The production world marches steadily toward 4K distribution. With solid-state recording, shooting ratios are higher than ever. What does this mean? We need storage. Lots of storage that’s fast, secure, redundant and reliable. And we need it in a wide price range to accommodate users with widely varying production needs.
Other World Computing
OWC has been around since 1988, selling memory and peripherals primarily in the Mac market. It has established a reputation for quality, competitive prices and helpful customer service, not to mention product innovation.
Thunderbolt 2 is a primary interface for high-speed peripherals on modern Macs, with its 20 Gb/s throughput and direct bus connection. As Apple was a co-developer of the Thunderbolt hardware interface, it’s no surprise that Thunderbolt connectivity is standard on Macs; Thunderbolt is also available on many PCs with the installation of an add-on board. While this article will discuss the operation of OWC’s ThunderBay 4 and G-Tech’s G-SPEED Studio with regard to Apple computers, be aware that both vendors offer Windows drivers and formatting for Thunderbolt-enabled PCs.
ThunderBay 4 is a simple RAID enclosure that can house four drives. It has dual Thunderbolt 2 ports, which may be used to daisy-chain up to five additional devices, plus one high-resolution display. (Or daisy-chain multiple ThunderBays together to form even larger RAID arrays.)
OWC sells this system as a bare, BYOD device, or in various populated storage configurations based on HDDs or SSDs (or a mixture of both). $459 buys you the RAID-ready enclosure kit and four empty drive bays that you fill yourself. Capacity tops out at 24 TB (4 x 6 TB drives) with spinning HDDs and 4 TB (4 x 960 GB drives) with SSDs. OWC includes a power cable and a 1 meter Thunderbolt cable with each unit.
ThunderBay 4 is a software RAID, meaning there is no dedicated RAID controller backplane board in the enclosure. Whether you choose to use each of the four drives independently or set up a multi-drive array for high performance or data redundancy, you’ll configure the unit through SoftRAID software, which is bundled with the ThunderBay 4.
OWC preconfigures the drives as RAID 5, the most popular RAID level for digital video applications. RAID 5 is designed to protect you from disk failure. When one of the disks fails in a RAID 5 volume, you can still keep reading and writing files on that volume, without interruption. SoftRAID RAID 5 volumes are ideal for reading and writing large files; they are also good for small files that are frequently read but infrequently written.
SoftRAID has long been a favorite of mine for creating software-based RAIDs, not only because of the ease with which it creates large volumes but because of its feature set. Among its most useful features is drive monitoring and its ability to predict imminent drive failures. Via SoftRAID, users can also initialize volumes and change the RAID level (RAID 0, 1 or 4) depending on the speed and data protection their project requires. And SoftRAID can expand a RAID as more drives are added. OWC was wise to use this software as the basis for ThunderBay.
My test unit came with four Toshiba 3 TB hard disk drives, an option that retails for $959. With RAID 5 redundancy, that formats to 9 TB useable space, which could be more than adequate for a small to medium 4K or UHD project.
Setup was simple. Pop in the drives, which are already mounted in their caddies (OWC notes on the caddy the order of drive insertion), connect to AC power and to a Thunderbolt port, and power up. On initialization, you’ll have to download OWC’s implementation of SoftRAID from the OWC web site, which is unlocked with your device’s serial number. Then run SoftRAID, allowing it to update the Apple RAID driver with the SoftRAID driver.
With the SoftRAID driver installed and with this 12 TB (9 TB useable) HDD configuration, read/write speeds exceeded 400 MB/s on a Thunderbolt 1 device (2012 MacBook Pro) and 550 MB/s on a Thunderbolt 2 device (late 2013 Mac Pro) according to both AJA System Test and Blackmagic Disk Speed Test. That throughput means that the ThunderBay 4 is essentially capable of supporting a 4K video workflow.
The ThunderBay 4 construction is anodized metal. It is sturdy and portable enough to travel to the set to ingest, edit or even grade footage. This is a quality storage device that works well and is backed up by a company with a reputation for taking care of its customers.
At $959 for the enclosure, SoftRAID software and four 3 TB Toshiba drives, this product represents an excellent value for a budget-conscious user.
Product: Other World Computing ThunderBay 4
Pros: Inexpensive, fast, solid construction, excellent software.
Cons: Uses consumer-level rather than enterprise drives. Software as opposed to hardware RAID.
Bottom Line: A good value for users seeking fast, dependable storage but whose budget precludes a more costly hardware RAID.
MSRP: As tested, $959 for 12 TB
G-Technology launched in 2004 as an independent vendor of external storage products marketed to creative professionals. After changing hands a few times, the company is now owned by HGST, a subsidiary of Western Digital. G-Technology produces products that range from consumer to enterprise level; all of its RAID products are hardware RAIDs.
There are advantages to a hardware RAID over a software RAID. In a hardware RAID, the controller chip on the RAID itself, not the computer’s CPU, controls all I/O and disk operations. That leaves the CPU free for computational tasks, resulting in faster operation for processor-intensive work such as 4K editing. A hardware RAID allows hot-swapping of failed drives and will rebuild faster than a software RAID.
The benefits of a hardware RAID comes at a price. While the 12 TB OWC software RAID storage device I tested sells for $949, the G-Technology 12 TB hardware RAID is $2,199.
The G-SPEED Studio four-bay Thunderbolt 2 storage system is configurable in RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 and is designed to support multistream compressed 4K and 2K workflows. It features dual Thunderbolt 2 ports, enterprise-class hard drives and smart fan technology. It’s available with 7,200 rpm HDDs in capacities up to 24 TB. Units ship with one Thunderbolt cable.
Aesthetic design has always been a consideration in G-Technology’s product offerings. This one is reminiscent of a new Mac Pro cylinder, though the G-SPEED Studio is slightly larger. The two will coordinate well on your edit desk.
Operation is seamless. Just plug and play. No drivers need to be installed. Speeds exceeded 500 MB/s on a Thunderbolt 1 machine and approached 600 MB/s on a Thunderbolt 2 machine in my tests.
Like all of G-Tech’s higher-end storage solutions, G-SPEED Studio is configured with HGST enterprise-level drives. These drives are rated for considerably longer life than consumer drives and thus provide added security and peace of mind for the user.
My test system came with four 6 TB HGST drives in a RAID 5 configuration, thus making 18 TB available for use. A free download of a controller utility from G-Tech allows the user to set RAID parameters. To remain in RAID 5, nothing additional needs to be done. If a drive fails, pop it out, install a new one and the RAID will rebuild.
The 24 TB (18 TB useable) RAID sells for $3,599. G-SPEED Studio is appropriate for power users who require the maximum in performance from both computer and storage device. With all I/O operations managed by the RAID controller, there will be less lag in editing, color or visual effects work, particularly where some of that work might be quite processor-intensive. dv
Product:G-Technology G-SPEED Studio
Pros: Hardware RAID. Simple but powerful downloadable controller software. HGST enterprise hard drives for long life. Awesome design.
Cons: Price. While appropriate for many users, might be overkill for others. G-SPEED Studio is available only with G-Technology’s drives; there is no bare enclosure version.
Bottom Line: A high-end product with design flair and proven, professional features.
MSRP: As tested, $3,599.95 for 24 TB