In Review RAID Roundup: CalDigit VR, Sonnet Fusion DX800, Dulce Systems PRO IDC
By Ned Soltz
The first thing you learn about working in the non-linear video world is that you need storage. Plenty of it. And you need fast storage. And since you are trusting your footage to mechanical devices, you need to plan for catastrophe through redundancy, back-up and archival strategies.
Here we’re going to look at a range of three RAID products which will achieve all or some of these needs. Our product line up will range from entry-level to enterprise-level solutions (as seen below, from left): the CalDigit VR, Sonnet Fusion DX800 and Dulce Systems PRO IDC.
The CalDigit VR is an external 2-drive device with eSata, USB, and Firewire 400/800 interfaces. For a unit containing two 3.5” high performance drives, it is remarkably compact. CalDigit also supplies an eSata extender with the unit. Owing to the greater transfer speed of eSata, I would definitely recommend using this drive with an eSata interface, whether am eSata card in a desktop or eSata PC/ExpressCard option in a notebook computer. My test unit came with 2 Hitachi 1TB drives spanned into a Raid 0 configuration.
Unique to the CalDigit VR is its LCD screen which reveals a range of information about the enclosure and drives from capacity to RAID level, configuration, fan RPM, ambient and drive temperatures and drive serial number. CalDigit also provides a software GUI which also supplies the above information but with the addition of email notification, diagnostic reports, and capacity for future firmware updates.
RAID level can be changed either from the front panel itself or from the GUI. Video editors would most likely wish to stay at RAID 0 for greatest capacity and speed. RAID 1 would be more useful for data applications where the redundancy of RAID 1 provides data protection but slows speeds to the point where editing may not be dependable.
The CalDigit VR is useful for individual editors working in DV, HDV, DVCPRO HD/DV100, or compressed formats such as Apple ProRes 422 or flavors of Avid DNxHD. These formats do not require the fast read/write speeds of uncompressed video while the added speed of a 2-drive array will add a layer or two of real time capacity depending upon the complexity of the timeline and your NLE. Owing to its compact size, the CalDigit VR makes an excellent field unit for acquisition or for offloading of solid state media such as P2 or SxS. This latter case definitely provides an application for Raid 1— offload your solid state media to a VR configured in RAID 1 for 2-drive redundancy of your irreplaceable original footage.
The CalDigit VR is solid, quiet, versatile and is backed by a company with a reputation for knowledge in the video world and which delivers the kind of support that professionals require.
As our readers may know, I often write about “do it yourself” RAID configurations. Yes, you too might be able to cobble together two drives and an enclosure, but there is much to be said for professionals needing absolute dependability, features beyond the basics and most importantly one vendor support.
Among all of the small RAID solutions on the market, I recommend the CalDigit VR for its form factor, versatility of configuration and dependability.
PROS: Quiet. Compact enclosure. Front panel controls.
CONS: Front panel display lengthens the time it takes to mount drives when booting
BOTTOM LINE: Among small RAID solutions, this is a standout.
Sonnet Fusion DX800 RAID
Let’s take a few giant steps up the ladder and ascend to the level of multiple-drive hardware based RAIDs. Systems in this category typically are configured with 4 or more drives connected to a dedicated multi channel controller card. They can be configured in a variety of RAID levels and offer performance levels equal to just about anything that anyone would edit.
The Sonnet Fusion DX800 RAID consists of an 8-drive enclosure available in 4, 6, 8, or 12TB configurations and is expandable to up to 16 drive enclosures through its built-in expansion capabilities. The basic unit connects via 2 4-channel MiniSAS connectors to a PCI express card by ATTO (included with the system). The GUI software controlling RAID and card is compatible with MacOS X, Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Linux.
I tested the Sonnet Fusion in a MacPro 8-core machine with card installed in a 4x slot. The card operates at up to 8x speeds, so installing it in a faster slot on a PC or Mac should improve its perfomance. Installation was straightforward. Install the supplied drivers and GUI software. Reboot. RAID mounts immediately.
The RAID enclosure itself is compact with lockable drive enclosures. The enclosure door swings open for easy swapping of drives. That describes just about any multiple drive enclosure. What distinguishes the Sonnet unit from many others is the absolute silence of the fan. I don’t have to tell editors how important that is.
My test unit came populated with Hitach 1TB drives. Sonnet indicated to me that the DX800 ships with Seagate ES drives which are considerably faster than the Hitachi. The AJA System Test for Mac showed write speeds in generally in the 570-580 mb/s range with read speeds in the low 400s. The slower read speed was somewhat disappointing to me but I relegate that to the slower slot as well as the drives. The Blackmagic Design Disk Speed test revealed slightly faster speeds than the AJA test. As the Blackmagic Test reveals, though, these rates are fast enough to sustain 4:4:4 RGB editing. There are simply times where numbers don’t tell the story.
In my tests with Final Cut Pro, the Fusion DX800 handled anything I threw at it without a dropped frame. I was able to achieve 7 to 8 layers of uncompressed HD before needing to render. And RAID 5 gave me a very secure feeling.
While the importance of drive speed and throughput cannot be minimized, the heart of a RAID is its controller card and GUI software management. The ATTO card utilized by Sonnet has a dedicated controller which manages raid functions and i/o, freeing the computer’s CPU of that task. The GUI allows RAID configuration (it will come pre-configured and plug-and-play as a RAID 5), audible alarms, email notification and rebuilding options in the event of failure. RAID 5 in my opinion represents the best compromise of redundancy and capacity for editors. RAID 5 writes parity across all drives and takes the formatted capacity of the 8TB unit to 6.3TB. It is also possible to configure this unit leaving one drive empty as a hot spare.
The DX800 is expandable by daisy chaining enclosures with miniSAS connectors to create a RAID of up to 16 enclosures. Hmmm… 16 enclosures times a maximum of 12TB per enclosure… that’s probably more storage than most of us would require but with the levels of redundancy, this now becomes one of a number of possible solutions for securing archiving of material with immediate access through any computer to which it is mounted.
The Sonnet Fusion DX800 is best suited to a workstation in which there will be intensive editing of complex material, of HD or 2K footage, where speed will enhance even compressed formats, and where the security of redundancy is essential. Sonnet is another of those companies that is both technology as well as customer driven. They understand video and the single vendor solution ensures quick replacement or repair of the unit. All RAIDS are not created equal and the Fusion DX800 stands out in its field for quiet operation, solid enclosure, fast PCIe card and excellent support.
PROS: Solid. Quiet. Fast card. Excellent GUI.
CONS: Reads not quite as fast in this configuration as other drives I’ve tested but not significant enough to fault the unit.
BOTTOM LINE: The Fusion DX800 stands out in its field.
MSRP: $6,195 (in 8TB configuration)
Dulce Systems PRO IDC
The next step from SATA/SAS based solutions is Fibre Channel. Utilizing a 16-drive enclosure with 15000 RPM SAS drives connected to Dulce’s 4GB Fibre Channel enclosure, the PRO IDC can deliver read/write speeds in the 900 MB/S range.
As would be typical in system of this level, the drive enclosure is rack mountable, includes hot-swappable fans and is compatible with both SAS and SATA drives. Dulce Systems boasts the longest warranty in the industry at 42 months.
Fibre Channel does provide the fastest throughput. SAS drives provide the lowest latency. This is definitely the highest-end system for the most demanding facility. Owing to the speeds, Fiber Channel RAIDS represent the best candidates for creating SAN installations. The Dulce Pro IDC definitely should be considered by editors looking the the fastest possible performance with an eye toward creating shared storage environments. As in the case of the two other vendors profiled here, Dulce is responsive to its customers, knowledgeable of our industry and needs, and delivers the kind of product we demand.
PROS: As fast as you will find with reliable 4 GB Fibre Channel interface.
Rack mountable. Hot swappable power supplies. Configurable as SAN
BOTTOM LINE: The highest-end system for the most demanding facility.
MSRP: Consult Manufacturer for Price
Whatever your level of production—from individual workstation to
enterprise — RAID is definitely the direction in which you should be
moving. There are gradations within these broad categories I presented
to you. Assess your needs for speed, capacity and redundancy. Buy
accordingly and good luck with moving to the next level in your storage
Editor's Note: Ned has now posted a companion piece to this story right here, focusing on RAID expansion options.