FAST IS NEVER FAST ENOUGH
Two terabyte drives are now commonplace and inexpensive, so 8 bay drive arrays with 16 terabytes of storage, and 16 bay arrays with 32 terabytes of storage, were everywhere, and everyone was talking about arrays currently running 600 - 800 Mb/sec -- fast enough not only for uncompressed HD, but for 2K and 4K media. But as always, fast is never fast enough, so JMR was showing their split bus drive arrays that are like having two drive arrays in one box, with two SAS/SATA host controller cards -- one running each bus -- to achieve speeds of 1200 - 1400 Mb/sec. Real fast!
The big "speed" story was the announcement of 6 Gig drive technology, and 6 Gig support products, like the new ATTO R680 card. I was told at the ATTO booth that they estimate that a typical 6 Gig, 16 bay drive chassis with the new R680 card will probably do about 2200 Mb/sec. Why is this important when 2K DPX files only require about 300Mb/s? Shared storage, that's why!
There are lots of fantastic shared storage solutions on the market, but many are limited by the speed of the data connection per client computer, or the overall speed of the drive array. For example, at the Maxx Digital booth, I demonstrated uncompressed 2K DPX files running Autodesk Smoke on a Mac, over 10 Gig Ethernet cable to a shared disk drive array.
It worked, and it was impressive -- but it is a fantasy, because common drive arrays commonly run between 600 - 700 Mb/sec., enough for two guys to work at 300MB/s, tops. What if you want to attach more people? Your drives are not fast enough, and cannot support that many streams of video. Once drive arrays can do 2200Mb/sec, all of a sudden, an entire small company can be running uncompressed 2K media over shared storage, and not spending a fortune to make this happen.
While 6 Gig SAS/SATA host adaptors and drive arrays will be released in a couple of months, it may take till the end of 2010 for us to see 6 Gig SATA drives. This can be achieved now with SAS drives, but they are expensive, and as we all know too well, no one wants to spend too much money now, with all the new stuff coming out in a few months.
Many of the drive manufacturers like Rorke, JMR, and Sonnet were "ATTO FastStream" crazy. They were all promoting "instant shared storage" based on the fact that they incorporate the ATTO FastStream appliance into their drive arrays, which allows you to have shared storage without a server or fibre switch.
JMR FibreStream RAID Storage System
But all of your computers must have fibre cards, fibre transceivers back to the ATTO FastStream in their drive arrays, and of course SAN management software (like Tiger Technology MetaSAN or Commandsoft FibreJet) running on each workstation. CalDigit showed a truly unique shared storage solution that used their new PCIe switch and PCIe hub.
Because their drive arrays, such as the HDPro2, do not daisy chain for expansion, all the drives go into the hub, and you keep adding more and more drives to the hub as you expand. The hub ties to the switch, so that you can now connect multiple FCP systems to the switch via PCIe expansion cards. Using the PCIe switch allows you run at full uncompressed speeds, as you are not limited to the bandwidth of Ethernet.
As you look at these shared storage systems, and see the future of uncompressed HD, 2K and 4K workflows becoming a reality for many of us in the near future, you realize that having very fast drive arrays will become not a luxury, but a necessity to stay in business.