The (RAID) Truth Is Out There
A RAID (redundant array of independent disks) integrator helped Rainmaker Entertainment Group meet the high-throughput requirements of a new film project.
Rainmaker Entertainment Group (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) is a film and video post-production company, performing video effects for most of the major television and Hollywood movie studios. Its clientele includes Warner Brothers, Universal, 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney, MGM, and Paramount, as well as ABC, CBS, NBC, and HBO. Special effects are the company's specialty, and television viewers have seen the company's work in TV shows such as The X-Files and Dark Angel. Recently, the company performed work on the movie 3000 Miles to Graceland. Although its headquarters is in Canada, Rainmaker has offices in both the United States and Canada and works on projects on both sides of the border.
"Rainmaker is a longtime customer, and we have supplied disk and tape products to them for many years," says Todd Rae, VP and CTO of Zentra Computer Technologies Inc. (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), a storage VAR and systems integrator. "When new projects come up, Rainmaker will notify us to see if we have a solution to help them out. This company's business requires them to deal with a ton of data. Of all our customers, Rainmaker definitely has the most demanding data requirements. The company not only has to store a lot of data, it also needs to be able to stream data at specified, sustained rates of speed."
Stream Data At Better Than 300 MB/s
Zentra was called in when Rainmaker was awarded a new film project. "Rainmaker needed a 5 TB data repository for postproduction processing," says Rae. "The project also required them to be able to stream data at a sustained rate in excess of 300 MB/s." Rainmaker did not have the storage space or the performance capability in their current infrastructure to handle the project. To get its infrastructure updated to the project's specifications, Rainmaker contacted Zentra and several other vendors to try to find a suitable solution.
"The customer contacted us with their requirements and we went to work architecting a solution based on their needs," says Rae. "They let us know their performance, capacity, and price requirements, and that became our starting point." Rae believes one of the keys to his company landing the account, other than meeting the customer's requirements, was the level of attention and response that both Zentra and Chaparral Networks (Longmont, CO), the primary vendor, were able to provide.
"We did not simply pitch them a product," says Rae. "Other vendors proposed a solution, left their business card, and moved on. We got directly involved with their key people and created a solution we felt would meet their needs." Rainmaker had concerns about how the solution would work with their legacy hardware. Chaparral was able to perform testing and negate any concerns Rainmaker had. The customer's biggest concern revolved around a Prisa host bus adapter (HBA) the customer was using. The Prisa HBA is no longer manufactured nor supported by the manufacturer, and any new storage arrays had to be altered to fit the product. "Chaparral had a lab, so we got the card, tested it in the lab, and confirmed the solution would work," says Rae. "No other VAR or vendor even attempted to test their solution with the customer's equipment."
RAID Provides Capacity And Performance
The product Rae decided would best meet Rainmaker's needs is the RIO 244 RAID controller from Chaparral with 144 GB disk drives. RIO is a controller that can be integrated with disk drives on the back end. The controller manages SAN (storage area network) functions on the front end, such as LUN (logical unit number) masking and host ID. The controller also has a built-in Windows Java interface for managing devices driven directly off the RIO. The solution Zentra created for Rainmaker contained 5 TB of capacity, which can be scaled higher with additional units and drives.
RIO has multiple Fibre Channel buses for the back-end storage, enabling VARs to put 16 TB of storage on a single controller. If a customer needs more capacity, VARs can add more disk; if they need more performance, VARs can add more controllers and more disk. But the biggest selling point with the RIO is its speed. "The RIO is very fast," says Rae. "A RAID controller performs the mathematical calculations that ensure data can be restored if a drive is lost. The processors on the RIO controller that perform those calculations are efficient and extremely fast. On average, the RIO is two to three times faster than the typical controller on the market today in the same price range."
A Quick Install With Superior Performance
The entire project, from initial discussions to the final installation, was completed in four weeks. The installation was completed within 10 days after receipt of the order. "We had both Zentra's staff and engineers from Chaparral involved in the installation," says Rae. "The actual install itself took just two days and went very smoothly." The customer had been using storage from Ciprico and Metastor, but that storage could no longer meet the performance requirements of the company. The cost of the system was well within Rainmaker's budget.
The solution has met Rainmaker's performance requirements, and Rae believes the speed of RIO will allow his company to sell many more solutions to customers with applications requiring a high data transfer rate. Zentra manufactures a RAID solution called the Scorpion. Before they began using the RIO controller, the fastest version of Scorpion had a maximum sustained throughput of around 150 MB/s for writes and 250 MB/s for reads. With the RIO controller and sufficient drives to support it, the Scorpion can achieve throughputs of 350 to 400 MB/s for writes and up to 700 MB/s for reads.
"RIO is significantly faster than other controllers on the market, but it also costs a little more," says Rae. "RIO is three to four times faster, but it costs about 30% more. It is not the right controller for everyone, but it is the best solution for everyone that needs higher speeds."
The biggest problem Rae faced on the installation was a hiccup related to the software integration. "Rainmaker was running Explorer 5.0, and the communication platform on RIO (the control software used to configure and monitor the unit) was buggy with 5.0," says Rae. "We had the customer upgrade to Explorer version 5.5 and all of the problems went away." Chaparral has since retrofitted the firmware on RIO and the next version will be compatible with Explorer 5.0 as well.