Dynamic Drive Pool

Storage Servers

I believe this is one of the most critical components of your video editing/vfx/color setup. Without fast storage video editing can be a chore. If you have reliable, fast storage, the technology gets out of the way and helps facilitate finishing a job fast. This area can be expensive, but for a shop with multiple editors, colorists, and audio engineers it's a must. You can only daisy chain so many Thunderbolt or Firewire drives before you need a better solution.

In August of 2013 I torn down our XSAN and moved to a different solution. The XSAN was problematic for us for a number of reasons - aging hardware, old fiber channel cards, poor support (read: non-existent) from Apple, permissions issues with our files/folders - so I looked for other solutions. I ultimately decided to move to a DDP, Dynamic Drive Pool by Ardis Technologies.

The DDP is an IP SAN (Ethernet based SAN) with an iSCSI protocol. 1GbE ethernet cables can run up to 100 meters (300 feet), and for larger distances you can use fibre cables (multi mode OM 3 or 4 for shorter distances 300-400 meters, or single mode for 10+ kilometers). Due to distance constraints I chose to do run fibre since our server lives 300'+ from our workstations. For many deployments standard CAT6 copper (i.e. ethernet) is a much cheaper solution and this server is built to run that way. All DDP systems fit in a normal rack space (ours is a 12U tall unit), and can be configured in a variety of sizes depending on what you need. I have a 110TB unit (about 90TB of which is usably after building the raid 5 configuration). The interface to interact with the server is a GUI that runs in any web browser on your computer - pretty simple. I'm an artist, not an IT guy and even I can work the thing!

One of the biggest benefits for my team was that I can attach our Mac Pros to it via a high speed PCIe fiber card for maximum speed, but I can also attach a MacBook Pro, iMac, Mac Mini or any PC laptop/desktop to it via the standard 1G ethernet connection which is built into all computers (the same place you plug in your wired internet connection). Because the DDP runs an AVFS file system you can share files between a Mac, Windows, or a Linux workstation.

Most of our workflow centers around ProRes, DNxHD, or XDCAM which can easily be piped over a standard cat6 cable to a relatively inexpensive computer. That for us was a big deal since we didn't know what direction Apple was taking with the Mac Pro at the time. It gave me the most flexibility for computer workstations. Macs or PC's attach to it very easily over standard 1G ethernet or you can drop a PCIe card in there for the 10G speed if you're doing more data intensive codecs (RAW, ProRes 4444, multiple streams of XYZ, etc.).

I can even enlarge a volume on the fly. For example, I can create a volume called "McDonalds" at 2TB. The shoot runs long and my team comes back with double the expected footage, all I have to do is call up the GUI and add a few extra TB's to the volume and now "McDonalds" is at 5TB. Within the next update it will allow me to shrink on the fly as well….I'm still waiting for that. Currently to shrink the volume you have to "destroy it" (which is no more trouble than clicking a few boxes in the GUI) and recreate the volume. Unlike the XSAN, the DDP is very fluid. So we can create a volume per job, per shoot, per day or whatever. Copy media on to it, edit, export, and deliver. Then delete that volume and create a new one.

The best way to think about it is like a pie. So you can carve up your 90TB however you'd like. 1 big slice, 5 smaller slices, 15 small slices, etc. So for our workflow we have 10 consistent volumes that always exist, and they vary in size from 2TB's to 10TB's. We add volumes if needed. Additionally, the GUI for the DDP allows the admin to grant or restrict access to a workstation at the volume level. So if editor 1 is working on the "McDonalds" volume, then they don't need to see the "Buger King" or "Wendy's" volumes. I can also restrict what editor 1 can do on the "McDonalds" volume - Read/Write, Read Only. The DDP itself is easily expandable with additional drives or with additional DDP's. I believe you can tie 3 together without problem.

DDP plays well with all NLE's from the major A's - Avid, Adobe, or Apple. It also operates flawlessly on most all post-production software, such as ProTools, Logic, Nucoda, Photoshop, After Effects, Smoke, etc.

Cinesys | Oceana, based in Houston, Texas, worked with my team and I to spec, install, setup, and provide on-going maintenance for our DDP. I would highly recommend them. They have offices in Texas, New York, Atlanta, and Toronto, but they travel all over the country to do installs. Feel free to give them a call if you're interested in this or any RAID server solution and let them know were referred by me.

As of 2014 I am happily running Adobe CC with our DDP and loving the speed. Under how my DDP is currently configured I average around 600MB/s Read or Write. 

Speed Test of DDP after install