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Joaquin Gil reviews the HMV-FCR 800-M from HUGE at NAB

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Joaquin Gil reviews the HMV-FCR 800-M from HUGE at NAB
NAB Product Review


Joaquin Gil reviews the HMV-FCR 800-M from HUGE at NAB

Joaquin Gil
.KiNO.digital - CGI - 3D - SVFx
Digital Film Production & Post

©2005 Joaquin Gil and Creativecow.net. All rights reserved.

Article Focus:
CreativeCOW.net contributing editor Joaquin Gil writes a beefy review for us. Read on to see why he says, "Good stuff performs as it should, works smoothly. It does not pretend to be all things to all people. Does what it is supposed to with effectiveness, even with elegance. The HUGE HMV-FCR 800-M FIBRE CHANNEL MEDIA VAULT meets and exceeds all expectations, and I am known to be picky. There is a dual model and the top capacity is four Terabytes. You are forgiven if you are starting to drool. Luckily the cure is not expensive. The relation of Dollars to Gigabytes that HUGE handles is justly famous and envied. At the last NAB they had the best density per dollar I've known of, and they were playing 2K film out of three of these 4Gb drives, something no one else even approached. I want more of these babies around."

The HUGE HMV-FCR 800-M FIBRE CHANNEL MEDIA VAULT


A Real Life Review by Joaquin (Kino) Gil


When HUGE asked me to evaluate the HMV-FCR-800-M, I was understandably excited on two accounts:

First: I am a HUGE user and fan. I create indie films with a large number of layers, overlays and effects and have recently been able to do feature-length work because of the existence of a thing like the HMV1800 where I can have both my own work and also work for my select clients without having to erase either and being able to work efficiently on both. Working as a one-man specialty production house, I use enormous amounts of space in critical versions of projects, and traditional solutions before HUGE would make my works incredibly convoluted and dependent on backup. So I stay a user and a fan.

Second,
two words: Fibre Channel. High Speed serial transfer using (generally) optical circuits and fiber-optic connectors.

So I said yes, and I would be delighted to, since I just finished a film and another is about to start post, so the testing wouldn't harm anything and might actually help, but I didn't expect problems with HUGE stuff. It all boils down to their making machinery you can trust and giving service you can rely on. I am pretty sure of that because I also treat my work machines as systems that once stable, are not to be messed with. No upgrades to the latest anything, no strange programs, no weirdness. Work boxes, after all, are not about the latest anything, but about stability and dependability.

Ok. So here we go.


FIBRE CHANNEL


How fast? Why all the hoopla? Well, doing a little research on the web I came by this useful information:

  • "The Fibre Channel Standard (FCS) defines a high-speed data transfer interface that can be used to connect together workstations, mainframes, supercomputers, storage devices and displays. The standard addresses the need for very fast transfers of large volumes of information and could relieve system manufacturers from the burden of supporting the variety of channels and networks currently in place, as it provides one standard for networking, storage and data transfer.

  • "Both optical (fiber optic) and electrical (twisted copper pairs) media are supported, working from 133 Megabits/sec up to 1062 Megabits/sec (HUGE's 4Gb FC actually quadruples that number to 4096 Megabits/sec), while distances up to 10 km are possible.

  • "Information can flow between two ports in both directions simultaneously. Exchange is the name of the mechanism for coordinating the exchange of information between two N_Ports. The port starting the Exchange is called the Originator, the port that answers is called the Responder. "

    (you can visit http://www.finitesystems.com/PRODUCT/san/fc/fcprimer.htm to read the complete hypertext document.)



THE MACHINE


Today we are dealing, however, with the HMV-FCR 800-M a 4Gb Fibre Channel array, capable, as we pointed out, of transfer speeds of 4096 megabits/sec.
HMV-FCR 800-M
Although some other vendors offer 2Gb Fibre Channel (2048 megabits/sec), HUGE, now a division of Ciprico, is the first company I know of to offer an off-the-shelf, functional and very (Very!) cost-effective solution that addresses the faster transfer speeds of the newer standard.

The kind of transfer speeds that you need for working in High Definition, for example. Or for a boatload of layers in SD. Or to make a whole independent film including effects layers and all the trimmings. This unit is 800 Gigabytes of pure speed. A bit better speed than the U320 standard, for those who count.

The enclosure of my demo unit is a handsome, light and sturdy cast aluminum box that pays stylistic homage to the Apple G5's metallic look complete with drilled-grid front, but adding status LED's: one LED for each drive's activity --Five in total -- and three bottom LED's that indicate whether 2Gb or 4Gb has been detected and whether the machine requires service. Additional LED's near the top indicate power and whether the RAID 3 mode is active. In this mode the information of any one drive that fails can be reconstructed from data on the remaining drives.

The drives are removable, that's where the "-M" at the end of this model's designation comes from. This drive setup adds to the ease of maintenance of the HMV-FCR 800-M and decreases its downtime even if it needs to travel back to HUGE for the rare deeper fix: Slip out the old, slap back the new, rebuild. Done.

The LED's are dual purpose, as they are also part of the diagnostics system: if something goes wrong, the HMV beeps back at you in these funky sequences while flashing its LEDs. The little dance with the beeps and the LEDs is the thing diagnosing the problem and telling on the delinquent drive or whatever. You tell the guys at HUGE what is going on with the beeps and the LEDs and HUGE takes it from there and fixes or replaces the unit. This is an organization set to keeping its customers' business.

In the back of the unit are the power switch, so clear access to that is needed, Fibre Channel dual connectors, the Mode select dial and switch and a RS-232C serial port one can use to connect to a PC in text mode for diagnostics. There has been no need of the diagnostics mode, even tho' I keep an old PC laptop in the array rack just in case.


INSTALLATION

Connecting the array is as painless as can be. Enjoy connecting those multiwire SCSI cables where you worry all the time if by being firm you are actually bending one of the wires inside? Well, Fiber Optic is more delicate (plastics) but far more efficient and far simpler to handle. No praying to the gods of trembling required.

My model works with a simple orange fiber optic line out of an ATTO Celerity card which I installed in slot 3, the only free one. The speed is something frightful and an absolute must for any and all large image intensive applications. The card is easy to install too: discharge your body static, open the G5, take the PCIX slot cover out, plug the card in the PCIX slot, tighten the little screw, close the G5. Done. Time to turn the box on.

Once the card and the array see each other and you format the array with the Apple disk Utility you get treated to a very trouble-free mount. The wonderful ATTO Celerity drivers are capable of mounting the unit as soon as it powers up and goes through diagnostics, so you can be working on something else, turn on the array, see it appear as a regular mount on the Mac screen, use it for any number of hours (for one of those processed sequences it ran two days nonstop) and when you are done, simply close all apps that access it, EJECT the drive array and turn it off. Elegant, efficient and cost-saving.

Okay: Time to talk Problems. It's hard to find a fault with something like this but I'll try: The only point I find is that the power switch is in the back. While this saves cost and makes the use of a robust rocker switch possible, you need to have a clear way around the box to turn it on and off. I reach through a long tunnel left between the 800M and my trusty SCSI HMV1800 in the 19" rack mount.


OPERATION


But let's talk video, editing, playback and all that nice stuff that is the bread and butter of HUGE users.

The typical video speed test would involve a video card and a measure of the throughput of large video files. When tested at HUGE's shop with a Kona 2 card by Aja, the little monster spiked at some 320 Megabytes per second. Room enough for Hi-Def and Metadata together. I can only drool as I imagine four terabytes of THAT. Excuse me.

Since I use a slower video card on the particular machine the array was hooked up to, I tested a different, more brutish but eminently satisfactory way. We loaded and played back Hi-Def uncompressed 1080p24, 72060p and 1080i footage running in quicktime windows (one at a time) without any stutters we could see. Of course we had to disconnect my also slower SCSI card from the G5 to see that working smooth as silk, but it was a revelation and totally worth it. I want to move all my life to Fibre Channel. And forget digital video clips like dv25's, dv50's and such. The array's scandalous throughput makes incredibly easy to seek for a shot, and FCP's "thumbnails" actually can be used.

Feeding the timeline of my favorite paint application was another boon. This thing is so fast that I can actually scroll through the timeline as if it was an editor's timeline. The footage, with all the filters and rotoscopy I throw at it, slides as I have never seen it before. Sure. I see the delay in the compositor's workings, but as they say back home, it makes no nevermind. I have a degree of interaction that I had attributed wholly to the processors. Well it turns out the processors in the G5 are probably running idle as they wait for the usual disk to update.

No more. This thing smokes. Burns circles around my usual time estimates. To test this idea I processed a 17 minute raw sequence for hiCon, edges, a little distortion, taking an element off and adding a painterly look.

I did a "positive" pass (black on white) and a "negative" version (white on black) in the same session: a sequence that long usually takes anywhere from seven or eight hours to twelve or so at least. These puppies were getting done on five and change.

Another thing. Silent operation. All my arrays hum like 747's considering taking off and stranding all their cables behind. This little guy packs 800 Gigabytes (600 usable if formatted as Raid 3) and is as noisy as the G5 or my ion replenisher. I can actually record my voice in the room with the thing going. (I use a highly directional Sennheiser k6, but still. My oldest array sounds like a howling dog. Even the older HUGE 1800 made to run by a G5, can be heard over the 800-M.)

Because it is silent, the HMV FCR 800-M is actually usable for music production, opening a whole other world to Fibre Channel. This drive array is a hit for music composers who want to record live instruments at very high resolutions to the same drive they source the video feed from.

So silent, you forget it is running. Remember to turn it off when you're done!



CONCLUSIONS

Remember that scene in the film Charade where Audrey Hepburn's character asks Cary Grant's if he knows what is wrong with him? Cary, dumbfounded, says "No", to what she then retorts batting her eyelashes: "Absolutely nothing".

That's exactly how one feels about a breakthrough unit like this. Undoubtedly other vendors will eventually catch on and strive to upgrade their offerings to the Fibre Channel 4Gb standard (or FC4, for short) in some time. HUGE already has it out there and at pretty irresistible prices and performances.

Special nod to the diagnostics system and the removable drives. Maintenance ease deserves them.

I am not about to let go of SCSI just yet, but this 4Gb Media Vault is quite hot (in the sense a Viper camera is hot, it actually runs quite cool) and like other HUGE products, extremely stable. The durn thing is actually even pretty.

I love it when I am asked to review good stuff. (For the curious, bad stuff, once spotted, gets no review. I prefer to forgo the pain of writing reviews for hardware of software that does not pass muster.)

Good stuff performs as it should, works smoothly. It does not pretend to be all things to all people. Does what it is supposed to with effectiveness, even with elegance. The HUGE HMV-FCR 800-M FIBRE CHANNEL MEDIA VAULT meets and exceeds all expectations, and I am known to be picky. There is a dual model and the top capacity is four Terabytes. You are forgiven if you are starting to drool. Luckily the cure is not expensive. The relation of Dollars to Gigabytes that HUGE handles is justly famous and envied. At the last NAB they had the best density per dollar I've known of, and they were playing 2K film out of three of these 4Gb drives, something no one else even approached. I want more of these babies around.

Even with the switch in the back, this is a remarkable array with remarkable capabilities and remarkable price. It is also what the future of storage looks like.


Five Cows, no ifs, no buts. This machine totally spoils you.


Marina del Rey, April 2005


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