Sunday, May 31, 2009

Work In Progress-- RAID Expansion Chasis

The June issue of DV Magazine will feature my article on 3 RAIDS in a range of price and features. I'll be looking at a 2-drive unit from CalDigit, an 8-drive RAID 5 from Sonnet Technology and finally a Fibre-Channel server-level device from Dulce Systems.

Due to space limitations in print, I noted that I'll also be reviewing for the web an extension of an 8-drive array using SAS-Expander chassis and controller technology.

He is the testing so far.

For this test, I'm using another HighPoint RocketRaid 4322 cards, referenced in my Ultimate Raid article here on the blog as well as in DV. The HighPoint 4322 is my choice of RAID controller cards. It's dedicated Intel processor is faster than the prior generation; it is expandable with a battery backup daughter card; it supports both eSata and SAS drives through miniSAS 4-channel connectors; it is expansion chassis ready. My tests have already shown that the 4322 is faster than the 3xxx series. And at a price of $599, there is simply nothing on the market that comes close to its price/performance benefits.

I'm testing a 16-drive chassis from AIC, the XJ1100, which retails around $1600. It is a sturdy chassis with pop-out swappable drive trays requiring screws to secure the drive to the tray. Unlike many enclosures I've seen or tested, the drives trays are not lockable.

The unit is effectively 2 8-drive devices connected internally by an expansion circuitry. 4 miniSAS connectors on the rear allow dual connections to the controller card and dual connections to other 16 drive expansion chassis. Chaining multiple enclosures together can create some significant storage with blazing speed!

Like any enclosure of this class the XJ100 contains heavy-duty fans. Heat is, after all, a hard drive's greatest enemy. If you are using this enclosure for editing, you will definitely want to locate it in another room or within a soundproof enclosure. It sounds like a windtunnel. In justfication, however, all large enclosures such as this are noisy as they really are designed to be servers.

I'm testing this enclosure with 400gb Seagate Cheetah 15K SAS drives and Seagate 1tb ES-class eSata drives.

This is a preliminary report on testing the Seagate drives.

The Seagate Cheetah drives came pre-initialized as a RAID 6 and formatted to a little over 6 tb.

Note that 15K SAS drives are not available in the capacities of eSata drives, but the advantages are significant. The SAS drives are built for 24/7 heavy use with 1.6 million hours MTBF. Seagate designs them with specific error-checking algorithms. They are dual-ported, allowing the next drive in the array to take over immediately in the event of failure. For purposes of video, and this would apply specifically if the drives were being used in a SAN configuration, latency is a mere 2ms as opposed to a 4.1ms latency of eSata drives.

Because of this low latency and immediate response, EditShare only uses SAS drives in their turnkey SAN systems. I am certain this is the case for other vendors as well.

A faster rotational speed will naturally pump data faster and more reliably.

Take a look at the AJA System Test results for the Cheetah drives. Note as well that this speed is not just a function of the drives; the RocketRaid 4322 contributes significantly.

All I can say about results like that is WOW!

To test this in the real world, I copied to the drive several Red R3D files and exported 2K Quicktime files. I brought these into FCP which transcodes the files to ProRes 422 HQ. These 23.98 fps clips played without a single glitch. I also transcoded to Blackmagic 2K 2048x1556 4:4:4 RGB. All footage played without a hitch. Now something else-- I was able to play these files in FCP with scopes open and updating in real time. Even on my 8-drive array, I will sometimes drop frames while playing back live scopes (seems to be a common FCP problem). I always suspected the culprint was drive speed and this array helped prove my point.

As I write this entry, I'm now initializing a raid using the 16 Seagate ES drives. I'll report on those in the next installment and then the whole article will reprint on DV.COM once my June article appears.

Who is the logical customer for this technology?

For the RocketRaid card, the answer is any of us wishing to create the fastest raid with parity that relatively little money can buy.

The XJ1100 is definitely an enclosure for someone who stores massive amounts of data and needs the luxuries of speed, capacity, and redundancy. As one documentary filmmaker friend who dropped by the studio as I was testing the unit said, "I'd fill this in a year."

The Seagate 15K Cheetah drives are suitable for high end work. Their speed and dependability makes them candidates for SAN applications, whether in this enclosure or in another system. Any user loking for the top performance in any hard drive regardless of the system, should strongly consider the Cheetah drives. Keep in mind that the 400gb 15K Cheetahs run in the $525 range. But speed and data security... priceless.

Stay tuned for results with the Seagate ES (Enterprise Series) eSata drives.

Monday, March 2, 2009

RocketRaid 4322

The heart of any RAID system is its controller card. You can buy the highest capacity, fastest drives on the market and install them in the most sturdy, power-redundant, shock resistant enclosure you can buy. But if you controller card is merely a software-based "dumb" controller or if your "smart" controller with onboard processor does not deliver optimized performance, then you have less than optimal performance. Mediocre performance in a video raid can mean dropped frames. Worse than that, it could even mean loss of data in the event of disk failure.

On this blog as well as in the pages of DV Magazine, I created what I called The Ultimate Raid based upon the HighPoint Technologies RocketRaid 3522 card, a ProAvio 8-drive MiniSAS enclosure and 8 Seagate 1TB drives.

But I should have known better than to call it my Ultimate Raid. The minute I created the title, HighPoint Technologies went beyond ultimate with their release of the RocketRaid 4322.

Priced at $699, the RocketRaid 4322 delivers all of the performance that the most demanding editor would ever require.

Like its previously-ultimate sibling RocketRaid 3522, the 4322 is based around an on-board Intel processor. But the 4322 is based around Intel's IOP348 rather than the 3522's IOP341. This new speed demon clocks out at 1.2 ghz.

As a result of this faster and more powerful chip, the 4322 boasts a cooling fan rather than the heatsink design of the 3522. Yet the fan runs so quietly that I cannot tell the difference between the two chips.

The 4322 gains speed as well by now installing in an 8x PCIe slot in your Mac or PC workstation. It also supports both eSata as well as SAS drives thorugh its dual 4-lane MiniSAS connectors, just like the 3522.

Likewise, the 4322 supports every imaginable RAID configuration-- JBOD, 0, 1, 3, 5, 6, 10, 50 an single drive.

As I had written in the prior article, I recommend Raid 5 for video work. This level of protection which writes parity across all drives and can sustain the loss of one drive represents the optimal compromise between capacity and performance. The less-secure among us might want to configure Raid 6, reducing capacity and possibly speed to a degree but insuring against the loss of 2 drives.

Now, that about speed.

Let's take a look first at my earlier results from the RocketRaid 3522 in the above mentioned configuration using the AJA System Test utility, positing 1920x1080 10-bit uncompressed video.

Not shabby results at all. No wonder I thought that nothing could ever top this and could call it Ultimate. That data rate could sustain and in fact did in real-world work 10-bit uncompressed full HD without dropping a frame or missing a beat.

But look at the results from the 4322, this time assuming 2K video.

Wow! My read/write speeds increased by 50%! I can edit Red footage!

One more significant result comes from the Blackmagic Disk Speed test. Take a look at its read/write results as well as the maximum potential frame rate for a range of video scenarios.

What a difference a chipset and bus-speed bump can produce.

How do you say The Ultimate Raid Controller-- And Then Some?

If you are rolling your own Raid, this is the card which can give you complete confidence in everything from DV through 2K and in the data protection which it affords.

It earns my Ultimate recommendation.

HighPoint Technologies
Street Price around $699

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Abaltat Muse 2.0

I've been playing with this remarkable composition tool for some months now and honestly have had so much fun with it that I could hardly break away to review it!

Muse is an intelligent scoring application which analyzes the color values and other properties of your video and then creates a music bed appropriate to the video.

On the surface, it seems quite simple. Open a Quicktime movie in Muse and click Compose. A dialog box will appear with choices of 7 different library styles, each with several variations. In seconds, Muse creates a music bed. Don't like it, modify it using keyframes which pop up choices of instruments, volume, transposition, scale or pan. Add a color tracker to alter the score at that timeline point to the color selected.

It that basic composition mode is insufficient, click Compose on the main preview window and then click Advanced. Options include style of composition (melodic or freestyle), color tracking options, tempo, complexity and jingle (repetitive elements within the track).

When done, export as a wav, aiff or Quicktime file. Bring it into your NLE and sync with the clip. And it's all royalty free.

To illustrate, I started with a quick edited sequence of a fast-paced ride through Dallas shot on a Sony EX-1 at 1 fps. Naturally, I would want a fast paced track to accompany it.

I selected Retro Tech from the Band pop up and experimented with a few presets, adding a few keyframes and bringing in instruments, fx and some fades. The video seemed to lend itself more to a freestyle composition than a Melodic method, Melodic following traditional more structured rules of composition.

In just a few minutes of tinkering, I produced what I consider to be a very fitting music bed.

One of the complaints that editors often voice about royalty free music is a certain mundane sameness of the tracks. No one could ever accuse Muse of producing such auditory boredom. It is as if you actually had a composer sitting beside you scoring to the music. Of course, a side value here is if you actually do have a composer, the Muse track can be a guideline to tell your composer "I want something that sounds like this."

At $299, it is a bargain. Anyone who has licensed music knows that $299 doesn't go very far in buying clips. And those clips are of stock lengths and don't always match up to the video. Muse produces music beds which just sound like custom compositions and with the almost-infinite variations which can be applied, no two clips ever need sound the same.

I would wish that future versions could include a greater variety of libraries and that a preview function of various styles could be added. My other significant wish-list items would be the ability to track luminance values in addition to color as well as to have a color-picker to choose within the video a more exact color.

I love it; I commend it to you. There is no other product even remotely like it. Muse is a simple and fun tool to add tremendous value to any production.

By the way, here's the clip with the final music bed--

Check it out at