Video Producer Struggles for Fast SATA

Atlanta-based video firm suffered horrors on the road to SATA satisfaction

November 22, 2007

4 Min Read
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Walter Biscardi Jr., owner of Biscardi Creative Media, was fed up. Moving his digital media production company from Fibre Channel to SATA-based arrays for processing video had led to a number of alarming disk failures.

"The drives would eject themselves on the desktop," Biscardi recalls. "We were getting messages that our media had suddently gone offline. When you're working with video, especially broadcast work, you just can't have that happen."

Luckily, Biscardi's team, which uses Apple applications to process digital video for TV, the Web, film, and integrated media for companies such as the Food Network and PBS, had backed up their data regularly on locally attached Mac devices. But the prospect of possibly losing information got Biscardi moving. Two months after adopting SATA, he switched to another supplier, which brought in its own integrated systems based on 1-Tbyte SAS/SATA II drives. Today, the Biscardi team is able to hit write speeds of 488 Mbytes/second and read speeds of 429 Mbytes/second -- measurements taken using a 4-Gbyte file and 1920x1080 10-bit RGB (red, green, blue) frames.

It's worth looking at how Biscardi got there. While it's clear that broadcasting and video producers need specially designed storage systems, the spread of multimedia makes stories like Biscardi's relevant to other users seeking faster arrays.

Biscardi's quest for faster SATA began when his Fibre Channel video array supplier, Medea Corp., was bought by Avid Technology Inc. in January 2006. "I was concerned that Avid would take over Medea's products and we'd be tied to Avid's hardware," Biscardi says. "Avid is known for doing that."Biscardi also wanted to move off Fibre Channel arrays. He didn't need the networking, since his Apple workstations don't share information but are dedicated to processing. Any links required are achieved via wireless Apple connections.

Speed was essential, though. "We'd originally gone with Fibre Channel arrays because we needed the speed," he recalls. "To produce high-definition video, you need at least 150 Mbytes/second of read capability... And about a year ago, SATA arrays had reached similar speeds."

But shortly after adopting RAID-based SATA arrays from video storage supplier CalDigit, drives began malfunctioning and Biscardi threw up his hands. "CalDigit never identified the problem. They also promised to send us replacement disks, but that never happened. In fact, we didn't hear from them for two months."

At press time, CalDigit hadn't responded to a request for comment.

After evaluating several video storage suppliers and integrators, including Dulce Systems, Maxx Entertainment Digital, and Sonnet Technologies, Biscardi settled on Maxx Digital about four months ago.The main reason was price. According to Biscardi, Sonnet and Maxx Digital arrays both took several hours to configure RAID 5 up front, while Dulce's arrays striped parity information as data was written to the array. The Sonnet and Maxx Digital approach rendered the speed Biscardi required, and Maxx Digital's solution was a bit cheaper.

Maxx set up two self-branded arrays for two edit suites at the production house. Each of the two arrays provides 8 Tbytes (via 1-Tbyte SATA drives) and 32-Mbytes cache. After dedicated space for production applications, Biscardi says he's got about 13 Tbytes of free space between the two arrays.

Just to be on the safe side, he's also purchased spare disks.

He probably won't need them. The Maxx Digital arrays are linked via ATTO ExpressSAS R380 low-profile RAID Adapters, which work with RAID 5 on the storage systems. "We have to have the protection of RAID 5 provides," Biscardi says. He's also asked ATTO to furnish reports on any failures that necessitate RAID 5 activity -- a feature he claims ATTO has vowed to supply by the end of this year.

At press time, ATTO didn't confirm any plans to deliver this feature, or an expander function for its adapters requested by Maxx Digital.But Walter Biscardi is satisfied with his setup, chiefly because he has peace of mind. "We went through two years of hard-drive issues, and it was getting to be too much... I think we spent about $16,000 for the two new systems, but cost wasn't an overriding concern. When you're working with companies like ABC, and they're running a show on Monday at eight, there's no such thing as, 'My system is down and I can't deliver.' " Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Byte and Switch's editors directly, send us a message.

  • Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)

  • ATTO Technology Inc.

  • Avid Technology Inc. (Nasdaq: AVID)

  • CalDigit Inc.

  • Dulce Systems Inc.

  • Maxx Entertainment Digital

  • Sonnet Technologies Inc.

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