SIOUX FALLS, SD — Curt Friesen and his wife Julie purchased Dakota Video & Post Productions (www. dakotavideo.com) in 1995, and over the years have grown their video post house from a staff of five to a dozen.
Most of the studio's work is for car dealers and trade schools nationwide. Friesen estimates they have two to three thousand clients. With all those different jobs and a staff of 12, finding a shared storing system had become a priority for the studio, but more on that later.
Regarding the clients, "some of them may use us once a week and some of them may use us once a year," explains Friesen." It might be a specific dealer in Rochester, New York, or it may be an agency in New Jersey, so it's a huge variety. In fact, we hardly do any work in South Dakota. Being in the Central Time Zone helps us to be available to people coast to coast."
Local work has consisted of public relations tools, paid advertising, charitable work for Children's Home Society and The United Way, and tourism promotions. Friesen estimates the studio spent 10 years posting shows on gold mining before industry in the Black Hills shut down.
Dakota Video was the first Avid facility in South Dakota, dating back to the early '90s. "This was long before the days of broadcast quality," Friesen recalls. "It was totally an offline machine. We spent $100,000 dollars on a computer that did an offline edit."
Today, the studio is home to four Mac-based nonlinear editors running Apple's Final Cut Studio. "We have three Intel Macs and one G5." Its two Avid Meridiens have essentially been retired.
Friesen has served as an editor in the past, but as a current owner, he feels his role "is to provide the best possible tools that we can afford, make sure they are working, make sure that staff members are getting ongoing training, and that they are being pushed in new directions creatively and are not just maintaining the status quo."
With all of the studio's workstations running the same applications on the same platform, Friesen says the next logical step for the facility is to invest in shared storage. Something he had on his radar for 2008.
"That's been pretty daunting to think about for a small facility," he explains. "I've had this dollar figure in mind where I'd need 40 to 50 thousand bucks to get into it. And that is something that we were planning on initiating in 2008."
Enter Small Tree Communications, the Oakdale, MN-based sponsor of Post's Extreme Mac-Over Contest. Made up of former SGI and Cray Research employees, the Small Tree (www. small-tree.com) team is an expert in Mac networking, selling and supporting a range of high-performance, Ethernet-based products for OS X.
After choosing Dakota Video the winner, Small Tree CTO Steve Modica consulted with Friesen by phone, getting an idea for the number of client workstations being served and what they were looking to accomplish: high-end editing, currently standard definition, but possibly high definition in the future.
"Once I had that information, I was able to put together a couple of choices for him," Modica explains. "We spoke about the streams he was doing and they were standard def and some compressed streams. Because we knew we were dealing with lower bandwidth streams, we didn't have to shoot for the moon and put 10GB all the way to the desktop."
Modica says there were limitations of the Apple RAID Dakota had in place, which can do approximately 180mb/sec. "We knew that he wanted to supply data to about four workstations," notes Modica. "Doing the math, it worked out OK doing it over Gigabit."
Small Tree chose to put in a second network over a much better switch than the one already in place. The better switch and second network would allow the use of jumbo frames (9,000 bytes instead of 1,500) from the new server to the desktops. "We set up link aggregation on the server and that let it load balance all of his clients together so they would always get good bandwidth out of the available ports on the system," Modica explains.
Splitting the network was a key to achieving efficiency, Modica adds. Their existing network remains, and is used for administrative tasks, surfing the Web, iChat, etc.
"Then you have a high-bandwidth network," says Modica. "And we generally make that use jumbo frames, and it is very fast. So we set up this second jumbo-frame network and had all editors connect to the server over that second network."
Small Tree put in a new Apple Xserve with 4GB of memory. "That's not a lot of memory," says Modica, "but he didn't have a lot of machines to serve."
Adding a Small Tree quad port Gigabit card provided four additional ports that were set up to jumbo frames. That was run to Small Tree's Edge-corE Gigabit switch with 24 ports.
"We configured those two products to use link aggregation, so all traffic going into or coming out of the server would be load balanced to his clients."
The second, unused Gigabit ports on the Intel Macs were given new IP addresses and configured to use jumbo frames. "So now," says Modica, "the server and the clients were all speaking jumbo frames. In addition, we put a Small Tree single port card into one of his older machines to give it a second port. Then we hooked them all up together and all of those systems are able to edit right off that server because the bandwidth is low enough and the jumbo frames make it fast enough, that it is all workable."
The install went surprisingly quick, says Modica, who credits Friesen with having the cable infrastructure in place. "I had described to Curtis what we were going to be doing and he ran the cable for us. So when we got there, we basically had to install the card in the Xserve, put the Xserve in the rack and put the switch in the rack. We had the disk striped together and up and running in no time. And while I was doing that, my tech engineer was installing the single port card in the other system. And we had it all up and running by lunch time."
Modica says the install, valued at around $6,500, is "beautifully simple" and owes much of the performance improvement to the switch itself. "Get good switches," he emphasizes. "It's not the bandwidth, it's the latency. What we did with Curtis was install a really nice switch that has low latency. And the switch can stay with him and continue to provide good service."
And Friesen is very happy with the results. "Here comes the Mac-Over contest and Small Tree coming in and saying, we have a little bit different of a solution than spending 40 to 50 thousand dollars, using the techniques of the jumbo frames, a shared storage server and running a separate network," says Friesen. "It allowed us to test an alternate way to see if it worked, and it does. It works great, and would have been well under $10,000."