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Creative COW Contributing Editor Bob Zelin talks about the latest step in the Serial Attached Storage revolution: full RAID 5 protection with read speeds over 350 mb/sec. from Dulce Systems. At least that's what Dulce claimed. When he heard the rest of what Dulce had to say, Bob simply didn't believe them. When he put those claims to the test, he got a lot more than he bargained for. Will you?
There's been a flood of new storage products based on SAS, or Serial Attached Storage. Anyone in this business remembers good old SCSI drives, soon to be pushed aside by Fibre Channel drives. Then SATA became popular with the release of the Macintosh G5. Once people realized that SATA drives were fast enough to play back uncompressed SD, the revolution started.
Why did this revolution start? Because SATA was CHEAP!
Soon people started using external SATA drive boxes on their computers, which led to port multiplier SATA boxes - 5 SATA drives hooked up to one skinny cable. All of a sudden, you could have an enormous amount of disk drive storage, all running off one skinny cable - and it cost you very little money. SCSI started to fade away, and Fibre Channel started to be used only by people with shared area networks (shared storage systems). SATA had arrived.
But SATA had no RAID protection. If you had 5 750 Gig SATA drives in a port multiplier SATA box, you had 3.75 Terabytes of storage for very little money. But if one of those drives died, you were screwed - you lost everything. People wanted RAID protection.
And so RAID protected SAS cards started to come out in 2007, and was a HUGE push at NAB2007. ATTO, Rorke, Sonnet, Cal Digit, and so many others showed RAID protected SATA products, based on these SAS host cards that went into your MAC or PC.
Before I go any further, let me reiterate why this was all happening, when RAID protected storage already existed. IT'S CHEAP!
As so many of my clients use SATA drives on their editing systems (both AVID and FCP), I started to test out some of the Raid protected SAS solutions. I was initially disappointed. On one hand, they were inexpensive, and they were fast. On the other, they were difficult to set up, they never warned you that a drive had failed, they had too many rules for what you could do and not do, and when it came time to rebuild your broken RAID, it was a manual process. For those of you familiar with older working RAID solutions from Apple, Medea, StorCase and HUGE Systems, this was just unacceptable.
But then, a new company - Dulce Systems -- sent me a new SAS drive array to test out. They said it was easy. And they were right. To date, this is the coolest RAID protected SATA array I have seen.
I put the SAS card into slot 4 of the Mac Pro. The manual states to use an 8 lane slot, but this is real life, and I have to have two 4 lane slots available - one for the AJA or Blackmagic card, and one for the storage card, so I can't make one of the slots an 8 lane slot. If it won't work, then I don't need this product.
My first mistake was to read their manual, which was already outdated. I should have just been my lazy self, and simply downloaded the latest driver from the Dulce Systems website. This not only loads the driver, but their configuration utility, called Dulce RAID Console, to setup the RAID, and an accurate, very short "readme" file. Basically you download the file, reboot, click on their utility, called Dulce RAID Console, and get started.
Dulce sends out the array preformatted as RAID 0, so the drive mounted instantly on your PC or Mac. (As I usually do, I did my testing on Mac.) But I didn't want RAID 0. I wanted fancy RAID 3 or RAID 5 protection. Without referring to any documentation, I clicked on "Quick Function/Quick Create", and selected "RAID 3" and started the long process of building the RAID. Those of you familiar with the Apple Xserve RAID know that it takes almost 24 HOURS to initially configure your RAID 5 array. I had a similar experience with another manufacturer of the SATA RAID products, so I let it go.
Then I made a phone call to Dulce to ask some basic questions, and BOY DID I GET A SURPRISE.
It doesn't take hours to setup a RAID 3 or RAID 5 array. It takes about 5 SECONDS with this product.
You click on "Quick Function/Quick Create" and select "RAID Level 3."Another menu that says "64 bit LBA", and a menu that says "Volume Initialization Mode/NO Init", click on SUBMIT, and in FIVE SECONDS, the RAID 3 drive array is there. I then deleted the RAID by clicking on "RAID Set Function/Delete RAID Set", and created a RAID 5, using the same few keystrokes.
IN FIVE SECONDS!!
I couldn't believe it. Well, I really DIDN'T believe it, so I loaded up some media, and yanked out one of the drives. The drive array started to beep, indicating a failure. I opened up the Dulce RAID Console, which indicated that there was a failure. I popped the drive back into the Dulce (with power on - no powering down) - and IT STARTED TO REBUILD all by itself. No manual process, no telling it that I wanted to recreate the RAID - it just started to work. I put a working drive back in the system, and it started to recreate the protected RAID all by itself. No hot spare, no nothing. It just worked.
I looked at the Dulce RAID Console, and it indicated the progress of the rebuild (which does take a long time - about 5 hours in my initial tests. But still much much less than 24 hours.)
On the complete RAID 3 or RAID 5 array that I tested, I got about 255 MB/s write speed, and about 363 MB/s read speed. This is slower than some of the other RAID protected SATA products I have tested, but this is just as fast an an Apple Xserve RAID, and so it can do 10 bit uncompressed HD with no issues. And in these days of Apple Pro Res 422, AVID DNxHD, and DVCProHD - WHO CARES. This drive array is more than fast enough to do whatever I want for 99% of the jobs out there.
The storage industry seems to be moving faster, and changing more often than the damn computers these days. You get bigger, faster, and cheaper products every few months. I don't know what's next, but so far this is pretty amazing.
I can tell you what I don't like so far about all of these products. There is no expandability so far, but I am told by Dulce Systems that an expander is ON THE WAY, around September 2007. This means that you won't be "stuck" at an 8 TB limit (sounds pretty funny, doesn't it?) Right now, once you load up your 8 drives - even if they're 1TB drives for 8TB of storage - that's it. You can't loop or daisy chain any more drives onto this system.
But with an expander, that will let you hookup multiple SAS chassis - well, to discuss having personal storage on one system of 16TB and over, it seems almost impossible. I got very spoiled from the Port Multiplier cards on the market from companies like Cal Digit and Sonnet, who gave you 4 ports, which allowed you to hook up to 20 SATA drives onto one MAC or PC. If this happens with SAS in September, where you can now have all this storage, AND have it RAID 5 protected, THAT'S AMAZING.
So when do you jump in? I don't know. These things change dramatically every year. If you wait 2 years, all of this will be outdated, and the new super duper watchchamacallit drives will be out, that will outperform this technology. If you were to tell anyone that you would have 5 to 8 terabytes on one computer, just 3 years ago, they would have thought that you were crazy. Now, as the expression goes - "the sky's the limit."
All these changes give me a headache, but compared to spending ALL THAT MONEY in the "old days" -- you know, two-ish years ago - it's all pretty amazing.
Dulce Systems - a new company, with a winning product.