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The Sonnet D800 RAID: Speed and Safety

COW Library : Art of the Edit : Jeremy Garchow : The Sonnet D800 RAID: Speed and Safety
CreativeCOW presents The Sonnet D800 RAID: Speed and Safety -- Art of the Edit Review


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SATA.  eSATA.  SATA, SATA, SATA.  SATA in your Mac, SATA in your PC, SATA in your favorite external drive, your favorite laptop, and your ‘favorite’ cable box.  You know it, you love it and you most likely use it.  Logically due to sheer proliferation, SATA raids will be the end all be all of current video production for direct attached storage, right?  Cheap…fast…but are they reliable?

 

Unfortunately, reliability has not been my experience.  There’s no RAID protection, there’s a bunch of wires from the card to the drive chassis, which presents a huge hassle for me.  Cable management is tough enough as it is; now I have to add 8 or 10 more cables to my ever-growing nest of copper? 

 

Some will now argue about port-multiplication and how great that is.  Okay, hooking it all together is easier but still there’s no raid protection.  Yeah, it’s cheap and fast, but just you wait and see what happens when it’s D Day and it’s time to lay off your latest masterpiece and a drive goes down. 

 

Oh, you’re backed up you say?  Well, let’s see how long it takes to rebuild the array by tracing the cables back, find the dead drive, recopy the materials back to the RAID, re-render the masterpiece, lay it off, lay it off again for the West Coast and then watch the piece for errors/drop outs.  Still have time to get to FedEx?  I bet you're cutting it close.

           

These concerns made up my constant internal dialog about the ubiquitous home brew SATA RAID.  It was always sexy to me, so sexy that I had a SATA array for my very first full-blown FCP HD computer. 

 

In the beginning
I was just starting to purchase my own equipment. I needed to keep things to a very strict budget, but I also needed HD capability...so I needed a RAID but couldn’t afford the proper fibre/SCSI hardware at the time. 

 

This was before native DVCPRO HD editing, before the Kona2, before FW800 raids and before port multiplication and even before 4 port SATA cards.  Two or 4GB fibre was a light pipe dream for a guy like me and 720p24 wasn’t supported on Decklink back then, so 720p60 it was. 

 

I needed some speed and I needed it cheap.  So, I bought a massive G5 computer with a 4-drive array built in, attached to two, dual-port SATA cards.  I got through the first job okay. It was tough, but it got done.  

Then, I got to my second HD job, which was out of the studio and on the road.  I arrived at the destination, unpacked and fired up the machine to no joy.  No RAID, no love, no hair left. 

After two hours of fiddling with cables and reseating PCI cards the RAID finally came online, but it wasn’t good enough.  The RAID would blink in and out of existence and it was generally not trustworthy, so I borrowed a SCSI drive from a local contact and got the job done, but nearly lost a client, my youth and a bunch of pre-produced material in the process. 

This is when I decided I couldn’t bet my business on a RAID0 array

I limped through the next few months with a two drive array and eventually bought a 4GB Huge Systems 4105 5-drive fibre array.  Now this was living and living well, as I found the importance of RAID level protection and why I paid for it.  One morning after coming into the office and checking on an overnight render, the array was screaming bloody murder in the form of a high-pitched warning sound.  It turned out a drive went bad overnight during the render.  Since I was running RAID 3, I was protected and able to keep working that day while a new drive was rushed to me overnight.  No loss of information, no loss of work, no loss of time, no loss of hair. 

 

When I received the new drive the next day, I installed it in seconds and told the RAID to start rebuilding.  It rebuilt in the background while I was still finishing the piece and 3 hours later, the drive was restored to RAID3, my project complete to tape and I still had time to have dinner with my loved ones and slept soundly later that evening. 

 

So, for the past 4 or so years I have been banging away on my G5 with a 4105 at my side.  As FCP got more power hungry and the Universal Binary conversion finally made it to most of my favorite applications, I decided to upgrade my computer and retire the ol' reliable G5 dual 2.0.  Of course, nothing but the best for me, so an 8 core was in my future. Now I had to decide how to upgrade my storage, as my 4105 was just under a terabyte after formatting for Raid3. 

 

1TB and Growing
Business has been extremely busy so I decided to look into a higher capacity RAID as the 4105 was constantly full and I was constantly moving stuff on or off of it.  The 8 core is PCIe, and since I knew I was going to find some sort of fibre raid, I needed to replace my ATTO fibre card for a PCIe version, and I also looked in to upgrading the drives in my 4105. 

 

It turns out that came at a huge premium.  The drives were really expensive to replace.  (They're tested enterprise drives, so I understand the cost.) They are PATA so capacity is limited. The ATTO card was also very expensive. I  began to look around, but I knew I wanted ATTO and a fibre raid in my near future.  I've had such great success with my 42XS and fibre, why should I choose anything else?

 

Enter a local reseller and the Sonnet Fusion D800RAID.  A neighborhood guy, John Ladle of HD-Sales, brought it to my attention as we were talking about the AJA IO HD over lunch.  He told me about a SATA Raid that was fast, reliable and relatively low cost.  It sounded a tale too fantastic to be true, but he was insistent.

 

I told him that there was no way I would touch an unprotected SATA raid as the last time I worked with one was 'ulcerific.' He then informed me that the D800RAID had RAID 0,1,4 and 5 (among others) and it came bundled with an ATTO card.  Wow, he had my ear.

 

I started doing some research and found that the array is in fact SATA, but it uses the new ATTO R380 SAS card to attach the drives to the chassis through an infiniband connector on the chassis side and mini-SAS connections on the card. All 8 drives are connected with two of these cables (essentially 4 drives per cable).

 

Not Your Father's SCSI
SAS stands for Serial Attached SCSI.  Yes. SCSI…but this ain’t your poppa’s SCSI.  Very basically, this means that each SATA drive in the chassis has a direct connection to the host controller, allowing for impressive speed and uses some SCSI protocols to pass the information around.  The RAID protection is controlled right on the ATTO PCIe card. It leaves fewer parts to fail and allows for lower cost as there’s no separate RAID controller to add on.  Since I was intrigued, I got an evaluation RAID and began evaluating.

Right out of the box the D800RAID looked to be a winner.  The drives are packed in thick form-fitting foam with each drive nestled in it’s own slot.  The hard drive chassis is packed just as well within its own form fitting foam.  The drives come preinstalled on chassis sleds, so putting together the D800RAID is virtually effortless and took a few minutes.

 

Configuration
I installed the ATTO card in the MacPro, configured the PCIe Slot config, installed the latest ATTO drivers/utilities from attotech.com and I proceeded to get started on formatting the array.  The D800RAID comes preformatted to RAID level 5, journaled (yes journaled) so all you really have to do is open the disk utility, name your drive and away you go. 

 

If you want to reformat/restripe, or choose a different level of raid protection, you use the ATTO Configuration Utility to administer the array.  The ATTO Configuration Tool is a pretty simple tool to use and with just a few clicks, you're on your way. 

 

In the Configuration Utility you have some options as to what RAID format to choose, interleave size and how many drives you want to include in the raid set.  I chose to include all 8 drives running at RAID4 (this is similar to the RAID3 that I grew to know and love in my 4105).

 

I chose this over RAID5, but RAID5 is perfectly capable as well and the speed differences are negligible.  I will let you decide on which RAID format to choose as the major difference between RAID4 and RAID5 is that the parity (redundant) data is spread across the entire array for RAID5, and in RAID4, there’s a dedicated drive reserved for writing parity information.

 

Right after the array starts to format through the ATTO Configuration utility, the OSX warning pops up saying that this drive is uninitialized, and gives you the option of ignoring, ejecting or initializing, so I click initialize just like I would with any brand new drive that I put in the computer.  I name the drive, set it to OSX journaled and the array shows up on the desktop, ready to use except for one caveat, the parity data takes 3-4 hours to build on the array.  When you initialize the RAID, you can start to use it right away (copy stuff to it, whatever) but you will experience a lag in performance.   I would recommend letting the array do its thing before you start capturing video to it.

 

In RAID4 and using the 6TB version, with under a terabyte of data on the drive, I got write speeds of 468.6 MB/sec and Read speeds 449.2 MB/sec in RAID4.  Very nice.  Very fast.  Over the past month I have used the drive extensively, constantly moving projects on and off, fragmenting the drive and this thing just keeps on churning and not losing speed.  I have managed to fill it up to about 85% capacity and the Read and Write speeds have dropped a little, but only a little and you can still easily do uncompressed HD across the entire array in a protected RAID mode. 

 

Speeds are now hovering around 380-420 MB/sec.  I have also pulled a drive while capturing to the D800RAID and the drive didn’t skip a beat. 

 

Staying Alerted
Within the ATTO configuration Utility and using the latest drivers (v1.10 for OSX as of October 5, 2007), you can setup an email alert system that will email you when a drive goes down, and I promptly received an email after pulling the drive.  As of now, there’s no audible alarm in the D800RAID for when a drive goes down.  Supposedly, the audible alarm feature will be released in a future ATTO driver update along with RAID6 protection (Raid6 allows you to blow two drives). 

 

After I pulled the drive, I went into the ATTO Config Utility and began the rebuilding process, which took a few hours.  Performance is reduced to around 100 MB/sec during the rebuild, so if you are working in uncompressed 1080 HD, be prepared to wait out the rebuild or limp through the edit.  This is typical of most, small direct attached storage devices so it comes as no surprise.  I was able to keep working as this project was uncompressed 720p24 which is easily doable @ 100 MB/sec.  Those of you working in ProRes shouldn’t have a problem with working on the array while it’s rebuilding.

 

Sonnet customer service seems to be very nice and attentive.  You can have a drive sent to you overnight if need be, or you can buy a spare drive to have sitting around the office in case a drive goes down and you can start to rebuild right away.  Sonnet will then swap out the bad drive for a good one.  Sonnet uses enterprise drives in these arrays so you know you will be getting the very best of the batch. 

 

The chassis and card are covered under a 2-year warranty, and the drives themselves have a 5-year warranty on them due to the enterprise class nature of the drives. 

 

Before I bought a unit for myself,  I waited for the 8TB model to release to gain even more capacity and speed.  The 8TB array runs a little faster due to the Hitachi 1TB drives that have excellent individual performance and cache.

 

Bottom Line
So there it is. I'm now a SATA Raid owner and feel great about it.  It has the speed and reliability that is crucial to my business and at a price that won’t break the bank.  

You can check the web for the latest prices, and remember this is a one-stop shop.  When you get the D800RAID, you get everything you need to get setup including the controller card.  It’s a really great deal for a really great product.  You can check out http://www.sonnettech.com/product/fusiond800raid.html for more info. 

I give the Sonnet D800RAID 4.5 out of 5 cows.

 



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