The ties that bind them

Posted By Tom Coughlin on April 20, 2012 10:09 am | Permalink
By Tom Coughlin
Coughlin Associates

LAS VEGAS - The 2012 NAB South Hall had an ever-growing complement of booths showing digital storage products or using those products.  There were of course some smattering of storage vendors in the North and Central Hall just to give the storage aficionado a bit of exercise.  The lower South Hall is becoming ever more the digital storage ghetto, where one passes storage box after storage box and often as not passes beyond, into the ethereal realm of the cloud.

This piece looks into the ties that bind storage devices to their hosts and to each other.  Many important developments are afoot that will transform the media and entertainment industry, giving it the storage and bandwidth resources to enable higher frame rate, higher resolution, ever more immersive content.  

We start of course with Thunderbolt.  Thunderbolt was but a gleam in Intel's eye with showings at the annual Intel Developers Forum and other industry events in 2010.  But with Apple's introduction of Thunderbolt connectivity for its MacBook Pro computers in 2011 all that changed.  At the 2011 NAB we saw our first batch of Thunderbolt products from a few companies such as Promise Technology and G-Tech (part of HGST). 

At the 2012 NAB Intel had a large booth with the planned implementation of Thunderbolt support in their upcoming CPU chipsets. Integration of Thunderbolt hardware into computer and server motherboards in addition to lower cost cables and host interfaces will cause the price of Thunderbolt to drop to a level approaching that of the ubiquitous USB interface.  A Lenovo computer with the Thunderbolt interface was on show in several booths with rumors that other computer vendors will be coming out with Thunderbolt interfaces shortly.  Late 2012 and 2013 will bring 10Gb/s connectivity to the masses!

The media and entertainment industry still has many facilities using the Fibre Channel networking technology for block based SANS to support video production work.  ATTO was showing a PCIe board that could be plugged into a computer to provide Thunderbolt to Fibre Channel connectivity.  This was an interesting approach that adds network connectivity to the list of capabilities with Thunderbolt.

Ethernet connectivity is important for general LAN traffic and many file based storage systems (or NAS) use Ethernet for their network connections. Arista Networks was showing a 10Gb Ethernet (GE) switch that significantly lowers the cost of high speed Ethernet connectivity, apparently by a factor of about four to one.  This switch allows category six Ethernet cabling to be used for 10 GE transport up to 100 m, less than the 300 m that optical fiber Ethernet connections but enough for many data centers.  Using copper wire Category 6 cables rather than optical cables lowers the costs enormously. With Intel Romley I/O controller support 10 GE content transport will become very inexpensive-opening up additional uses for media and entertainment storage and connectivity applications.