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November 2014
Issue: February 2006

A WIDE ARRAY OF STORAGE

By: Claudia Kienzle

When it comes to storage, editors are all looking for the same thing - reliability. Whether they're on a SAN (Storage Area Network), a NAS (Network Attached Storage), or some type of disk array, they all say that the prospect of losing data is disconcerting. If they're on a tight deadline, it's their worst nightmare.

Because drives can, and do fail, they look for storage solutions that have built-in RAID protection that preserves data in the event of a drive failure. Many editors say they won't put a drive or storage system into service, especially on a client's project, until they've tested its reliability and know for certain it will deliver the required performance.

Editors also want to share media assets with other editors working on the same project for a more creative and collaborative workflow. Even editors at boutiques say they can cost justify central storage networks when they see the beneficial way shared media storage impacts their productivity.

SHARING CREATIVE ENERGY

At Mad Mad Judy (www.madmadjudy.com), an editorial boutique in New York, owner/editor Steve Hamilton bought the Avid Unity LanShare EX with 2.88TB of storage and Fibre Channel networking.

While he thought he had always done quite well without a server network, he was impressed by the way Avid Unity LanShare enabled shared media collaboration between his four Avids: two Meridiens (Mac-based) and Symphony and Adrenaline (PC-based) workstations.

"I could never have anticipated that it would change the workflow around here as much as it has," says Hamilton. "I think this is the single most revolutionary thing that has happened in my editing career since the Avid was first introduced.

"I've always been skeptical about people who talked about remote editing and creative collaboration without the face-to-face connection. This has been a powerful, eye-opening experience," he says.

Hamilton first saw the difference while editing Big River, an independent film by a young Japanese-American filmmaker, Atsushi Funahashi. The film, which will premiere at the Berlin Film Festival this month, follows three people - a young Japanese backpacker, a young woman and a Pakistani man - all searching for something or someone as they travel across the Southwestern US. Calling it a labor of love, Hamilton says he could only work on it in "dribs and drabs and snippets" between his commercial projects.

"Whenever I had a few minutes free, I could open Atsushi's project and see the same footage he was looking at and then use his selects to put a scene together and leave it for him in his bin. We gave Atsushi his own room and an Avid to keep him occupied and keep the process moving forward, but we seldom spoke face to face, so LanShare enabled us to have a close collaborative experience. It wasn't difficult to see how this might eventually expand to a collaboration across town or across the country as sharing technologies evolve."

On his commercial projects, Hamilton finds that the Avid Unity LanShare shared media network makes it easier for him to have his assistants play a bigger role in the editorial process - screening dailies, adding in graphics and even helping with the editing. Before the LanShare, the process involved shutting down his computer, moving a hard drive to another Avid and rebooting everything.

"This process only took a few minutes, but it was a deterrent to having them work on my projects," he says. "Since they can now instantly read the same files that I'm working on, LanShare has enabled us to be more collaborative and productive."

BRINGING IT HOME WITH SAN

Last fall, Norseman Television Productions hired AlphaDogs, (www.alphadogs.tv) in Burbank to do the online post production of the 60-episode series, Bringing Home Baby for The Learning Channel (TLC). The reality TV series documents parents' first 36 hours at home with their new baby.

AlphaDogs president Terence Curren realized that they would need to install a SAN in order to get the immense job done cost efficiently. After years of evaluating storage systems, Curren chose the TerraBlock by Facilis, a high-performance, high-volume storage solution based on low-cost SATA-2 drives, intelligent drive management software, RAID protection and Fibre Channel network connectivity.

"Facilis was co-founded by two guys formerly with Avid, who leveraged their understanding of the Avid SAN environment to provide TerraBlock at a far lower price-point than Unity's," says Curren. "We chose it because it supports shared media collaboration between Avids as well as in our cross-platform environment."

With the use of 4GB Fibre Channel cards, AlphaDogs is able to connect 20 workstations together for SD or HD work. Currently, TerraBlock feeds 10 workstations, including two Avid Symphony Nitris HD, two Avid Symphony, one Avid Xpress Pro HD, one Avid Adrenaline, two Digidesign Pro Tools|HD audio workstations, as well as an Apple Final Cut Pro 5 HD NLE.

"All 10 workstations can share and read the same media, although only one has write privileges at any one time," says Curren. "We used to put media we wanted to share onto a removable drive, then shut that workstation down. We then had to physically move the drive to a different workstation and power that one up - a process that would take about 15 minutes times the number of times we had to do this in a single day."

With the fast pace required for online finishing of 60 episodes of Bringing Home Baby, physically moving drives between different workstations would not be practical and would cut into editing time. Curren adds, "In today's post production market, where rates for series are more often based per episode rather than on an hourly rate, it is very important for a facility to maximize efficiency in the online process."

DRIVING WITH XSAN

At Mercedes-Benz USA's Digital Media department in Montvale, NJ, the facility uses an Apple XSAN Fibre Channel disk array with 15TB of storage.

"The XSAN enables our editors to share media between eight Final Cut Pro 5 HD NLE workstations," says creative director Robert Campbell. "All of our editors can share media at the same time without any bottlenecks. Very often, our editors are working with HD footage as rich as 720/60p resolution."

Mercedes-Benz Digital Media ordered the XSAN array directly from Apple and installed the system in its IT facility on the third floor. The editing stations are located on the second and first floors. Digital repeaters allow the fiber runs to go as far as the first level where many of the Final Cut Pro workstations are located. Campbell says that they handled much of the installation themselves and it was easy to do.

"We envision that by mid-year, we will need to increase our storage capacity to 30TB," says Campbell. "We're doing more HD productions and plan to migrate our current DV productions to HD. HD imagery really lets us show beauty shots of our automobiles in crisp detail."

The studio at Mercedes-Benz USA is where much of the shooting takes place, but production is also done at various outside locations using a Panasonic VariCam HD camcorder outfitted with a Fujinon HA13x 4.5 BRD HD wide-angle lens. Recently, a motion control studio production, which was shot at 720/60p, was completed. These pristine images were edited on Final Cut Pro and then shown on eight HD displays at the Los Angeles Auto Show in early January. The HD video will be at the New York Auto Show in the spring.

HUNGRY FOR STORAGE

"People tend to buy one hard drive array and expect it to do everything. That's just not the way it works," reports Walter Biscardi, owner/creative director of Biscardi Creative Services (www.biscardicreative. com) in Sugar Hill, GA. "I use different types of storage depending upon what my application requires."

For the editorial of Good Eats, a humorous food series hosted by Alton Brown for The Food Network, Biscardi uses a Medea VideoRaid FCR2X SAN-ready Fibre Channel disk array, which cost him about $8,000. In addition to realtime RAID protection, the system's Multi-Stream technology supports realtime playback of up to nine streams of uncompressed video.

"I can post an entire season of Good Eats at one time because of our DVCPRO HD workflow," says Biscardi. "If I were using an uncompressed HD workflow, I would be able to store about six to eight episodes at one time. But working in DVCPRO HD, I can literally hold all 20-plus episodes of an entire season at one time. This is because of the enormous space savings of the DVCPRO HD codec over uncompressed HD.

"The FCR2X also delivers the kind of performance that Final Cut Pro 5 depends on to edit HD in realtime," Biscardi adds. He says it's a good choice for HD because he can get up to 375MBps of speed and 2TB of storage from 10 striped Fibre Channel arrays.

But, for the offline edit of his first independent short film, The Rough Cut, Biscardi chose an $949 G-RAID 800 FireWire disk array from G-Technology because of its high reliability and portability.

"It's so small and compact that I could take the drive along with my [Mac G4 PowerBook] laptop to do the DV offline edit on location. I captured DV25 downconverted on the fly from my Panasonic AJ-HD1200A deck with which I record each scene while it's being captured simultaneously onto the [Panasonic] VariCam HD camcorder," says Biscardi. "The G-Raid maintains its performance even when the disks are 75 percent full. The thing just doesn't die."

For the online finishing of The Rough Cut, Biscardi used the FCR2X in 720p 8-bit uncompressed HD. The Rough Cut focuses on 30-year-old Jennifer Mackey, who had career aspirations but now finds herself a stay-at-home mom and military wife wondering if she's made the right choices in life. The film, which was shot using Canon Prime HD lenses on a VariCam HD, is going to be featured at Canon's booth at NAB 2006.

Today, Biscardi is testing an affordable new storage solution, the Lacie SDS SATA-2 disk array and initial testing has shown 135-MBps running 8-bit uncompressed SD. "Before I put a storage system on a client's production, I fully test it. You need to know the attributes and limitations of every drive."

RELIABILITY

"Reliable storage is crucial to my operation," says Joaquin Gil, president of Kino Digital in Marina del Rey, CA. "I'm often booked with multiple projects - including commercials, documentaries, corporate videos and feature film effects shots going on at the same time - so the loss of large image files can be very costly to my business."

Kino is running Final Cut Pro HD nonlinear editing software as well as Eyeon Digital Fusion, Curious gFx, Alias Maya, among others, which enable him to provide 2D paint, 3D animation and effects compositing.

He uses several high-performance Ciprico storage solutions by Huge Systems, including the MediaVault 4105 and MediaVault 4110 disk arrays. Both models employ the latest 4GB Fibre Channel interface with cost-effective SATA disk drive technology, making them suitable for SANs as well as for network-attached storage. At Kino Digital, the MediaVaults are configured with RAID-3 for data redundancy.

"In the last three years, I've had three or four drive failures, but I've never lost a single file. The drives tell you with beeping sounds if there is a problem so the user can take proper steps, which means that the data can always be restored," says Gil. "Huge's technical support team has shown me ways to get the most out of the disk arrays to maximize my investment."

FILM WORK

As an LA-based independent film editor, Jim Page contributed creative editorial to Firewall, the new Harrison Ford movie being released by Warner Bros. this month. In the movie, Ford plays a security director at a bank when his family is taken hostage by thieves who want him to break into the bank's security system to help pull off a robbery.

"This movie is a classic Harrison Ford thriller, but it does employ visual effects, such as greenscreen compositing," says Page. While the movie was shot in Vancouver, post production was done right on the Warner Bros. lot in Hollywood. Lead editor Page and his two assistant film editors, Matt Evans and Vince Fillipone, edited on the a network of three Avid Media Composer workstations. The DI finishing was done at Modern Video Film in Burbank.

"Our network of three Avid Media Composers was joined by an Avid Unity interface to an Archion Synergy Plus disk array," says Page. Certified for use with Avid, Final Cut Pro and other leading NLEs, Synergy is the backbone of Archion's Alliance SAN solution for sharing storage. It comes in units from 1TB to 6.5TB with two ports of 2GB Fibre Channel and is cross-platform compatible.

HOT NEWS ON SERVERS

E! Entertainment Television, commonly referred to as E! Networks (www.eentertainment.com), in Los Angeles produces over 1,800 hours of programming per year, which is repurposed regularly to fill two 24-hour cable networks, as well as VOD, new media and international media outlets.

"Our model is to own the content and reuse it as effectively as possible via all of our outlets," says Jeff Mayzurk, VP of technology for E! Networks. "If we're doing red carpet coverage, and we get an impromptu interview with Hollywood A-listers, that footage is hot news that needs to move quickly between our central storage system and all of the editors on multiple production teams. Incoming video is placed into a central storage 'hub' and distributed to various 'spokes,' including our live daily news team, True Hollywood Story team, and editors working on original series and programming."

Chosen for its flexibility and cost effectiveness, the central storage at E! Networks is the Isilon IQ clustered storage system, configured with 200TB of RAID-6 protected storage using SATA-2 drives. This NAS serves as direct-attached storage to multiple bays of Pinnacle Liquid Blue and Avid Xpress Pro NLE workstations. Media from the Isilon IQ also needs to be transferred to a cluster of Avid Adrenaline systems on a Unity network, as well as Final Cut Pro workstations.

"Our original plan was to build a shared media network on a SAN architecture," says Mayzurk, "but through extensive evaluation of the Isilon IQ we found that this NAS configuration would be far more flexible, scalable and affordable, as well as easier to manage than a SAN."