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Thunderbolt 2 Arrays From Nestor: The Biggest Game in Town

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CreativeCOW presents Thunderbolt 2 Arrays From Nestor: The Biggest Game in Town -- Storage Review


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Apple pulled the rug out from under their users with FCPX, and they've done it again with the new Mac Pro. They've said, "Surprise! Buy everything all over again, because there are no more PCIe slots for your stupid cards."

And here we go again. Remember the G5 transition to the Mac Pro – everyone was waiting for a PCI-X to PCIe bridge – and it NEVER came. "You bought new. You don't like it? GET OUT OF THE BUSINESS." That's Apple talking, not me.

This time, though, companies like Sonnet and Magma responded quickly to the new Mac Pro with their expansion chassis. And Promise and Areca released Thunderbolt 2 drive arrays, and in smaller capacity, so did CalDigit, and G-Technology. But NO ONE said, "Let's go all the way, and make the BIG products."

If you need something bigger than 8 bays, it's hard to believe, but at this moment, there is only ONE choice – a company from Taiwan named Netstor.

The Netstor NA333TB is a 16 bay drive array that takes conventional 6gig SATA drives up to 4 TB capacity, allowing for up to 64 TB of storage. I prefer HGST Ultrastar drives, so all testing was done with these drives. Because the Netstor does NOT come with a RAID host adaptor card, we tested it with the same trusty Areca ARC-1882ix-16 card that we often use in conventional miniSAS drive setups.


The Netstor NA333TB 16 bay drive array
The Netstor NA333TB 16 bay drive array. Click images to expand.


The Netstor has three integrated PCIe slots inside the chassis, eliminating the need for an external Thunderbolt 2 expansion chassis. This saves lots of money while also answering the question, "What about all the cards that I bought? Do I have to throw them out?" The answer is NO! PCIe slots are built in!!!


Netstor Thunderbolt2 Array NA333TB. PCIe slots are built in!
PCIe slots are built in!


Even with the Areca RAID card installed inside the Netstor chassis, it's great to have additional slots available, so that other cards like eSATA or USB3 cards can be installed as well, for quick data transfer and backups.

With 16 drives stripped at RAID 0, using AJA System Test as a benchmark for speed, we were able to get about 1300 MB/sec. But in real life, RAID 0 is foolish – with no protection against a failed drive – so we switched to a more realistic RAID 6 configuration. We choose RAID 6 in recent times, because of the higher failure rates of SATA drives than in the past. All too often, I have seen a second drive fail in a RAID 5 configuration when a rebuild of the array is being done, ultimately losing all of the customer's valuable data. We prefer and recommend sticking with RAID 6 configurations these days, particularly with 16 bay drive arrays.

With RAID 6, I was able to consistently get between 1100 and 1200 MB/sec, which in my opinion, is excellent, considering that RAID 0 only brought up the speed about 100 MB/sec.

While 1200 MB/sec might be slower performance than I am used to seeing with the equivalent 16 bay miniSAS array on an old Mac Pro using a x16 lane slot for the Areca card, I must face the reality that the "old" Mac Pro is discontinued, and all I have available to me now is the new 2013 Mac Pro with Thunderbolt 2.

The fact is that 1200 MB/sec is plenty of bandwidth, considering that most clients are still using some form or Apple ProRes, or Sony XDCAM, or AVCHD, all which are low bandwidth. Even RED .R3D files are low bandwidth, making the 1200 MB/sec from the Netstor array at RAID 6 plenty fast for virtually any application. Anyone can readily see, using the wonderful (and free) AJA Data Calc application, that there is no HD or 4K codec that requires more than 1200 MB/sec.

Because Thunderbolt 2 has a fixed maximum bandwidth of 1375 MB/sec., even the addition of SSD drives instead of conventional SATA drives would not increase the speed of this array (or any other RAID array that relies on Thunderbolt 2).

It seems that Netstor is currently the only manufacturer of 16 bay Thunderbolt 2 drive arrays, and has a 24 bay configuration as well, called the NA381TB – which I have not yet seen. Between this, and the fact that the RAID chassis has the built in PCIe expander with 3 PCIe slots for assorted card (that most of us already own), it seems like a "no brainer" that this is a "best value" purchase.


the NA381TB storage raid the NA381TB storage raid
The NA381TB

It should be noted that the larger 24 bay Netstor NA381TB has an additional "slot" to place a Mac Mini INSIDE the RAID array, so the entire system can be easily rack mounted. While the current Mac Mini uses only Thunderbolt 1 technology, with rumors that a Thunderbolt 2 Mac Mini being released sometime in 2014, this is very exciting information.

Maxx Digital has tested the Netstor NA333TB with its new 10GbE Final Share system that incorporates the new 2013 Mac Pro, and it works wonderfully. In fact, this is what is going to be displayed at NAB2014 at the show. We are seeing performance of over 600 MB/sec from the client Mac computers to the Mac Pro server, so we are very impressed with its performance.

Not only does Netstor have a winner as a new drive array, but coming into April 2014, they simply have no competition. No one else is manufacturing a 16 or 24 bay Thunderbolt 2 drive array at this time.







Netstor Thunderbolt Storage and PCIe Expansion NA381TB



NA333TB -- Netstor Thunderbolt Storage & PCIe Expansion Product Introduction



Comments

Re: Thunderbolt 2 Arrays From Nestor: The Biggest Game in Town
by Marcus Vasques Osorio
What is the noise level like? Is it suitable for using on-set as a DIT station?

cheers

Marcus
Re: Thunderbolt 2 Arrays From Nestor: The Biggest Game in Town
by Jon Schilling
Looking at the specs & working with 16 bay units myself, my guess is this unit is LOUD. The fans: Three 90 x90 x25 mm.

Jon
Re: Thunderbolt 2 Arrays From Nestor: The Biggest Game in Town
by David Gagne
Looks cool. Might have to get one of these :) Gotta get a new mac pro first though.

I also have SMB2 issues w/ mix of windows boxes. I just reverted a couple macs to using CIFS and turning DS_Stores off.

My own MBA has been just fine connecting to most SMB shares but I think the ones I've connected to are Server OS not Win7.
@Thunderbolt 2 Arrays From Nestor: The Biggest Game in Town
by Bob Zelin
Hi Dick -
most miniSAS cards, from ATTO and Areca can scale out to 128 drives. So with 4TB drives, we can expand these systems out to 512 TB (and even bigger with the new 6TB HGST Helium drives). Your wonderful fibre channel system applies to the OLD Mac Pro. I know very well that the OLD Mac Pro is more powerful for many applications, and almost 100% of our clients are using the OLD Mac Pro for large storage arrays. And the OLD Mac Pro will continue to work wonderfully in server enviornments. But I must face real life, and so must you. THERE IS NO OLD MAC PRO with x16 lane slots in it. This is a new era, and at some point, the Mac operating systems will not longer support the 64 bit 2012 Mac Pro, no matter how wonderful it is. That is what reviews like this are all about - NEW TECHNOLOGY, even if the old stuff can do the same job or better. I don't make up rules like this - companies like Apple make the rules, and I just have to follow them, and adapt to them.

And Neil - I can't wait to come to the AMD booth to see what you are up to !

Bob Zelin

Bob Zelin
Rescue 1, Inc.
maxavid@cfl.rr.com
@Bob Zelin
by Dick Ott
Indded, HBAs do support many drives, but this enclosure doesn't allow you to easily take advantage of that beyond the internal 16.

Actually, my 8Gb FC storage is connected to all of my new MacBookPros and MacPros with TB2 using SANLink2 adapters, so I aggregate almost 5GB/s to my storage - and not take any hits from disk rebuilds.

And totally agree with you about "the rules". 8^)
@Bob Zelin
by Neil Smith
Agree wholeheartedly, Bob ... Apple is moving quickly away from their old 32 bit legacy architecture to the all new 64 bit platform .. they have to in order to keep up with Moore's Law and the form factor they want to go with ... "smaller is better".

Also, to pick up on something that Dick mentioned - though the Netstor NA333TB 16 bay doesn't come with a built in RAID card it gives you the flexibility of deciding for yourself which one you want to go for ... Atto, LSI, HighPoint or Areca, etc ... I happen to personally prefer the ARECA RAID cards which always seem to deliver great throughput at a good price ... there must be something in the water in Taiwan that makes their engineers super smart at storage optimization .... in fact, many RAID boxes that come with RAID controllers already installed are most probably OEMing one of theirs anyway.

The Netstor chassis offers such good value for the 16 bay and the 24 bay that you can afford to purchase the best RAID controller card you can afford ... the ability of the RAID card to give high sustained throughput is critical ... on the 24 bay NA381TB chassis we're testing now, I have the Areca ARC-1882ix-/24 HBA installed ... to be getting sustained R&W speeds of over 1300 MB/s is pretty damn amazing, given that Intel cap Thunderbolt 2 at 1375 MB/s max.

Interesting times for sure ... looking forward to having a beer with you at NAB next week, Bob ... much to discuss.

Cheers,
Neil

Neil Smith
CEO
LumaForge LLC
high performance workflow
323-850-3550
http://www.lumaforge.com
Re: Thunderbolt 2 Arrays From Nestor: The Biggest Game in Town
by Dick Ott
Nice box, but not really an "array" - just a disk enclosure with a TB2 interface on it and PCIe slots. You have to add the RAID functionality via a PCIe HBA.

How does the read/write performance fare during a disk rebuild?
How does it handle excessive drive error recovery times?

That's why I use a real Fibre Channel RAID system with a SANLink or ThunderLink to connect to my MacPro. Units such as the Promise E630 have a vast number of features to protect my irreplaceable data, and can scale out to 240 drives on one RAID controller.
Re: Thunderbolt 2 Arrays From Netstor: The Biggest Game in Town
by Neil Smith
Nice write up, Bob ... agree totally with your conclusion - Netstor make great products at a great price.

We've actually been testing their 24 bay NA381TB Thunderbolt 2 enclosure connected to a nMP and have been very impressed with the build quality and the speed! ... using the AJA Disk whack test we got sustained WRITE speed of 1300 MB/s and READ speed of 1350 MB/s which given Intel's cap on TB2 I/O is not too shabby :-)



As you also mention, the other cool thing about the NA381TB is the tray at the back for a Mac Mini (great as an Xsan MDC) and the three PCIe slots for FC or 10GigE cards.

Been testing the NA381TB with a Mycirom 10GigE installed and a direct link to the "old" Mac Pro tower with a Mycricom card installed and that seems to be a very fast (800 MB/s) and cost-effective way to connect the "old" Mac World to the "new" Mac World of TB2 cylinders.

Tried connecting the Mac to a Win 7 PC through the Myricom cards but still seem to be having an issue with SMB2 networking out of Mavericks to Win 7 - sometimes it connects and some times it doesn't ... have you had any luck with SMB2 between OSX Mavericks and Win 7? What the heck did Apple do to their SMB stack?

As well as Netstor fast Thunderbolt storage we're also testing their Gen 3 PCIe expansion chassis - NA265A ... again, really solid build quality at a great price ... don't know how they do it, but the company obviously has some super smart engineers who know how to get the most bang for the buck.

I'll be posting some more on the NA265A before we head off to NAB ... we're going to be on the AMD booth demoing the new AMD FirePro W9100 GPUs running DaVinci Resolve ... these are beasts of a GPU - 16GB of VRAM and tons of processing cores - even faster and beefier than the D700s in the nMP which are also engineered by AMD.

Kinda amazing how quickly the world has changed since Christmas .. new Mac Pros from Apple, fast Thunderbolt 2 storage from Netstor, beefy GPUs from AMD ... we're really seeing the benefits of Moore's Law driving the priice/performance curve once again.

Hope to see you at NAB next week ... if you get a chance, come over to the AMD booth #SL10405 and I'll show you the new AMD GPUs in action ... there's many things I love about the nMPs but not being able to add extra GPUs is a bit of a bummer .. the performance we're getting with 4 x W9100s and a Win 7 PC is stunning .... makes Resolve and Adobe CC apps run at another level of responsiveness ... as soon as we have TB2 enabled PC motherboards connected to TB2 storage the goal-posts will shift again.

Combine that with IP over Thunderbolt bridging (still choppy to say the least) and we have some great solutions for high speed connectivity and file sharing.

NAB is going to be a blast!

Cheers,
Neil

Neil Smith
CEO
LumaForge LLC
high performance workflow
323-850-3550
http://www.lumaforge.com
Re: Thunderbolt 2 Arrays From Nestor: The Biggest Game in Town
by Jay Williams
Thanks for the quick read Bob! I am eager to check out this system at NAB next week. I just added Maxx Digital to my app as a must hit booth.

-Jay

Parker Street Productions LLC
Madison, WI USA
http://www.ParkerStreetPro.tv
Re: Thunderbolt 2 Arrays From Nestor: The Biggest Game in Town
by Ri Stewart
Sweet! I just put all my SAS and eSATA cabinets on ebay. I've been using LaCie 2Big thunderbolts for the last couple projects, as they're faster in two drive configs than my 4 drive striped SAS RAID's were on a RocketRAID card.

But this is the chassis our studio has been waiting for! Just in time for 4K. Thanks Bob!

bluedot productions
http://www.bluedotproductions.com


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