In the course of the last decade, professional audio has migrated from magnetic tape to ubiquitous digital storage. As Moore's Law quickly accelerated DAW functionality and speed, along with a steep decline in the cost of storage, tape has been relegated to a narrow niche in favor of Pro Tools-based recording and FireWire storage.
With regard to the adoption of new technology, however, professional audio recording has lagged behind other segments of the entertainment technology industry. But the infrastructure of the modern facility is now rapidly evolving. Analog consoles and outboard equipment remain in many studios, but with few exceptions, they coexist with software-based recording platforms, processing plug-ins and digital storage. Many more studios, particularly producer-owned private environments, are fully digital.
As the DAW has allowed greater speed and a vastly increased volume of work to be accomplished, the storage element has become problematic. Historically, audio professionals are notorious for their use of FireWire drives. FireWire is costly, and managing data on numerous relatively low-capacity drives is both time-consuming and cumbersome.
Further, a lack of redundancy creates serious data protection issues. For a professional working on an important, high-profile project, a drive crashing or otherwise not performing properly is catastrophic. Not only is time and effort wasted, but inspiration and unique moments in time are irretrievably lost as well.
Many facilities have explored SAN options. But the workstations in most higher-end audio implementations are already loaded with audio cards. Adding a Fibre Channel host bus adapter is impossible, thus making the workstation dependent on external FireWire devices.
Globalstor Data has experience in developing iSCSI- and NAS-based technology. That, combined, with our observation of this evolution in professional audio, led us to develop a streamlined tool for this market — the ExtremeStor-iTrax series.
Improving flexibility and security
The range of servers features a file system tuned specifically for the professional audio industry. It offers multiroom facilities flexible, secure and competitively priced equipment that allows multiuser access to consolidated, centralized and fully searchable data. These systems are designed and derived from our digital intermediate servers — the ExtremeStor DI series.
In the professional audio industry, the servers are used in conjunction with Pro Tools and other DAW software on both Macs and PCs. Like the ExtremeStor-iNAS, these servers are built on a 64-bit iSCSI and NAS operating system, on a solid-state hard disk.
This system offers facilities flexibility through configuration with drives ranging from 250GB to 1TB hot-swappable SATA hard drives for scalable capacity ranging from 3TB to 18TB of raw storage. Globalstor additionally offers 750GB drives with raw capacity of up to 36TB in the chassis.
The larger units feature dual Opteron CPUs for maximized 64-bit computing power, while the lower-end equipment employs a single Opteron. In addition, the servers feature internal RAID controllers and SATA II disc drives.
Fibre Channel host bus adapters and support Fibre Channel RAID arrays can also be implemented, so facilities with existing storage can attach the storage directly into the box and centrally manage it.
Mixing NAS with iSCSI
Using an iSCSI initiator, the server appears as a local disc drive on any computer. A pair of iSCSI initiators for Mac is bundled with each product, while Windows users can download the free Windows iSCSI initiator offered by Microsoft. Globalstor's systems can also be used as NAS servers in conjunction with iSCSI.
Once iSCSI initiators are loaded, every host system on a network can see and share all stored data. Engineers on separate workstations can simultaneously edit and mix different sessions stored on any iTrax server. These servers offer audio professionals the ability to have centralized storage. A key benefit is that it places the retrieval of multiple sessions at their fingertips. In addition, users can remotely log into sessions from anywhere using the unit's IP-based GUI.
Available in various configurations, ranging from an eight-drive component featuring one RAID controller to a 36-drive/three-RAID controller unit, this series does away with the sneakernet of removable FireWire or USB hard drives. It also bests a cumbersome, expensive Fibre Channel infrastructure, both in terms of price and ease of implementation; the equipment is up and running in less than 15 minutes.
Further, the cost of implementation is far less than that for a SAN, and it is much easier to manage than the traditional FireWire method.
The value of having it network-attached is that the content is always online, whereas one is always busy plugging and unplugging FireWire drives. The series eliminates the need to physically get a drive and plug it into a system.
Finally, the servers enable clients to mix NAS with iSCSI, allowing shared pools for content in conjunction with and at the same time taking advantage of iSCSI.
Scott Leif is president of Globalstor Data.