They say you can never have too much storage. Actually, they say a lot of things, but this one is true in my experience, especially with the corollary that the storage can never be fast enough. Sonnet Technologies recently introduced solutions to this on-going editor's dilemma, in both rackmount and desktop form. Their high end and high performance RAID systems come in eight-drive, 4, 6 and 8 TB configurations, with the "D" series in a desktop case and "R" denoting a 2 RU rackmount. The D800 8TB system is the basis for this review.
The D800 is equipped with eight 1 TB Hitachi Ultrastar SATA 3.5-inch drives mounted in two rows of four each. The 6 TB version uses eight 750 GB drives, and the 4 TB version uses eight 500 GB drives. There is a separate power supply and a separate on/off button for each row of drives. Each drive can be ejected at the push of a button and release of a lever, and the connections are positive and secure. There are two power plugs, one for each power supply and row of drives. The rack unit weighs in at about 36 pounds, and is finished in a brushed stainless steel with blue status LEDs. It is quite stylish in looks and rather easy to place into position because of the rackmount form factor and the small handles up front.
Sonnet Fusion R800 8 TB RAID
The rack connects to the RAID controller card, mounted in an internal 4 or x8 PCIe slot, via two multilane, secure locking cables, roughly four feet in length. The controller software, and the controller card itself, are from ATTO, a well respected manufacturer of such cards and one with a long history of top performing products. Hardware compatibility is with any Macintosh, Windows, or Linux box with a free PCIe slot. Software compatibility is with Macintosh OSK 10.4.8 or higher, Windows Vista, XP Pro, or Server 2003, and various varieties of Linux (see Sonnet's website for specific flavors).
Installation and set up were quite straightforward. The RAID system ships with small wedges under each drive in the array to protect against jars and jolts, and so requires that each drive be ejected, the wedge removed, and the drive re-inserted and locked back into place. The controller card slides into a PCIe slot, and controller software and drivers are installed from the supplied CD. The whole installation should take no more than about 15 minutes.
The ATTO software install provides device drivers, firmware updates, formatting software, and the tools necessary to manage the array. RAID management is pretty much point and click; RAID 0, 1, 4, 5, 10, 50 and JBOD (Just a Bunch o' Disks) configurations. Configuration can also include visual and audible notification of drive failure.
My test host for the R800 RAID system was an early 2008 MacPro tower with 2 quad core, 2.8 GHz Xeon processors and 16 GB RAM, running OS X 10.5.2. I installed the controller card in the top PCIe slot, connected it to the enclosure with the Infiniband multilane to mini-SAS cables, installed the software, fired it up, and after a restart, the system, factory configured as RAID 5, appeared on my desktop. By the way, an 8 TB RAID formats out at 6.37 TB.
I ran the AJA System Test to get an idea of throughput benchmarks for the R800 RAID. My results on a RAID 5 volume, using AJA's Disk Read/Write Tests with a 4 GB file size and 2048x1556 10-bit RGB frame size varied between 501.7 and 535.6 Mbps for writes, and 468 and 494.2 Mbps for reads, averaging a bit lower than Sonnet's test results, no doubt because of some inconsistencies in my system. The real world tests, working on my Media 100 HD, Kona 3 based system indicated throughput was more than adequate for anything I wanted to throw at the hardware.
Large-scale video storage.
Hardware and software compatible with many computer systems; low noise.
8 TB rack-mounted version, $7,195; 6 TB, $5,695; 4 TB, $4,695. Note: desktop versions are $200 less in each size.
I began by digitizing a lot of 1080/60i clips from a Sony PWM-EX1 for a documentary project, using the ProRes 422 HQ codec. That didn't stress the system at all. In edit mode, I stacked up 4 HD layers for a composite and threw a title on top, and still all played in sync with the stereo soundtrack with no rendering. Even adding a few more stereo audio layers didn't bog down the RAID. A RAID 0 configuration yields about 50 to 60 percent better performance, but at the potential cost of losing everything if a drive goes down.
Fan noise is unavoidable with devices such as this, but I'm happy to report that the noise level for this unit is not overwhelming. The four-foot cables that connect the R800 to the host computer controller card allow some placement flexibility to minimize noise.
Sonnet's Fusion R800 RAID is solidly built of Enterprise grade materials and drives, backed by a two-year limited warranty. The system is easy to install, configure, use and maintain, and performs to high standards of fast transfer rates whether full, empty, or in between. A very thorough overview on Sonnet's Web site will give you an idea of the technology, as well as transfer rates and expected streams of video at various frame rates, sizes, and codecs you can expect to be able to play.
Storage and I/O are the name of the game in the modern edit suite. My one concern with the Sonnet system is its lack of expandability: each RAID system is a world of its own. To enhance your storage capabilities, you have to buy and install another RAID system and host card. To be fair to Sonnet, in the interest of speed and performance most systems work this way, but not all. That one concern aside, I have no qualms about recommending Sonnet's R800 RAID as a solid and high performing, reliable unit for a wide range of situations.