One of the major trends in media production data storage is the increasing use of Storage Area Networks (SAN) based on Fibre Channel technology. Fibre Channel, a high speed optical interconnection system, boasts throughput rates far faster than the current SCSI maximum, and allows optical cable runs of up to 10 kilometers. One of the SANs’ most attractive and impressive benefits is that many users can access the same media simultaneously without delay or reduction in quality of service.
Product PointsApplications: Audio/video data storage
Key Features: Up to 200 MB/sec. Throughput per Fibre Channel port; 72GB or 146GB Fibredrive Fibre Channel system provides 128 tracks of 24-bit/48-kHz from a single drive, or 56 tracks of 24-bit/48-kHz with 3:1 video from a single drive (using Digidesign AVoption|XL); Fibredrive II with 2 Gigabit interface available for video use.
Price: 72 GB Fibredrive – $2,200
Contact: Studio Network Solutions at 877-537-2094 Web Site.
But what about the single-workstation user who has no need for a massive (and prohibitively expensive) Storage Area Network, yet wants to take advantage of the increased reliability and throughput performance of Fibre Channel? Enter St. Louis-based manufacturer Studio Network Solutions, with their 72 GB, single-user Fibredrive ($2,200).
While there are many providers of storage solutions with products that target media producers, Studio Network Solutions (SNS) has perhaps gained the most ground among audio professionals. SNS, founded in 1998, went from a regional Missouri storage solutions provider to a recognized industry-wide Fibre Channel SAN hardware provider in just a few years. The company has gathered increasing amounts of attention at successive AES conventions with impressive demonstrations of their A/V SAN and A/V SAN PRO rack-mounted Fibre Channel products.
In 2002, Studio Network Solutions introduced the Fibredrive, an externally housed Fibre Channel drive designed for single workstation use. According to SNS specifications, the Fibredrive optimizes its traffic on the PCI bus, providing performance abilities of up to 128 tracks of 24-bit/48 kHz record and playback with heavy edit density from a single Fibredrive (depending upon your software’s capabilities).
The Fibredrive comes with an SNS-supplied Fibre Channel PCI host bus adapter, an optical cable, and a desktop enclosure housing the Fibre Channel drive. The external unit gets operating power through the standard IEC A/C cable provided.
According to SNS, additional Fibredrives can be daisy-chained and, because Fibredrive is based on the same Fibre Channel technology, the user is able to upgrade to the larger A/V SAN and A/V SAN PRO multiuser shared storage solutions.
The Fibredrive unit supplied for review was a 36 GB model preformatted for PC use (be sure to specify Mac or PC when purchasing). The 36 GB size is no longer available, having been replaced by the significantly larger 72 and 146 GB models.
The kit included a 1-Gbit PCI Fibre Channel interface card, the optical cable, the drive enclosure and an installation CD. SNS also offers a 2-Gbit model, the Fibredrive II, offering increased sustained data throughput and targeted towards video with audio applications.
I tested the Fibredrive on a 2 GHz Pentium 4 computer with 1 GB RAM running Windows 2000. Installation was simple, with Windows automatically recognizing the new PCI card upon start up. I pointed the Windows installer to the driver on the SNS-supplied CD and rebooted.
Upon restarting the computer, Windows recognized the Fibredrive as a local 36 GB disk, same as any other drive attached to the system. This is good news as it means any recording application will be able to use the drive (some applications will not recognize network-attached drives or other specialized configurations).
Applications used during the evaluation included Steinberg Nuendo 1.6, Digidesign Pro Tools Mix Plus, Sonic Foundry Vegas 4.0 and Acid 4.0.
Hardware inside the computer included Pro Tools Mix Core and Farm cards, RME Hammerfall 96/52 audio card, TC Works Powercore card and an Orange Micro FireWire card. The remaining two out of seven PCI slots in my computer were occupied by an Adaptec 3940 U2W dual-channel SCSI controller and the Studio Network Solutions Fibre Channel card.
I am glad (OK, amazed) to report I experienced no conflicts with the above disparate lot of hardware and drivers when I put the SNS PCI card in the last open slot. The Fibredrive enclosure (drive and fan) is not exactly quiet but is far less noisy than a single 10K RPM Seagate Cheetah spinning away (without a fan).
Over the course of several months, I used the Fibredrive on many recording, mixing and mastering projects with no problems at all. Most sessions had fairly intensive track counts and edit densities, and a few involved simultaneous video preview playback.
Ordinarily, my main media recording/playback storage setup utilizes an external tank of four 18 GB Seagate Cheetah U2W SCSI drives attached to a single channel of the dual Adaptec controller. On the other channel of the Adaptec card I have two larger and slower IBM SCSI drives for project storage and archiving only.
For my uses, I have had no serious problems with my storage setup, and can typically get up to 28 tracks of 24-bit/48-kHz playback from a single Cheetah drive using Pro Tools. As I am not wont to take risks with important projects, however, I usually split the tracks in a 24-track plus project across two or three drives.
This does tend to complicate organizing issues, however, especially when one starts saving sessions in alternate versions or with alternate names. In this situation, completed sessions ready for archiving to the slower SCSI drives or DVD-R need to be consolidated within the original application (Pro Tools) and saved to the storage drive; at the very least, several folders with subfolders must be found and combined to the storage media. In any case, it is not as simple as grabbing a folder and dragging it to another disk.
This is the area where I found the SNS Fibredrive really proved its worth. As it is capable of handling 128 tracks at the same rates as the example above, there is no need to worry about spreading data across several disks, providing a time savings and peace of mind when archiving sessions for storage. I also found I no longer had to worry about regular defragmenting, a time-consuming operation that poses potentially serious risks to data integrity.
According to SNS, another benefit is that Pro Tools DAE (Digital Audio Engine) errors are greatly reduced, as most of these errors are related to problems with large files split across multiple drives. SNS says the Fibredrive is capable of eliminating “disk related/PCI bus errors,” neither of the above can I confirm, as I wasn’t experiencing these problems to begin with.
As suggested above, it may be worth comparing the performance of your current system with your needs, and with your experience with — and tolerance of — tweaking computers. A colleague said he easily and comparatively inexpensively added Fibre Channel to his system by buying the parts himself.
But there is always a market of those who don’t have the time or knowledge required to configure their own system, and for that set, the Studio Network Solutions Fibredrive is an obvious and reliable option. High-traffic, high-pressure production facilities, and those not keen on off-road computer configuring, are correct to gravitate towards the peace of mind provided by stable, commercially available solutions such as the Fibredrive by Studio Network Solutions.