: walter biscardi's Blog
As I reported a few weeks ago, Small Tree replaced our original ethernet SAN we've been running since December 2008 with a new system including an all new 48TB Granite Stor RAID II. I also reported that we discovered some things about the Macs that Steve and Chris wanted to go back and test even further.
During the original install, the new Edge Core Switch turned out to have an issue which caused one of the 10Gig ports to fail. But we all expected that the system would work well for us while a solution was found to that issue. Unfortunately, though we tested the system for a full day with all the systems running and doing some editing, after the first full week, we knew we had to improve the performance of the system in a hurry. There just seemed to be a fine tolerance to what could be happening at any given time to ensure that all the systems worked properly, particularly the ability to master shows without the edit to tape aborting for dropped frames. It really came to a head one afternoon when we were trying to get two network shows out at the same time and of course, dropped frames turned everything into a race against the clock to make overnight shipping. We made it, but it was way too close for comfort.
We remained in almost daily contact with Steve, Chris and the rest of the Small Tree engineering team and they repeatedly would log into our various computer systems, make some tweaks, take some notes and keep working at it. Then last week Steve, Chris and Corky Seeber made a return visit to our facility, but this time they brought a brand new Small Tree 10gig switch along with a quad port 10 Gb card (installed in the server to take the best advantage of the new Small Tree 10 GB switch), and 4 Single port Ethernet cards. Small Tree had noticed during testing in their offices that they were able to get better performance from the Small Tree 1 GbE cards than the internal Ethernet ports of the Apple systems when using the Small Tree 10 Gb Switch.
Basically what Small Tree has been able to do in the past is make high speed, off-the-shelf network switches work for high speed video editing. But from what I understand we've hit the breaking point where if ethernet shared storage is going to continue to evolve and move forward, we need switches designed more for that task than for regular network traffic. Enter the new Small Tree 24 Port 10Gigabit Ethernet switch.
This thing was built with complete 10GigE infrastructure within to ensure that the maximum data throughput is achieved at all times. Designed from the ground up by Small Tree, this unit is something that should be able to withstand the constant beating that a shop like ours throws at it. So that was step one, install the new switch to give the entire system a speed boost right off the bat.
The next step was to go through each individual computer in our facility and individually tune them further. The first time they were here they did the first round, but since discovered some more "secret sauce" to make things work more smoothly. They go into the Terminal of each machine and make some internal tweaks to the setup of each system. There's no "one setting fits all" as I found out. Each systems has to be configured based on all the particulars of how the machine is set up including the software it runs and the third party hardware installed. In the end, I believe Small Tree only installed one of the new 10GigE cards into the machines because quite frankly, the others didn't need them once they were tuned correctly.
In short order we had the SAN up and running and every edit suite playing down video timelines along with all of our iMacs. So that's 5 Mac Pro workstations and 7 iMacs all playing 720p or 1080i ProRes video. The Mac Pros were were all playing FCP 7 timelines in a loop and the iMacs were all playing 20 to 30 minute clips in a loop. The iMacs don't have editing software on them, they're used by Producers to review footage as necessary.
Once again, the system in Edit 1 was the most vexing because it's one of the fastest systems in the entire facility and the one we use to cut the feature documentaries, yet it would drop frames playing the same timeline that the slowest system in the shop could play with no problems. Normally you would say "Add more Ram!" "Add a faster GigE Card!" and those might fix the problem temporarily. But there was something fundamental with the way this machine was configured that needed to be addressed. This was a super fast 8 core machine being outperformed by a much slower four core machine. I would guess the pair of them spent about 6 hours just on that one Mac Pro but they finally hit on a combination of settings that made a major change in the behavior of the machine. We did not touch the RAM, we did not change the Ethernet Card (A Small Tree Peg1 card that's been in there all along), Steve and Chris simply kept going into the Terminal and making adjustments to the way the Mac Pro operates. I honestly don't know all the particulars but by the end of the day, the Edit 1 system was behaving better than it has in a long time.
So when we started this whole process of moving from the older SAN configuration to the new SAN configuration we could lay off a half hour show to tape, but we would have to carefully manage what all the clients on the SAN were doing. Even then, we could get those aborts due to dropped frames.
Now, we can literally lay off two shows simultaneously and not pay any attention to what any of the other clients are doing. We've never been able to do that. In fact we did it 4 times in a row as a test. Two Mac Pros laying off 30 minute 720p HD shows being converted to 1080i via the AJA Kona 3, Three other Mac Pros playing 5 to 30 minute timelines in a loop or editing / scrubbing video (I was jumping from edit suite to edit suite to take over) and the 7 iMacs all playing long video clips in a loop. In fact I even laid off 3 shows simultaneously in one test. We've never been able to do any of this in the past. Oh we could edit in all the suites at the same time no problem, but mastering two shows at the same time to tape, that's never happened, but we always knew that and planned for it.
Then on Monday the editors came in and without any prompting, one of them said, "Everything is snappier today." All three of my editors noticed immediate improved performance from the system. More realtime playback, dropped frames non-existant and absolutely no concern for mastering off shows anymore, even two at a time. After a full week of hammering on the system, I'm glad to say that the system is proving itself on a day to day basis.
And it's not just that we have some faster products now with the new 48TB RAID and the 10GigE switch from Small Tree. It's the technical experience by Steve, Chris and all the engineers at Small Tree to completely understand the inner workings of all the machines that are connected to the system. Not accepting that we can "just throw more RAM or another card" at the problem and try to make it go away. It's getting to the heart of the problem, understanding it and then taking the correct course of action to solve it. Sometimes that means adding more hardware / RAM and other times it simply means tweaking the inner workings of the system.
It's very exciting to see what started out really as a cheaper alternative to a fibre channel SAN now evolving into a much more robust and fast system. Oh and don't think this is a Mac based solution, this concept can run on Windows as well, these guys have expertise in both platforms and of course Linux too. That's VERY important to me right now as we ponder the future course of our company and the NLE solution(s) we go with. We have to be prepared for the possibility that a Windows workstations (or two, or three) could start appearing in our shop. Thankfully, the guys at Small Tree will be ready to take our SAN in whatever direction we need to go.
Ok, about that * in the title - Technically what we are using is a NAS, not a SAN. But when Bob Zelin and I first started talking about it publicly we both referred to this configuration as a SAN because that's what we call shared storage in video production. Steve Modica got tired of correcting us and just went along with our (incorrect) terminology. So if you're fussy about the correct terminology, what we are using to edit video is a NAS. Happy now? Good!
Very proud to kick off the new Post Production User Group for Atlanta and of course all of the surrounding areas. Too many times these User Groups are application centric and that seems to leave too many folks out. After all in today’s world, an Editor is not just an Editor. Heck a Graphic Artist, a Sound Designer, a Web Designer is just that any longer. Because the tools have gotten so much more accessible all of us are multi-tasking to do whatever it takes to get the job done for the client. So now it’s a rarity to find any Post Production artist who just wears one hat.
In that spirit, we present Atlanta Cutters.
Sure we’re gonna spend a lot of time talking about the tools we all use, but moreso, we want to discuss the craft of what we do and how we all interact. So of course you’re going to see a lot of product demonstrations because that’s one way you get to see what’s new and out there. But we will cover a huge range of topics from acquisition to post to storage to archive to sound to graphics to animation and more. But you’re also going to hear from folks on the hows and whys of what they do to hopefully both inspire and motivate all of us to do what we do better. We hope the group will inspire more collaboration by introducing new tools, workflows and even artists to each other.
Most of all, we hope this group is something you look forward to once a month as a fun place to go. Twitter, Facebook and web forums are great for all of us to connect and help each other, but let’s put the voice and face together with the avatar.
So to one and all in the Post Production Community, we say welcome to Atlanta Cutters!
Walter, Kris, Clay and Dan
First meeting: July 27th, 6-10pm, Turner Studios
We’re one week into our search to transition our facility away from Apple and Final Cut Pro so I wanted to bring everyone up to date on where we stand so far. This was a very busy week as you can imagine with both production work in the shop and many MANY requests for myself to speak to national media outlets, podcasts and personal visits to our facility. So the testing will really ramp up this coming week.
Adobe Premiere Pro CS 5.5
This has been installed both on my home machine (27″ iMac) and our testing Mac Pro at the office which also includes the AJA Kona 3G board. Early testing shows that the workflow is remarkably similar to Final Cut Pro and in fact Adobe even includes preset keyboard remapping for Final Cut Pro 7.0 and Avid Media Composer. The new AJA 9.0.1 Plug-Ins for CS 5.5 are working very nicely and Premiere is talking to our SAN. So it’s essentially plug-and play to get going with the system.
Is it perfect? No and the Adobe reps I’ve been talking to have been very upfront about the good, the bad and ….. well nothing’s ugly so far so that’s a good thing. The most difficult part of the workflow is that Adobe might actually give us TOO many choices and settings.
For example, there is no direct equivalent to “Easy Setup” in Premiere so you do have to through several menus and settings to get your Project set up correctly. However, those Project Settings remain with the Project. So to create an “Easy Setup” you simply create multiple Project Templates with all the settings as you’d like them for various projects. So I create a “720p / 59.94 AJA Project” which has all the settings for a 720p / 59.94 project using the AJA Kona board for Capture and Playback. When I have to do a project using those parameters, I simply Duplicate the project and my entire system is set to work. That’s an elegant workaround and with the multiple workstations in our shop, I can create all the Template projects on one machine and share them with everyone else. By the way this was a great tip given by the book “An Editor’s Guide to Adobe Premiere Pro,” which you can find on various websites and even iTunes for download.
The most refreshing part of testing CS 5.5 is the openness and willingness of the Adobe team to admit that they still have things to be improved and they are listening to what editors have to say. I have heard stories of their development team literally watching the editors work through screen sharing to learn the “why” and “how” editors work in their daily sessions. That’s pretty neat.
Oh one last thing, Adobe Premiere Pro is cross platform so I have purchased one copy of Windows 7 Professional for installation in a new clean drive on our Test Mac Pro system. I want to see how this works out because this will open us up to working with freelancers and shops in town that might be Windows based, thus giving us an even larger pool of shops to work with. Much more testing to be done, but early testing has been great.
Avid Media Composer
Honestly don’t have a lot to report just yet as it is being installed on our testing Mac Pro at the facility. What we have done is to install a clean hard drive inside the machine, which we actually partitioned so we can install a clean copy of Snow Leopard on one side and the Windows 7 on the other side.
I wanted to ensure that we don’t create any issues by having Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro CS 5.5 and Avid MC all installed on the same drive. Most folks I talked to said they always installed FCP and Avid on separate boot drives, so I followed that advice. This way if we have any issues or crashes I don’t have to wonder if anything is being caused by the other apps. So this will be installed by itself on the drive to ensure we are only testing that software, that workflow.
Of immediate concern to me is that there is no support just yet for the AJA Kona Board. Avid did hint at NAB that support is coming and a recent exchange on Twitter states that Avid is listening. So hopefully we will hear something official in the near future. Secondarily, I’m not sure how / if it will work with our Ethernet SAN. That will be even more crucial than the Kona testing. I’ve been told that Avid doesn’t like third party storage that much, so this will be a good test. The guys from Small Tree Communications happen to be coming to our shop next week so if we do have any issues, they are going to be right there to investigate.
I’m excited to be testing this out actually because this brings me full circle back to the very first NLE I learned back in 1993 / 1994 when Avid was introduced to CNN. And from my conversations with Avid at NAB 2011 and subsequent communication since, Avid is truly listening and responding to years of complaints about being a very closed and hard to work with company. As with Adobe, I’ve heard more from Avid reps since April than I ever heard from Apple in 11 years. More to report soon.
Autodesk Smoke 2012
Autodesk was kind enough to send us an evaluation copy of Smoke 2012 which is something I’ve always known about, really like the interface, but have never had the opportunity to put my hands on. It’s not installed anywhere yet as this will be the last software we’ll be testing. It’s a very new software to me to I want to spend time with Avid and Adobe first, then we’ll test Smoke. Not sure it will be the primary editor for us, but it could very well fit into a finishing role for some shows and series.
It does accept interchanges with both Adobe and Avid so I’m most interested in how well handles the myriad of codecs we get and does it like mixed timelines / mixed formats? We’ll find out soon, but I’m really REALLY excited to give this a test drive!
So that’s the basic update for the moment. On a personal note, I have to be very honest and say that the FCP X roll-out has actually made me re-think some of my overall support of Apple in general.
At a recent event (I think it was the WWDC) Apple reps said they’ve heard from many consumers that they would love to tablets to be their primary and sometimes sole computer device. Well how can that be if Apple has decreed that Flash will not be supported by the iOS devices?
Sure it’s a “legacy” format and can cause “performance issues” with the tablets, but since Apple says it’s so, they don’t appear on the iOS devices and we simply accept that. With the iPhone, sure I don’t care because that’s primarily a phone, but if the iPad is supposed to be a “primary computer device,” I don’t think so.
I have visited hundreds of sites that incorporate Flash one way or another and it’s incredibly annoying when you can’t use the site, so I have to pull out one of our computers just to use that site. I hate Flash as much as Apple does, but that doesn’t mean I won’t visit a site that uses it. Try planning a cruise on your iPad, for example, and you’ll find that most major sites like Princess.com use Flash to display their cabin layouts when you go to select a cabin. Sure the world will probably be going HTML 5 soon but how many years away are we from that? In the meantime it would be nice for the iOS devices to support Flash if I as the consumer who bought the product would like to use a Flash enabled site.
With Final Cut Pro X, Apple did the same thing with third party capture cards and tape formats. Because Tape and Capture Cards don’t fit with the “modern workflow” model Apple dropped all support for them natively inside the application. Without that support for tape formats, I cannot make a living in our workflow.
The same apparently applies to “legacy projects” too. As in “You will not be able to open old projects because we say so.” Apparently Final Cut Pro X is only for “Modern Projects” and cannot be sullied by “Old Projects.”
So I gotta say, while I was really looking forward to whenever the iPad 3 comes out, I’m starting to get very annoyed with “You Can’t Do That Because We Say So”
and the “You Will Do It Our Way”
attitudes from Apple.
That’s not really “Thinking Different,”
that’s “Telling You How To Think.”
With Final Cut Pro X, that was Apple “Telling You How To Edit Video.”
Does any of this remind of you of a certain 1984 commercial from an upstart company? Only now that upstart is directing the minions…….
I’m gonna take a close look at that new Galaxy Tab from Samsung and other tablet options out there that don’t close off part of the internet experience just “because they can.” Also going to take a really close look at Windows 7 when it’s installed on that machine because I have some hard-core Mac fans who are telling me “it’s good.”
The debacle of FCP X has caused me to “lift the blinders” that kept me focused solely on Apple and Apple development. There’s a whole new world out there and I am now open to accept the possibilities no matter where that opportunity comes from.
In the wake of the scathing criticism surrounding the release of Apple Final Cut Pro X, Apple has released a FAQ
that attempts to answer some of the questions. There are a few in particular that caught my eye.
"Can I import projects from Final Cut Pro 7 into Final Cut Pro X?
Final Cut Pro X includes an all-new project architecture structured around a trackless timeline and connected clips. Because of these changes, there is no way to “translate” or bring in old projects without changing or losing data. But if you’re already working with Final Cut Pro 7, you can continue to do so...."
More than anything else, that is the complete deal breaker for us and confirms what some very smart people have been telling me all along. In our production workflow we refer back to projects 4 to 6 years old with a need to revise, pull elements from or sometimes complete re-cut using the original elements. While FCP X can access the media, it cannot access the original sequences and project organization.
As we have discovered, Adobe Premiere Pro opens up legacy FCP Projects very nicely and we know that we can share projects with Avid as well.
"Can I edit my tape-based workflow with Final Cut Pro X?
Yes, in a limited manner. Final Cut Pro X is designed for modern file-based workflows and does not include all the tape capture and output features that were built into Final Cut Pro 7....In addition, companies like AJA and Blackmagic offer free deck control software that allows you to capture from tape and output to tape."
Many of the documentary videographers we work with still shoot tape, predominately Panasonic DVCPro HD Tape. The ingesting of tape is not that big of a deal using the AJA capture software, but when it comes time to output, the way this works actually is actually much more inefficient than the ability to lay out to tape directly from the timeline. If Apple can convince every single network and station that HDCAM tape is no longer necessary, then they'd have their modern workflow, but for now, tape ingest and tape output is still here for the broadcast and much of the professional market.
Adobe and Avid support tape workflows natively.
"Does Final Cut Pro X support external monitors?
Yes. If you have a second computer monitor connected to your Mac, Final Cut Pro X gives you options to display the interface across multiple monitors. For example, you can place a single window — such as the Viewer or the Event Browser — on the second monitor, while leaving the other windows on your primary monitor."
Honestly can't believe Apple considers this "supporting external monitors." This is laughable at best. What Apple is actually doing is using my $1500 AJA Kona board and my $5,000 FSI Reference Monitor as a second computer monitor. The video output quality is marginal at best, AJA calls it "preview quality" in their documentation.
This is NOT supporting an external monitor that I require for accurate color grading of a project. Supporting an external monitor means allowing me to use two computers monitors via the graphics card while also sending a true video signal via my AJA Video Card (or BMD, Matrox if that's what you have). This FAQ in particular tells me Apple truly doesn't "get" the professional market.
Adobe and Avid support external video displays properly.
"Can Final Cut Pro X export XML?
Not yet, but we know how important XML export is to our developers and our users, and we expect to add this functionality to Final Cut Pro X. We will release a set of APIs in the next few weeks so that third-party developers can access the next-generation XML in Final Cut Pro X."
Translation: We know it's important to our users so we removed it from Final Cut Pro X and you'll now have to purchase it from a third party developer. Apparently it was so important the APIs weren't even ready at launch.
Adobe and Avid can export XMLs natively.
UPDATE: It was pointed out to me by an Avid editor that Avid canNOT export an XML. Thanks for the correction!
"Does Final Cut Pro X support OMF, AAF, and EDLs?
Not yet. When the APIs for XML export are available, third-party developers will be able to create tools to support OMF, AAF, EDL, and other exchange formats."
Translation: We know it's important to our users so we removed it from Final Cut Pro X and you'll now have to purchase it from a third party developer. Apparently it was so important the APIs weren't even ready at launch. (Is there an echo in the room?)
"Can I send my project to a sound editing application such as Pro Tools?
Yes; you can export your project in OMF or AAF format using Automatic Duck Pro Export FCP 5.0. More information is available on the Automatic Duck website: http://automaticduck.com/products/pefcp/."
Wes Plate has been developing incredible plug-ins for pro users so make applications talk to each other for years when the manufacturers wouldn't. So what I'm about to say is not a knock against him, he is a business man and I applaud him for creating this and everything else he does for us.
This plug-in costs $495. So my $299 investment in Final Cut Pro now increases to $794 for a single application and plug-in.
Adobe and Avid export OMFs for ProTools natively.
"Does Final Cut Pro X allow you to assign audio tracks for export?
Not yet. An update this summer will allow you to use metadata tags to categorize your audio clips by type and export them directly from Final Cut Pro X."
In Final Cut Pro 7 we simply line up the audio by dragging or assigning them to particular tracks, particularly since we send our broadcast work to ProTools. But what if they don't fall neatly into a particular type? And what if I need to put this sound on Track 5 / 6 for full nat sound at this point in the show, but then I have to put it into Tracks 9 / 10 later in the show because I'm just using it underneath? How do I "Tag" the metadata correctly.
Apple assumes that everything we do falls into neat, compartmentalized categories. This is rare. Particularly with documentaries when I'm dealing with 250 hours of material. I can use the exact same clip as an Interview, Natural Sound, B-Roll and SOT.
Also note that this assignment will happen when you EXPORT the project from Final Cut Pro X. No way for you to simply visually look at the timeline to ensure everything is correct. What's easier than simply looking at the timeline visually? Apparently assigning metatags and then asking the ProTools engineer, did everything line up? I would really like to know how many of the professional editors that made up the Beta team really thought this was a good efficient idea?
Adobe and Avid allow you to assign tracks as you're editing within the application.
So the FAQs definitely cleared up a lot of things for me. Now I know that if I were to stay with Final Cut Pro X that I could potentially be looking at an investment of $794 to $1,000 (depending on what the cost of the third party XML plug-ins are going to cost) for a single application per machine. With Final Cut Studio 3 I had a suite of fully functional applications that worked together (for the most part). Now I will get a "$299" application that rolls in some of what the old suite did, tossed out a bunch of other features & apps and I'll have to add on OMF and XML support at the very least which will drive the price up at least $500 and possibly another $500 after that. Of course the price can continue to rise as more features that we use today are added back in by third party developers at a cost. This will be for each and every machine. I'm gonna use $1,100 per machine as a nice round number on the amount of money I'd need to spend for this $300 machine that will actually make our production workflow more inefficient with the lack of tape ingest / output natively.
Let's not forget this "modern new application" will also lock out all of my old FCP projects for good. I have around 1,000 of them over the past 10 years.
Let's not forget Apple discontinued sales of Final Cut Pro 7 the same day as the FCPX roll-out so I would not be able to purchase anymore at this time anyway. Yes a limited number may still be available from VARs but why stick to an application that was "modern" two years ago and is very inefficient in digital formats.
I can spend about $400 per machine and upgrade my Adobe CS 5 to CS 5.5 which gives me pretty much every single feature that Final Cut Pro 7 had and includes Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Audition, Adobe Flash Catalyst, Adobe Flash, Adobe Encore (for DVD and BluRay). Other bundles include Illustrator. In other words, a suite of products, each specialized to a set of tasks extremely well, working together. Here's how Steve Forde describes Adobe's approach
to ripping apart CS4, which was not well received in terms of Adobe Premiere Pro, and created a brand new 64 bit CS5.
"In CS5 Adobe had done a complete rewrite of the guts in Premiere to 64 bit on both MAC and PC, and listened to users about how the application should change – dozens of changes throughout the application to make it ‘just work’."
They ripped apart the "guts" creating a modern 64 bit, very efficient product, but listened to the users and kept the workflow for the post production community completely intact. Avid managed to do the same. Only Apple decided that moving to 64 bit would require a "revolutionary approach to editing."
Thanks to the Final Cut Pro X FAQs, I'm convinced we have made the correct decision for my company to move away from the Final Cut Pro platform.
It's clear that Apple will stick to their path with no looking back while I just need a more efficient tool that fits into our workflow. Moving to Adobe and Avid will allow us to continue our jobs without an upheaval in the way we tell stories.
Quite honestly we're all excited about the possibilities moving forward!
As we transition from Final Cut Pro to another NLE, I'm running a series of tests to determine which NLE will best suit our needs.
We have been using the AJA Kona boards for years with FCP so it's really important to me that the board work with whatever new software we go with. Happily I can now run my AJA Kona boards smoothly with CS 5.5 thanks to the new 9.0.1 Plug-In release.
In this walkthrough I show you how to properly set up the AJA Kona board so you can do some testing yourself. It's a little different than what I'm used to from Final Cut Pro, but this brings us one step closer to transitioning away from FCP.
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As we transition from Final Cut Pro to another NLE, I'm running a series of tests to determine which NLE will best suit our needs.
One concern is whether any of the workflow that we've developed through the years in Final Cut Pro will translate to another NLE. As in the part 1 of Transitioning, we're looking at Adobe Premiere Pro. Do we have to re-train ourselves completely or develop an entirely new workflow to use Premiere? I take a look at the basic layout of the two applications and some of the basic features used in FCP to see how they translate over.
This is not a tutorial, but more of a walkthrough to help those of you who are considering whether to stay with Final Cut Pro or transition to something else.
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As we transition from Final Cut Pro to another NLE, I'm running a series of tests to determine which NLE will best suit our needs.
Of paramount concern is to ensure that we can still access the 1,000+ Final Cut Pro projects we have on file dating back 10 years of production. We often have to do revisions and updates, particularly for news stories.
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Because so many folks have asked me "What's in your Edit Suite?" followed up by "Why do you have that?" I created a new blog entry to answer the hows and whys of what we install in our suites.
I was originally going to re-create the blog here on the Cow site, but it would be so time consuming, forgive me for just linking to the original blog on my website. But feel free to post comments here.
Anatomy of an Edit Suite
Ok, I got a bunch of emails yesterday asking to explain exactly how an Ethernet SAN works. I've done a full article on this in the past, but here's a quick primer on how it works.
1 - The SAN controller computer. In our case, a Mac Pro 12 Core machine with 32GB RAM.
2 - An Ethernet controller inside the SAN controller computer. In our case it's a Small Tree Communications Card.
3 - A RAID Host controller inside the SAN controller computer. In our case it's the Atto R680 SAS Host controller.
4 - A high speed ethernet switch. In our case, a Small Tree 24 port ethernet switch.
5 - A high speed media array. In our case, a brand spankin' new Small Tree 48TB ST RAID II. 16 drive chassis with 3TB drives.
6 - Client computers connected to the ethernet switch via Cat 5 / 6 cable. Mac Pro, iMac, Mac Mini, Laptops, anything with an ethernet port.
So in a nutshell, the high speed RAID connects directly to the SAN Controller computer.
The SAN Controller computer connects to the Ethernet Switch.
The Client computers connect to the Ethernet Switch.
Set up the Network settings correctly on the SAN Controller Computer and all Client computers.
Set up the File Sharing correctly on the SAN Controller Computer and all the Client computers.
Go into the Mac OS on the SAN Controller Computer and all the Client Computers and tune the heck out of them.
That's it in a nutshell. Mount the SAN to each client and start working.
There is zero control software needed to run the SAN. Just set it up, tweak it and start editing. Of course I'm not going to get 500MB/s to each client workstation like you might with Fibre Channel, but we get well over 100MB/s to each workstation allowing us to cut and view Apple ProRes HD files all day long across 14 workstations simultaneously.
Here's a diagram of what the system looks like in our shop. In our case, we've decided to keep one of the original 16TB Expansion chassis from our original SAN so we can use it as a direct connect to our Resolve system for RED / Alexa playback and to use as a "dump drive" for the big SAN when needed to clean up the RAID.
DAY ONE: Sunday
It was a very hot and sticky weekend here in Atlanta, but it was nice and cool inside the shop. A great time to install a brand new SAN. Steve Modica, Chris Duffy and I all met up bright and early at 8am to get a nice early jump on things. Turned out to be a good thing because we had to transfer almost 32TB of material from our original SAN.
Chris and Steve get to work removing the original switch.
First test was to ensure that everything still worked with just changing out the switch. That's a very important first step when you're making a major change to your system involving multiple parts. When feasible, always test your system with each newly introduced part.
Steve Modica behind the rack checking the clearance for the new switch.
Testing the new switch with the old SAN configuration was an easy first step. Then it came time to unpack the shiny goodness that is the Small Tree ST RAID II storage array. All 48TB of it, configured in RAID 4 which gives us about 38 TB of available storage space.
Like Christmas morning!
Installing the chassis.
No, there are no drives in there, so it's much lighter than it appears. Once the 16 drives are in there, then that thing gets super heavy. You can see our older 16TB RAID sitting up on its side to the left. This single 16 drive chassis replaces 32TB in two chassis. We'll use the new 48TB for shared storage and keep one of the 16TB for direct connect to our Resolve system for super high speed 4k and higher playback.
Molly sitting outside The Core, apparently unimpressed with the shiny goodness going on inside. She would apparently rather we play with tennis balls. But I digress.....
Close-up view of the Small Tree ST RAID II
And here it is sitting above one of our older arrays.
Yeah, I know what you're thinking. "Gee that looks exactly the same, so why go with Small Tree?"
Ok, you'll find that multiple vendors all use the same chassis, it's a nice silver box that looks really nice sitting next to the Mac Pros. That's probably why they all use them. BUT when I say they use the same chassis, that's exactly what they use. The silver outer box and the drive sleds on the front. At least as far as Small Tree goes, that's all they use that would be the same as other vendors. Once you get inside with the cards, the electronics and the setup, that's all proprietary Small Tree and THAT's where you get the difference between something that "looks the same" and something that operates completely different.
Same with the overall configuration of the entire Ethernet SAN, Small Tree are network experts who really took the concept to a new level and which is why I went with them to configure the entire system and added their storage to equation. The next step was to transfer one of the 16TB arrays to the new array because we needed to use the other for a rare Sunday edit.
While the transfer was going on, Steve and Chris went through our 6 primary workstations and 7 iMacs to configure all the network settings. They literally had dozens of configurations to set up to get the best combination of speed and stability for our system. Various configurations for the client workstations, the client iMacs and also the SAN computer itself.
5 hours later, the 16TB was finally transferred over to the SAN so we could start running some speed tests. Here Steve and Chris monitor the SAN while the workstations play video down. After several hours of tweaking and tuning, for the first time since we moved into the new facility, we had all 6 workstations and the four edit suite iMacs all playing video projects simultaneously. It felt great to finally get the full system up and running. By then it was 8:30pm and time to call it a day for day one.
The best part? These guys had more ideas for further tuning AND we seem to have discovered an interesting condition or maybe it's a bug between older and newer Mac Pros. Will require more testing in the future, but we seem to be on to something interesting that really shouldn't be happening.
DAY TWO: Monday
On the second day we completed the installation of the new Small Tree Ethernet SAN featuring the 48TB ST RAID II storage system. The thing that continues to blow me away about these guys is their knowledge all ALL things Mac. In particular the inner workings of the OS.
One thing they did with our SAN computer was to DROP the amount of RAM in it. When we were having playback problems a few months ago, one of the solutions thrown to us by our previous vendor was to up the RAM from 20GB to 32GB to help the problem. Normally, more RAM, better performance. Turns out, with the brand new 12 Core Mac Pro, this was more inefficient on the computer because of the way it uses RAM. We were creating a bottleneck in the RAM rather than helping the problem. I never would have known that, but it was one of the first things Steve Modica did with the computer to help performance.
As mentioned earlier, in the course of testing we discovered that two of our edit suites performed completely differently when playing the exact same project off the SAN. The older model played it perfectly while the latest and greatest Mac Pro dropped frames at odd times. If it was just me working in the shop, I would immediately point to the RAID as not being fast enough, but that is definitely not the case. More than enough speed coming off of that.
So Steve and Chris started investigating all sorts of things within the Mac. Running test after test and eventually started to find some interesting things about how the two machines handle data, particularly through the processors. Without going into all sorts of technical data, the slower machine was actually more efficient at handling the type of data required for video playback than the faster machine with more processors. It was weird and something Small Tree will follow up with Apple. Of course, all of this applies to Final Cut Pro 7 which of course as everyone knows, will continue to work even after Final Cut Pro X comes out (or we switch to Avid).
Chris and Steve were amazing at testing, tuning, testing some more, not only on the SAN computer but on each and every client. By the end of the day today, we had 6 solid workstations and 7 iMacs / Mac Minis all running on the the SAN. The first of the 13 episodes of This American Land was laid down to tape and all seems to be well. Speeds are up, all of our Macs have been tuned to operate the most efficiently with the system and we no longer have the lack of Bond issues that caused bottlenecks.
Bottom line, Small Tree delivered what they promised and we all learned more in the process. We already discovered some things that can be improved to make the system even better. Again, it's their knowledge of all things Apple and Mac beyond just "let us put in a faster storage array / switch, etc..." that really sets these guys apart and why I decided to make a complete switch in our storage solution.
We've been using Ethernet SAN for almost three years now and the evolution of this concept has come a long way in a short time. First it was just a very nice cheap alternative to Fibre Channel shared storage. Now it's a very efficient and very stable storage solution.
And in the immortal words of Steve Jobs, "there's one more thing......" Alas, can't talk about it right now, but soon.
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