GraniteSTOR abcSAN

In industries working with large files, storage is critical to maximizing workflow and productivity — thus, the growth of storage technology over the past decade. However, with this growth, two issues have arisen. The first is a combination of applications requiring different storage elements to work, preventing a one-size-fits-all solution, and the second issue is scalability limitations.

The lack of a one-size-fits-all storage technology to date has handcuffed organizations that need to use multiple applications to complete projects. While Final Cut Pro will work with any storage technology, Avid requires the use of its own dedicated storage technology, and Pro Tools requires direct attached storage. This forces organizations to consider implementing multiple storage technology equipment throughout their facility in order to successfully meet the requirements of specific projects. Obviously, this can be cost prohibitive for small to midsize production and post-production facilities.

Scalability has also become an issue facilities must consider when examining storage technology. With two to three editors, it's not a serious problem to have a FireWire drive on every desk. If you've got 10 editors or more, however, using FireWire drives on every desk can be problematic, with too many drives to track projects and the likelihood of disk failure causing serious problems.

Under the hood

GraniteSTOR abcSAN, iSCSI-based shared storage technology from Small Tree, was built to provide economical, functional and easy-to-manage shared and direct storage for facilities that require flexibility and scalability. It provides robust (greater than 600MB/s), consistent performance over Ethernet networks while offering optimal cost-efficiency. The full-featured solution offers an intuitive GUI with single-pane class management for users who wish to manage RAID sets, volumes, targets and shares from one screen. Deployable as either a NAS or a SAN, it is available in a 12-drive (12TB or 24TB) configuration.

The shared storage technology can act as both a server or a direct attached device. So, if users set it up with half of their storage exposed as iSCSI targets, it can work as a time machine system, acting as a server so people can back up to it or as a Pro Tools system. At the same time, the other half of the system is serving out bandwidth and storage so that users can run Final Cut Pro. With Mac OS 10.5 and through some of the improvements in the network stack, the technology provides 100MB/s over Ethernet back to the client.

As NAS running over Ethernet, the technology is more scalable than Xsan because if the NAS server is full, users simply add more servers and put them on the network so that all of the users can see them. Files can be transferred easily between servers, and each server brings more bandwidth, more CPU and more memory to the storage equation. The only piece of the entire storage infrastructure that needs to scale is the Ethernet switch. This is by far the most inexpensive thing to scale, and large switches are easy to come by. Now with Xsan, you can have only one metadata server. Once users have hit a certain number of nodes hammering away on the metadata server, it's not going to provide optimal speed, and users can't make it any bigger.

Linux leads the way

The technology is based on embedded Linux, which is efficient, especially in the 2.6.27 and above kernels. Small Tree found that Linux will outperform a Mac server because a lot of people are using it and making open source improvements. So, when users combine Linux with inexpensive hardware, fast Intel processors, fast Intel networking cards and a nice GUI to configure it all, they're leveraging efficient and inexpensive technology.

Moving 110MB/s over an Ethernet Gigabit link, Small Tree's iSCSI software was built to be lean and mean. It's easy to use; editors simply click and type in the IP address of their RAID, and off they go. It'll be there automatically when they log in, and it'll mount when they reboot.

The 12-drive configuration offers inexpensive access to RAID 5. While only last year people were buying 10Gb to do uncompressed HD, by saturating the two Gigabit links on the abcSAN 12-drive, 10 to 15 clients can work simultaneously with no difficulties. Additionally, clients can now edit HD over Gigabit Ethernet.

Steve Modica is CTO for Small Tree.