DAY ONE: Sunday
It was a very hot and sticky weekend here in Atlanta, but it was nice and cool inside the shop. A great time to install a brand new SAN. Steve Modica, Chris Duffy and I all met up bright and early at 8am to get a nice early jump on things. Turned out to be a good thing because we had to transfer almost 32TB of material from our original SAN.
Chris and Steve get to work removing the original switch.
First test was to ensure that everything still worked with just changing out the switch. That's a very important first step when you're making a major change to your system involving multiple parts. When feasible, always test your system with each newly introduced part.
Steve Modica behind the rack checking the clearance for the new switch.
Testing the new switch with the old SAN configuration was an easy first step. Then it came time to unpack the shiny goodness that is the Small Tree ST RAID II storage array. All 48TB of it, configured in RAID 4 which gives us about 38 TB of available storage space.
Like Christmas morning!
Installing the chassis.
No, there are no drives in there, so it's much lighter than it appears. Once the 16 drives are in there, then that thing gets super heavy. You can see our older 16TB RAID sitting up on its side to the left. This single 16 drive chassis replaces 32TB in two chassis. We'll use the new 48TB for shared storage and keep one of the 16TB for direct connect to our Resolve system for super high speed 4k and higher playback.
Molly sitting outside The Core, apparently unimpressed with the shiny goodness going on inside. She would apparently rather we play with tennis balls. But I digress.....
Close-up view of the Small Tree ST RAID II
And here it is sitting above one of our older arrays.
Yeah, I know what you're thinking. "Gee that looks exactly the same, so why go with Small Tree?"
Ok, you'll find that multiple vendors all use the same chassis, it's a nice silver box that looks really nice sitting next to the Mac Pros. That's probably why they all use them. BUT when I say they use the same chassis, that's exactly what they use. The silver outer box and the drive sleds on the front. At least as far as Small Tree goes, that's all they use that would be the same as other vendors. Once you get inside with the cards, the electronics and the setup, that's all proprietary Small Tree and THAT's where you get the difference between something that "looks the same" and something that operates completely different.
Same with the overall configuration of the entire Ethernet SAN, Small Tree are network experts who really took the concept to a new level and which is why I went with them to configure the entire system and added their storage to equation. The next step was to transfer one of the 16TB arrays to the new array because we needed to use the other for a rare Sunday edit.
While the transfer was going on, Steve and Chris went through our 6 primary workstations and 7 iMacs to configure all the network settings. They literally had dozens of configurations to set up to get the best combination of speed and stability for our system. Various configurations for the client workstations, the client iMacs and also the SAN computer itself.
5 hours later, the 16TB was finally transferred over to the SAN so we could start running some speed tests. Here Steve and Chris monitor the SAN while the workstations play video down. After several hours of tweaking and tuning, for the first time since we moved into the new facility, we had all 6 workstations and the four edit suite iMacs all playing video projects simultaneously. It felt great to finally get the full system up and running. By then it was 8:30pm and time to call it a day for day one.
The best part? These guys had more ideas for further tuning AND we seem to have discovered an interesting condition or maybe it's a bug between older and newer Mac Pros. Will require more testing in the future, but we seem to be on to something interesting that really shouldn't be happening.
DAY TWO: Monday
On the second day we completed the installation of the new Small Tree Ethernet SAN featuring the 48TB ST RAID II storage system. The thing that continues to blow me away about these guys is their knowledge all ALL things Mac. In particular the inner workings of the OS.
One thing they did with our SAN computer was to DROP the amount of RAM in it. When we were having playback problems a few months ago, one of the solutions thrown to us by our previous vendor was to up the RAM from 20GB to 32GB to help the problem. Normally, more RAM, better performance. Turns out, with the brand new 12 Core Mac Pro, this was more inefficient on the computer because of the way it uses RAM. We were creating a bottleneck in the RAM rather than helping the problem. I never would have known that, but it was one of the first things Steve Modica did with the computer to help performance.
As mentioned earlier, in the course of testing we discovered that two of our edit suites performed completely differently when playing the exact same project off the SAN. The older model played it perfectly while the latest and greatest Mac Pro dropped frames at odd times. If it was just me working in the shop, I would immediately point to the RAID as not being fast enough, but that is definitely not the case. More than enough speed coming off of that.
So Steve and Chris started investigating all sorts of things within the Mac. Running test after test and eventually started to find some interesting things about how the two machines handle data, particularly through the processors. Without going into all sorts of technical data, the slower machine was actually more efficient at handling the type of data required for video playback than the faster machine with more processors. It was weird and something Small Tree will follow up with Apple. Of course, all of this applies to Final Cut Pro 7 which of course as everyone knows, will continue to work even after Final Cut Pro X comes out (or we switch to Avid).
Chris and Steve were amazing at testing, tuning, testing some more, not only on the SAN computer but on each and every client. By the end of the day today, we had 6 solid workstations and 7 iMacs / Mac Minis all running on the the SAN. The first of the 13 episodes of This American Land was laid down to tape and all seems to be well. Speeds are up, all of our Macs have been tuned to operate the most efficiently with the system and we no longer have the lack of Bond issues that caused bottlenecks.
Bottom line, Small Tree delivered what they promised and we all learned more in the process. We already discovered some things that can be improved to make the system even better. Again, it's their knowledge of all things Apple and Mac beyond just "let us put in a faster storage array / switch, etc..." that really sets these guys apart and why I decided to make a complete switch in our storage solution.
We've been using Ethernet SAN for almost three years now and the evolution of this concept has come a long way in a short time. First it was just a very nice cheap alternative to Fibre Channel shared storage. Now it's a very efficient and very stable storage solution.
And in the immortal words of Steve Jobs, "there's one more thing......" Alas, can't talk about it right now, but soon.
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