Thunderbolts at NAB 2016
Tom Coughlin
Issue: May 1, 2016

Thunderbolts at NAB 2016

Thunderbolt is an interface technology developed by Intel for fast direct attached storage although generation 2 and 3 include networking capabilities.  Because of the throughput of the Thunderbolt interface it has become very popular with media and entertainment professionals and has enabled 4K and higher workflows and has allowed SSDs to find a suitable role in M&E direct attached storage.  

The industry is currently moving from Thunderbolt Generation 2 with up to 20 Gb/s to Generation 3 providing 40 Gb/s data rates.  Thunderbolt 3 uses the USB-C physical interface and can supply up to 100 W through the cable and provides built-in 10 GbE networking and can support two 4K displays.  At the 2016 NAB show many companies were announcing storage products with Thunderbolt interfaces, many Thunderbolt 3, even though there are few host devices that support this interface yet—there should be many more of these later in 2016.

G-Tech announced a transportable 8-bay RAID storage solutions supporting Thunderbolt. The G-Speed Shuttle XL with ev series bay adapters is an 8-bay transportable, hardware RAID, Thunderbolt 2 solution with a storage capacity up to 48 TB. And data rates up to 1.2 GB/s using six enterprise HDDs and offering a three-year limited warranty.  Two of the 8 bays feature adapters for G-Tech’s Evolution (ev)Series drives. The ev drives include G-Drive evRaW, G-Drive ev RaW SSD and ev Series Reader RED MINI-MSG edition. This product has a Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $5,599.95 for 48 TB.

The 8-bay non-ev version of the G-Speed Shuttle XL has up to 64 TB of storage using eight enterprise HDDs with a three year limited warranty and configurable in RAID -0, 1, 5, 6 10 and 50 with transfer rates up to 1.35 GB/s to support 4K workflows.  This product has a MSRP of $7,999.95 for 64 TB.

Symply, a new storage start up with a major focus on storage products to support media and entertainment professionals, introduced it first products at the NAB show.  These were the SymplyStor desktop RAID and SymplyShare for Thunderbolt and IP-connected workgroups.  SymplyStor RAID supports a choice of SSDs or HDDs to provide capacities up to 64 TB.  The product supports Thurderbolt 2 with 20 Gb/s throughput and Thunderbolt 3 for 40 Gb/s throughput.   When docked in a SymplyShare base, SymplyStor operated with the SymplyStor Expansion as a single RAID with up to 120 TB of capacity and provides collaboration for up to 8 users.  The product is powered by StorNext 5 and is 100% Xsan compatible.   The product provides intuitive monitoring applications native to Mac OS X, Windows, IOS and even watchOS. 

Symply also gave a technology preview of SymplyPro, powered by StorNext 5, for workgroups and facilities allowing facility level collaboration for 4K and higher resolution content that can scale to 1 PB of shared storage. The company is working with Promise Technology to manufacture this product which will support up to 20 high-speed Fibre Channel clients in any combination of Apple Xsan, Windows or Linux clients and additional IP-connected clients.

LaCie, now part of Seagate Technology, announced their 12big Thunderbolt 3, a professional 12-bay desktop RAID storage unit with up to 96 TB of capacity (48, 72 and 96 TB capacities available) and supporting RAID 5/6 and Thunderbolt 3 that will be available this Summer.  The new 12big uses Seagate 7,200 RPM enterprise-class drives with a five-year limited warranty. The product delivers up to 2.6 GB/s data rate.  Using Thunderbolt 3 the user can daisy chair dual 4K displays or a single 5K display to LaCie 12big.

In addition LaCie increased the available capacity for its 5-blot 5big array with dual Thunderbolt 2 connectivity and hardware RAID that will be available later this quarter.  With a bandwidth of 1.05 GB/s and with enterprise class 7,200 RPM HDDs this device can support 4K video workflows and operate 24X7.  Up to 6 devices can be daisy chained to a host computer with Thunderbolt 2.  The device was designed by Neil Poulton and has a five year limited warranty.

Sonnet announced its Thunderbolt 3PCIe Flash Drive with data transfer rates up to 2.1 Gbps Windows Edition that was available at the end of April for $799 list. This is a pocket-sized 512 GB flash-based solid-state drive with a fast Thunderbolt 3 interface. Sonnet said that this product provides an ultra-fast shuttle drive or a take-anywhere scratch drive for editing high-frame rate 4K video during offsite shoots. The product gets power from the Thunderbolt 3 interface so no additional power cord is needed.

OWC announced their Thunderbolt 3 Dock, Envoy Pro EX with Thunderbolt 3 and their Mercury Helios 3.

ATTO ThunderLink devices and FastFrame NICs provide support for Thunderbolt 3. These devices provide high-performance connectivity for Windows, Linux and Mac platforms. ATTO ThunderLink devices provide connections between Thunderbolt to Fibre Channel, Ethernet, SAS/SATA and SAS/SATA RAID.

Accusys Thunderbolt SAN connects multiple Mac computers to their A16T2-Share Thunderbolt storage.  With an expansion chassis this can provide up to 64 HDD with a storage capacity up to 640 TB. Thunderbolt pairing allows users to double transfer speeds by pairing two Thunderbolt cable connections between workstations and Accusys storage devices. The company also offers a A12T3 Share sharable Thunderbolt 3 desktop sharable storage solution with data rates up to 2.6 GB/s for a single host. 

Other Thunderbolt 3 storage devices were on display from AKiTIO, CalDigit and Dell.  Many other companies offered Thunderbolt 2 products, including an interesting combination NAS/DAS system from QNAP.

With the introduction later this year of more host devices supporting USB-C Thunderbolt 3 interfaces, likely including Mac computers, Thunderbolt 3 will be poised to be favored by many creative professionals faces with the storage and performance demands of 4K and higher resolution video.  The 2016 NAB showed that the storage industry is ready to provide Thunderbolt 3 devices, with HDDs and flash memory, to serve these needs.

About the Author

Thomas M. Coughlin, President, Coughlin Associates is a widely respected storage analyst and consultant. He has over 30 years in the data storage industry.  Dr. Coughlin has many publications and six patents to his credit.  Tom is also the author of Digital Storage in Consumer Electronics: The Essential Guide, published by Newnes Press. Tom publishes the Digital Storage Technology Newsletter, the Digital Storage in Media and Entertainment Report, and other reports. 

Tom is active with SNIA, SMPTE, IEEE, and other professional organizations. He is Education Chair for the SNIA Solid State Storage Initiative. He is Chair of Future Directions for the IEEE Consumer Electronics Society as well as Director for IEEE Region 6. He is a long-standing member of the CE Society BoG and was Vice President of Operations for three years. Tom is the founder and organizer of the Annual Storage Visions Conference as well as the Creative Storage Conference. He is the general chairman of the annual Flash Memory Summit.

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