Video professionals use a variety of interface protocols, such as Ethernet, 10Gb Ethernet, and Fibre Channel, but two current solutions are the preferred solutions for small video facilities—USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt/Thunderbolt 2. Both solutions enable the easy connection of peripheral devices, such as hard drives and storage arrays; however, since most connections involve copper cabling, which is limited to 3 meters, the installations inherently have louder ambient noise, as well as some securities concerns. Thinner, longer, adaptable, and more durable optical cables provide a better answer.
Protecting What’s Important
The need for simple shared storage networking is equally applicable to post-production professionals as it is to educational institutions. Mark Bealo, professor of Graphic Communications at Palomar College in San Marcos, California, runs the college’s high-end multimedia lab.
“Ideally, we would have liked a shared storage solution that all of the 33 machines in the high-end lab could connect to, but there was no budget for the traditional setups,” Bealo said. “The lab is equipped with 2013 Mac Pros, which came with 512GB of internal flash storage. It isn’t viable for students to store their work to the internal drives.”
“After learning about Thunderbolt Networking capabilities, I looked into a viable solution to network four to five computers to a single RAID to provide each row of students with shared storage,” he said. Intel suggested that Bealo try a ‘spider’ configuration in which the college would use one MacPro as the main Thunderbolt networking computer, which is directly attached to the RAID, and then attach any of its five remaining Thunderbolt ports to connect up to a maximum of five total machines.
While Bealo’s configuration solved his throughput issues, it left him with space, noise, and security concerns. Short, copper Thunderbolt cables meant he would have to leave the RAID arrays in close proximity and accessible to the students. This dilemma was solved by installing optical Thunderbolt cables.
“I wanted to relocate the arrays from just sitting on a desk in each row to keep them secure for noise considerations,” Bealo said. “This is where optical Thunderbolt cables provided the ideal solution.” By using a long optical cable between each ‘hub’ MacPro and its corresponding array, Bealo was able to move all of the RAIDs from each row into an adjacent locked cabinet. He said he especially appreciated the thinness of the cables because we could make the run without any special conduit.
“I simply pulled the vinyl baseboard trim away from the wall enough to tuck the cables behind and then continued to run the optical cables through the routing channels in the computer desks,” he said.
As a final performance test, Bealo created a simple 4K, four-camera, multi-cam clip in Apple Final Cut Pro X. The media was stored on each RAID, with each being connected to its respective ‘hub’ MacPro in each row over the optical cable. Bealo was able to run up to five machines in each row all playing a copy of the multi-cam project, but pulling the exact same four UHD clips off of the RAID with no dropped frames.
“This is proof positive that simple Thunderbolt networking is a viable strategy for small workgroups,” Bealo said. “All of this was completed at about one-fourth of the cost of the traditional shared storage solutions that I had originally been quoted from several vendors at NAB.”
Corning Optical Cables: The Answer You’ve been Looking For
Up and down the market, optical cables are proving their mettle. Few solutions have been met with as much praise as those USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt optical cables from Corning. As makers of Gorilla Glass, a glass solution that offers damage resistance, optical clarity, and touch sensitivity to everything from smart phones to notebooks, Corning constructed its current optical cable offerings out of ClearCurve VSDN optical fiber, an alternative to plastic.
Consequently, Corning’s optical cables are thin and durable with a high-bend performance radius of 1.5mm. Users can literally pinch the cables in a 180-degree turnaround or tie them in a knot without damage or performance attenuation. Best of all, the 3-meter limit is a thing of the past. Corning’s optical USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt cables have a maximum limit of 50 and 60 meters respectively. Current available Thunderbolt cable lengths range from 5.5–60 meters. USB 3.0 cable lengths range from 10–50 meters.
For more information on optical cables by Corning see here.
See also: Knot Me, Twist Me, Tie Me Up: Today’s optical cables are ensuring durability even under stress
Find out why optical cables are giving production professionals all the space they need — even in the midst of a noisy, busy studio
Oliver Peters is an experienced film and video professional who has worked in radio, television and post-production since 1970. During that time he has worked in a variety of managerial and hands-on positions in broadcast and post facilities. In addition to currently working as an in-demand editor and colorist, he has also been a regular contributor to various web and print publications, including Videography, DigitalVideo, TV Technology and the Creative Planet Network website.