA) and provides throughput of up to 100 MBps to allow multiple uncompressed video streams to be accessed simultaneously. The company recommends having storage directly attached to the network to provide high performance at a lower cost and with a smaller risk of operational failure.

MicroNet – At the recent MacWorld show, MicroNet announced improvements to its DataDock 7000 product that include support for Differential SCSI. This latest SCSI technology provides a cleaner signal for Ultra SCSI devices and increases cable lengths to 50 feet between devices. MicroNet also supports a variety of SCSI devices through their standard DataDock modules. These products allow users to mix and match SCSI storage devices including hard drives, Iomega Jaz and Zip drives, SyQuest drives and magneto-optical or DAT drives.

Sagitta Performance Systems Limited – Sagitta is a new company that was created by a management buyout of Xyratex’s Storage Solutions Group. Xyratex is now concentrating on OEM products only while Sagitta focuses on high-performance RAID and network storage solutions for video and other markets. Today, the company offers the Salient family of data storage products. The Salient SSA Array interfaces with SSA networks and a Salient FC-AL Array is compatible with Fibre Channel loops. A SCSI-compatible solution is also available.

Storage Concepts – Today, Storage Concepts offers both SCSI and Fibre Channel disk arrays in a variety of configurations. The Concept 910 Disk Array includes nine high-performance SCSI drives to achieve up to 18 MBps throughput across a standard SCSI-2 bus and sustained transfer rates up to 50 MBps using Storage Concepts’ 32-bit EDFB (Extended Differential Fast Bus). For Fibre Channel environments, the company offers three models of its FibreRAID product line, the 807, 814 and 823. The model 807 uses up to 5 disks and the 814 holds up to 9 drives. For the fastest performance, the FibreRAID 823 supports sustained data transfer rates of up to 80 MBps with up to 180 GigaBytes of storage.

Transoft – While primarily thought of as a networking company due to the StudioBOSS product line, Transoft also markets storage subsystems for use in the StudioBOSS environment. The ProTower-FC can hold up to 10 Fibre Channel disks and can be configured to allow hot swapping of components. The ProRAID FC is a hardware RAID system that can contain up to 20 Fast SCSI drives connected to a Fibre Channel RAID controller and host interface. Throughput of the system is five times that of SCSI or up to 100 MBps.

It’s a Disk, It’ a DDR, It’s Both!
It was only a matter of time, but the line between traditional Digital Storage and Digital Disk Recorders is blurring. Any form of digital storage is ultimately saved as bits and bytes, but until recently, the two were kept separate. Today, there are a number of companies marketing products that can access digital video information as both video (using timecode) and files (using directories).

The pioneer in this area was Sierra Design Labs with a software product called Anteras. Using Anteras, Sierra’s Diskcovery and Quickframe products can be connected to standalone computers and networks. Today, this connection can be made through SCSI, Fast Ethernet and even ATM. Very soon, Fibre Channel will be added to this mix as the company introduces a new product to interface these storage products with a Fibre Channel network.

Other companies have decided to follow Sierra’s lead and create hybrid products that look like video devices to that side of the house and computer storage to the other side. Recently, we wrote about the Pluto Technologies SPACE product line, which can also be accessed as either a computer or video device.

You can add Mountaingate to this list as well. The company will be showcasing their CentraVision 6200 VDR at this year’s NAB along with the CentraVision File System (CVFS). With CVFS, the information recorded on the VDR can be accessed from a Fibre Channel network. The CV6200 VDR also features a VTR-like front panel control so that information can be accessed in the same way as with a traditional VTR.

Another player will be appearing at NAB with a similar capability to CentraVision. Kalidea, a new French company, will be making their NAB debut with their DPR 700, an uncompressed digital video recorder that also includes a standard VTR front panel for access to information. The DPR 700 includes a standard 10BaseT/100BaseT connection for use with Ethernet or Fast Ethernet networks. Connection with Fibre Channel or SSA networks is also available.

It’s Nice to Share
With all these companies and all these product options, it’s easier than ever to create high-speed, networked storage. Of course, it’s also more confusing than ever. However you choose to solve your storage issues, just be sure that someone is standing behind you and the product(s) you choose to make sure the reality lives up to the promise.

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