Videography – August 1998

High Speed Storage Solutions Get More Flexible
By Sheldon Liebman

The current state of the high-speed storage market is a great reminder of the value of competition. Advances are being made in many different areas and the result is that users of these technologies are now being presented with more possibilities than ever before. No single company seems to be dominating the market and many of the players are looking for ways to increase the usefulness of their solutions by embracing the products of other companies.

On the SCSI front, new LVD drive technology is increasing speed while reducing costs. With Fibre Channel, burst speeds of 200 MegaBytes per second (MBps) are becoming more commonplace and new companies are introducing products every month. Over on the SSA side of things, development of SSA-160 continues and innovative solutions have been introduced to tie together disparate architectures within a single location.

As a consumer of high-speed storage and networking solutions, video professionals have an incredible array of solutions to choose from. This month, we’ll look at some of the trends in this fast-paced area that will help you as you try to decide the best way to implement this technology.

Fibre Channel Gains Players
Although there are still some interoperability issues to be resolved, more and more companies are jumping onto the Fibre Channel bandwagon. Three of these companies have a very strong background in the SCSI marketplace and are moving to Fibre Channel as a way of enhancing their positions in the high-speed storage market.

ANDATACO (San Diego, CA), formerly known as IPL systems, is a $100 million supplier of storage solutions that has only recently moved into the Video and Fibre Channel areas. Last month, the company attended their first SIGGRAPH and demonstrated a small Storage Area Network (SAN) connected to Mac, PC and SGI machines. ANDATACO’s strength is in their ability to integrate pieces from a number of companies to create a custom solution for their customers.

At this point, "ATTO is SCSI" doesn’t provide an accurate description of the company. ATTO has recently moved into Fibre Channel so that it can offer higher bandwidth solutions than are available using only SCSI. Initially, they changed their tag line to read "ATTO is SCSI…and Fibre Channel, but they’ve now settled on the phrase "The Power Behind the Storage." The company is working hard to leverage their existing SCSI technology into solutions that can combine SCSI and Fibre Channel storage.

The third company to add Fibre Channel to their pedigree is Hammer Storage Solutions, which recently introduced the SledgeHammer Pro FC disk array and JackHammer FC host bus adapter. The products ship with Hammer’s RAIDWARE Disk Array Management software for easy configuration and setup. Up to 12 disks can be placed into a single SledgeHammer Pro FC cabinet for a total storage of up to 216 GigaBytes (GB) of storage. Each FC-AL loop can contain up to 8 arrays for over 1.5 TeraBytes (TB) of total storage.

Multiple Platform Networks Gain Support
When high-speed networks were first offered, users were restricted to operating on a single platform. Over the past year or two, support for multiple platforms has been growing. A few companies offered Windows NT and SGI support; others supported the Mac and Windows environments. Today, solutions exist that can tie together all three of these major platforms for video.

Most companies don’t provide all the pieces necessary build cross-platform networks. Instead, they look to other suppliers to provide some of the pieces and work hard to integrate and test systems to ensure compatibility. We haven’t progressed to the point where users can just go to the local computer store, but the pieces and put them all together, but we are heading toward that goal.

A good example of bringing all the pieces together is ANDATACO. Although they "only" build the storage subsystem, the company has invested heavily in identifying host adapter cards, hubs and switches that can work together across platforms. In addition, they provide installation and configuration services to help design and implement Fibre Channel based networks. Finally, they stand behind the systems they provide by making sure they operate correctly and servicing them to make sure they stay that way.

At SIGGRAPH, ANDATACO’s SAN brought together products from ATTO (bridges and hubs), Mercury Computer Systems (data sharing software), Emulex (NT adapters), Adaptec (Mac adapters) and Prisa Networks (SGI adapters). Although they didn’t demonstrate it in Orlando, the company also supports Sun workstations on a mixed platform network, making it even more flexible.

One From Column A, One From Column B
The ability to operate a high-speed network across multiple platforms is very important, but there is another area that may ultimately prove to be more critical. Most facilities can’t afford to implement a single solution across the entire company at one time, so they install high-speed networking and storage in pieces. In a rapidly changing industry, the choice you make today may not be the best choice tomorrow.

Yesterday, you may have purchased high-speed SCSI arrays. Today, you might want SSA. Tomorrow, Fibre Channel may seem more attractive. Do you go with the best technology each time and risk isolating one part of your company from another or do you stick with your original choice and ignore other technology that may offer more benefits?

Thankfully, a number of companies in the industry are working hard to make sure you don’t have to make that choice. When ATTO added Fibre Channel to their product mix, they didn’t want to leave their SCSI customers hanging. So, they introduced FibreBridge, a product that allows SCSI storage systems to be connected to a Fibre Channel network.

Pathlight Technology is taking a similar approach with their ImageAgent II product, first shown at NAB. As one of the core pieces of Pathlight’s VSAN (Video Storage Area Network) architecture, ImageAgent II allows SCSI, FC-AL and SSA devices to be linked together. This ability to link together different types of networks and devices allows you to make the best decision for each part of your company without worrying about how they’re going to communicate with each other.

Configure it Out
With more suppliers, more platforms, and more architectures, there is a danger that configuring the system you decide to purchase will be an absolute nightmare. Even if you can get the system configured the first time, what happens if you need to change it? This is another area receiving attention.

At SIGGRAPH, Transoft announced "Hemingway," their 3rd generation SAN solution. The goal of Hemingway, according to the company, is to make a SAN look just like a LAN (Local Area Network). To accomplish this goal, Transoft is using key file system and networking technology from Microsoft in the form of the Windows NT File System (NTFS). This will allow the SAN to look just like a traditional Microsoft network and ensures that it can be accessed across multiple platforms including PC, Mac, SGI and Sun. Linking to Microsoft technology also ensures that the system can evolve along with the evolution of Microsoft’s Windows NT operating system.

Any Choice Can Be the Right Choice
In the old days, companies became "Mac Houses" or "SGI Houses" and there was very little a competitor could do to change that. More recently, people tried to get the best tools for the job, even if it created independent "islands" of functionality within a facility. Based on the changes occurring in the areas of high-speed storage and networking, it looks like we may ultimately be able to have our cake and eat it too – multiple platforms, multiple networks, one big, happy family.

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