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Joaquin Gil reviews the Huge-4110

Joaquin Gil reviews the Huge-4110 Product Review

Joaquin Gil reviews the Huge-4110

Kino Gil bio page Joaquin Gil - Digital Film Production - CGI
Digital Film Production & Post

©2005 Joaquin Gil. All rights reserved.

Article Focus: contributing editor Joaquin Gil shares his experience with storage needs during the creation of his last feature film. In this article, Kino discusses his success with the MediaVault 4110 from HUGE-Ciprico. He concludes with...'' With the 4110, HUGE Ciprico addresses a market segment that needs large dataspaces in minimum physical space. A natural for the IT data center, the eCommerce nests, banking and legal data repositories and in general any data intensive application where reliability and speed are a must. This makes it very suitable also for animation and effects houses, middle sized to large editing and sound studios and the semi-nomad setups typical of reality shows, because of its sturdiness, practicality of the connectors and being a standard 19" rack-mountable device.''

Intro: Data Times

(Note of the Author: I had promised the folks at HUGE-Ciprico that I would not feel obligated in any way to write about this box, but this is what I do naturally when I like something: I share it so that others may benefit. When it is food, or a thing I read in the news, or a book, I tell my wife. When it is a cool program or machine I try to get my paws on it and tell my fellow cowsters. And you guys know I don't do shootouts. I have much more fun when I write about stuff I like or find useful for our craft.)

OK. Now the yarn:

For those of us lucky enough to have seen vast change in the methods and machineries of content creation, possibly the single most precious thing is time. Stored time.

Let me explain: In the old days, the technology to create films and audio recordings with a modicum of quality was the private domain of very high rollers. You had to be rich, besides, to afford the air-conditioned vaults of the major video archives.


Well... not everything has to look like Blair Witch --yes it made a bundle of money, but arguably not thanks to good photography, more like viral web marketing, if anything.

But this is the Twenty-First Century, peeps. One can actually get very, very decent quality with the better cameras and glass of the DV25 range, not to mention that FCP, Vegas, Premiere, Canopus and Avid Xp produce professional results when appropriately used. Results that good can and do get more and more airtime on cable, even on some major networks.

And now we have HD and just like in the old days we had 35mm film and super-8 home movies, now we have HD, 2K 4K, and the home-movie-analog-but-growing-fast, the ultra-compressed HDV, which has found niches in low budget documentaries and even some non-effects narrative.

But down where it counts, we mix old and new: we still use some traditional tools and some new ones. The new Panny HVX200 and tapeless may be the new way to go for scene by scene stuff, but we still use tape in the field, or for interviews...

But in the shop...

In the shop we don't do so much tape now. Oh, we need access to a few tape formats, but we do that at ingest or filmout. Most of the process is done on digital files.

Not much tape now, no. Instead we do disk.

Oodles and oodles of disk.

Disk of Ages

And not only oodles and oodles of bytes. Terabytes. (I noticed recently that I have now more disk space in my edit Mac than what we had at the whole of Sony Imageworks when we did Contact and Starship Troopers).

And not only large, but for months. Yes, Virginia, we do this for long times at a stretch. Let me elaborate.

The shortest processes, say, to make a music record, still needs the space for tracks, takes, edits, mixes and processings.

Video is worse:

One video frame, for reference, and let's refer to standard definition NTSC, uncompressed, is around one megabyte and a half. Thirty per second and that's 45 megs, right there. Times sixty, for a minute of video: 2.7 Gigabytes. Times 90, for a feature-length, and you have 243 GIGAbytes.

Don't even get me started with film. Especially now with everyone happily moving to 4K so as to stay ahead of the HD tide.

An then, there is the time that data has to remain unscathed on disk.

Most feature films take 10-14 weeks for editing. Special effects projects take from a bit more (4-5 more weeks) to considerably more (a year or two). I have had a project mutating slowly in disk for most of a year and a half. Any decent documentary takes around 20-25 weeks to edit. Only reality shows and rap music videos are done in a couple of weeks, and even for that, space, digital space, is the difference between getting down your vision or getting down only what you can cram in a bunch of puny firewire drives (great for data transportation, but not the way to go in the well-tempered studio).

So it follows that you not only need large disk spaces, you need them to be reliable, besides maintainable and cost-effective.

This is what HUGE gear has an edge on. They cheat: They can be lavish with support because their boxes are out there, spinning, instead of cluttering any warehouse.

So when this documentary project came about, I asked HUGE what could do the work. Low, very low budget, I said, wringing my hands, but Data needs to remain ages on disk. If a drive fries, rebuilding is a must. Speed. Speed. Practicality. SCSI is king, but I hate the connectors. Is there anything in size nine, preferably a Fibre Channel array, any color?

So Michael and Robert heard my story, looked at each other and exchanged some arcana. Then they looked at me.

"Twenty hours?"

"Yes, but I need space also for several cuts and the masters when they happen. I'd like to keep it together, if possible"

"Well, we're starting production on a new line. The 4110 is only one rack unit high, but it's just like the HMV-1800 SCSI you have tried, with 1.2 Terabytes, the next generation chips and...

"Fibrechannel? Four Gigabits?

"Yep and yep."

"Let's go. Help me get it down to the car."

"You'll have to wait until we build you one. They're just starting to ship."

"Can I wait here?"

"You'll scare the help. Go home and we'll call."

"You sure?"

"Knowing what you'll do to the box, we wouldn't miss it for money."

The Machine

You should see this box. A real beast. Interestingly, a pretty beast. I say this because this machine is intended for a data rack, along with several of its kind. This is not a "desktop" unit but a solid industry performer, so it is kind of cool to see that HUGE designers have enough in the noggin' to make their boxes pretty AND functional. Actually the prettiness is the functionality's result: The machine was well thought out and that shows.

The 4110 is one inch high, 19 inches wide and a depth of twenty-four inches and change. The case is not any plastic cheapo but a sturdy, functional and light aluminum job. Inside, five to a side, ten high speed drives hum contentedly.

Because hum they do. Better than that psycho in the movie. This machine is made to survive, and so it has five powerful fans in the rear of the unit. They do hum something fierce, so this is not the machine for the aficionado to music to keep beside his listening chair. It is, however, a dream of a machine for anyone into serious IT, and if the music aficionado is the owner of a studio, this baby is a natural for the equipment closet, where the fans and the heat-dissipating aluminum exterior give it quite a lot of an edge. The three fans are noisier together than what lives in the other HUGE offerings, but they keep the insides of this box very cool and comfy, diminishing greatly the risk of a toasted drive and allowing one to set it and forget it in the confidence that the box will last the longest possible while unattended.

And it does the famous "HUGE Beeping code" thing. If an error is detected on startup, this very articulate box can say which drive and what kind of malady it feels. Very problem free. One does not fret at the box. If it fails, it lets you know and you can take the proper steps. Heeding the beeps saves your data from a running crash further down, and the folks at HUGE Ciprico will, 99 out of 100 times, rescue all your data in the event of a serious mishap.

It comes with its own set of rails for standard 19" rack mounting and servicing the box is a priority, so no complicated screws: One knob and the cover releases, giving ample and comfortable access to the drives and logic boards. Again, a professionally designed machine.

Silver and sleek, this one-rack-unit-high thing is designed for the data center. The only connector in the back of the box is the AC power feed. The front has all the good stuff, so one need not go around to the rear of the rack to twiddle anything. Said front sports mode select selector and switch, TWO 4 Gb fibreChannel ports, a serial port used for diagnostics and a power switch. It sports also a design that lets you maximize rack space while allowing for good ventilation and heat dissipation. The serial port allows the use of a simple terminal to see the state of the drive. I keep an old laptop for that, but any PC will work.

And I know. OK? The 4105 is supposed to be the pretty one. Well, this is, as I said, a pretty box.

Now the really nice part: It is a very powerful box too.

4 Gigabit Fibre Channel

This is a magic thing, like a mantra. Or like a siren song for those who only wish about it.

Never fear, HUGE is here. They have it, they deliver it and all you need is a fast card (we are using the Atto Celerity FC42XS out of a G5 2.7 Dual) to tap into it. I have written before about the 4Gb standard in connection with HUGE boxes, but at least it bears repeating:

This machine screams. Use it for video editing with all confidence all the way from the 25mbs DV25 and HDV to HD720 as DVCProHD and HDCAM. It can even do HD 1080 uncompressed in "burst" mode, but its normal speed is enough for HDCam as,in the sony F900/950 output and DVCProHD, like that found on the Varicam and the new HVX-200 Panasonic cameras.

At the time of this writing, no one else offers 4096 megabits per second. The speed of the device is a function of the drives. But there is ample room for tweaking. This is, after all, a machine thought out with the data center or render farm in mind.

The machine has a set of different configurations, some of which maximize space while others maximize speed. One can configure it even as a very very fast "burst" drive, capable of enormous speeds with a sacrifice of a 40% of the capacity, as the machine will use only the faster segments of each disk. You can configure it to full usage of the space. Several RAID modes are supported, which will satisfy almost every possible need out there. Raid 1 mode allows arbitrary drive reconstruction with a small sacrifice in redundant data, so my 1.2 Terabyte model became a 20% smaller but a 500% more dependable. If everything was that easy to figure out in life...

On a side note, there are TWO fibre-channel ports in the front, meaning that even without SAN software it is possible for two computers to directly access the 4110. The dataspace can even be split in half, which capability, crisscrossed with the data RAID configs is enough to make this article entirely too confusing. On last notice, HUGE Ciprico was testing SAN software. We will know more as soon as they find out, as usual.

Workhorse and a half.

Since the 4110 got here approximately two months ago it has seen heavy usage. First, the documentary, which turned out to bring friends.

I have loaded sixteen hours of their selected material, along with the materials I used to rebuild trailers for four feature films and five documentaries, two experimental animations that were transfered out of another media vault, two abstract pieces, materials for several versions of a new Toyota ad and the reference, development and final renders for the opening for this year's LALIFF (Los Angeles Latino Independent Film Festival) which just took place.

In addition to that, my carefully laid-out plans simply went south for the winter. The producer and director of the documentary found out that some support has high price and that a supposedly beneficent organization had darker priorities so that caused a screeching halt but not the erasure of the material, since the project officially continues and I have digitized already some of their material.

Another documentary arrived right afterwards, looking for agile, cost effective editing, and they heard that we did some really nice work to the project of someone else.

What really happened? We had the 4110. We were able to online ALL their tapes, not only the "good" takes. The price/performance ratio of the HUGE allows this, and the way the boxes have a ridiculously long MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) allows me to give large spaces to the projects that come in, so that when editing I can rescue short interesting takes out of stuff that would have been discarded on a production pipeline with less space to spare.

True, the post and editing is all mine. But I can offer MORE choices because the diskspace is plentiful, dependable and very cost-effective.

Maintenance of the beast has been zero in all this time. We are supposed to be talking about a sturdy box, but the news are very good indeed. As a matter of fact, none of the FibreChannel boxes I have been testing has developed yet a problem and the original HMV800, re-christened the 4105 still spins silently and dependably after the better part of a year. Something in the design of the firmware and the HUGE boxes interacts favorably to make the arrays, and the drives inside, very long lived with simply decent care.

The Bottom Line

This was bound to happen. Storage started out as "specialty" boxes and with the years moved into the mainstream. We have seen many try the spotlight but few have had the practical sense to devise machines that behave reliably and perform flawlessly for the less reasonable cost.

HUGE is one of the more recent players in the competitive storage arena but one that has already revolutionized the field by providing breakthroughs in density per dollar, MTBF and the best service in the storage industry. Instead of focusing on their competitors, these folks seem to be focused on -- what a concept -- their clients and their storage needs.

With the 4110, HUGE Ciprico addresses a market segment that needs large dataspaces in minimum physical space. A natural for the IT data center, the eCommerce nests, banking and legal data repositories and in general any data intensive application where reliability and speed are a must. This makes it very suitable also for animation and effects houses, middle sized to large editing and sound studios and the semi-nomad setups typical of reality shows, because of its sturdiness, practicality of the connectors and being a standard 19" rack-mountable device.

And it does video and eFilm beautifully. I find the noise factor expectably high but that does not mean much in a remote machine room, while the reliability and capacity factors weigh positively and heavily in any decision.

In a smaller studio like mine, the noise level, while surprising, was decent enough to be acceptable and I got used to it for everything but musical production mixing since the box sits relatively close by my station, but that is only noticeable at night, since normally it does not overpower the traffic you get by my place, which admittedly is not that much since my place sits on a large cul-de-sac. And did I mention that the density per dollar is indecent?

For a moment I was tempted to be egocentric and count the noise factor in this review against the machine. But the level of performance I've had of it allowed me to see that I am really using a heavy-duty professional IT product in my rig. It makes as much noise as my fan really, and I live by the beach in sunny California. Given the time it's been on and the rate I have recorded and erased stuff in there, this guy is a trooper.

I want one of these for Christmas, and if not for Hannukah, and if not for Dia de Reyes, and if not, I think we are just in time for my wife's birthday.

This is now my drive of choice for documentary and large-footage work over almost anything SCSI I own (The HMV1800 still rocks) and anyone with a tooth for hard-core IT stuff will smile knowingly.

A pleasure to give this machine FIVE out of Five cows. Click here for more information.

Marina del Rey, 2005

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