Review: Accusys A08S-PS RAID PCI Express

Review: Accusys A08S-PS RAID PCI Express (continued).
By Steve Douglas.

One of the first tasks I had to complete was to copy over both the Final Cut Pro Legacy Documents and media as well as the Final Cut Pro X events and projects. My first transfer of media consisted of 110.31 Gb from the Data Robotics Drobo Pro to the ACCUSYS RAID. It took 23 minutes to complete the copy over. The second set of media to be copied over consisted of 317 GB which took an hour and 7 minutes to copy over.

Previously, I had been using other externals for editing but now I intended to edit all my media and projects from the ACCUSYS A08S-PS RAID. What I learned consisted partially of what I expected, as well as a few surprises regarding that which I never would have guessed.

In Final Cut Pro X, I was able to play 3 streams of Pro Res 422 at high quality and with the Dropped Frames warning checked in the FCPX preferences. While the render bar showed, I was able to play these 3 streams constructed as a picture in picture without the dropped frames warning coming on. No rendering was ever done.

Once I placed a 4th stream, the dropped frames warning appeared as shown below. This test was repeated several times with different streams and each test ended with the same result.

However, once I changed the Final Cut Pro X preferences to “Better Performance”, I was able to place at least 8 streams of picture in picture video without a single warning and could have easily built more streams into the viewer.

Eight streams of Pro Res 422 optimized footage playing in “better performance” mode ran smoothly with no stutter. While I cannot yet view the video output with Final Cut Pro X through my Matrox MXO2 box, in the Final Cut Pro X’s Viewer Window, I can really see no difference in appearance between the “high quality” and “better performance” preference settings.

Next I moved on to seeing what I could do in Final Cut Pro 7 feeding off the Accusys Raid. Here is where my biggest surprise came to the forefront. With Final Cut Pro 7, I was expecting to get fewer streams of Pro Res 422 video to play in real-time without dropped frames due to its being a 32 bit application as opposed to Final Cut X’s 64 bit. Instead, and with FCP 7’s real time settings set to High Quality, not Dynamic, I was able to place 10 streams of picture in picture video in the timeline and it played perfectly. Through the MXO2 box onto the external monitor it looked just fine and played without a single stutter. I am positive that I could have added even more streams and it still would have played like a knife through butter, but I was running out of picture in picture room on my canvas.

My big question then was why I could play fewer streams of video in FCP X than I could FCP 7? It shouldn’t have been surprising to me, but with a little help from my friends the explanation became quite clear. FCP 7 relies entirely on your processors and RAM for playback and I have 20 gigs or ram installed.

FCP10 is a totally different application. This app was written to deliver excellent performance even with smaller computers and slower (or less) processors, and, for this, it relies on the extra power of the graphics card. In order to have access to this extra horsepower Apple uses Open CL, which some consider to be a better technology than CUDA. NVIDIA cards, like the NVIDIA FX4800 card I am using, are good for CUDA but not very strong in Open CL support, thus, they are less suitable for working with FCP10.

However, the bottom line here is that the ACCUSYS A08S-PS is faster and more powerful than my current Mac Pro and, because of this, I am limited only by my hardware and not the ability of the RAID to keep up. It’s almost four times faster than 3Gb eSATA storage. Equipped with an optional dual port HBA, it is able to reach approximately 1400MB/s and may have 48TB of storage capacity by striping two A08S systems. Nevertheless, for small and medium post production hosts, workstation numbers who have to collaborate with each other for a project must have simultaneous access to shared storage.

Accusys provides a SW04/08-G2 package kit, which can easily upgrade your local A08S to the shared media volume; this greatly improves your productivity and saves valuable time. The ExaSAN Compact Solution is compatible with Apple Xsan, StorNext, MetaSAN, and FibreJet. The A08S-PS is one of a family of PCIe based storage solutions that can be used in a DAS applications as well as SAN applications. Storage products used in SAN environments must provide fast performance and reliability.  In a SAN environment, many clients could be reading/writing to the same storage volume and any performance degradation or failure in storage systems would affect many clients instead of one as in a DAS environment. The Equalization mode of the RAID Guard X is used in a SAN environment which allows it to process which commands are stacked up, and grab what it needs, in a more efficient manner, as several people are making demands at the same time. Used as a directly attached unit, this is not something one needs to be concerned with.

Installation of the RAID controller software was fairly easy. The software installed is called RAID Guard X and is designed primarily with the ACCUSYS A08S-PS installed in a SAN (system area network).

Installation of RAID Guard X controller software was done in the typical way.

While I am not connected to a SAN system, the ACCUSYS RAID in a SAN can be tapped by multiple users connected to the same server. The controller is the brains of the drive set. It is, in essence, a mini computer that does all the thinking on how to get the data on and off the hard drive. Being able to get the data on and off the drives and presented to the computer in a fast and efficient way is what the ACCUSYS does in that they have been able to design and build a very fast and very stable controller for their PCIe storage. The A08S-PS connected to the SAN can allow SAN connected clients to share 700MB/sec of bandwidth. Striping 3 x A08S-PS would allow up to 2100MB/sec of bandwidth accessible to the SAN clients. From a reliability standpoint, the user has the option of adding a second power supply for redundancy.

The cables used to connect the A08S-PS to the MacPro are latching so they cannot be inadvertently removed. The RAID algorithm is tuned so that transfer rates remain steady.

Companies providing SAN storage recommend the use of enterprise drives vs. desktop drives in their RAID systems. So what the customer gets when an A08S-PS is purchased for a DAS application is a storage system that has the steady, high performance and reliability demanded by the SAN environment.

The RAID GUARD X software installs both the AO8S-PS Drivers and the controller. Once installed, it can be found in your applications folder. It is through the RAID Guard X that you format the RAID to your configuration of choice.

When opened, the software appears to be empty, not recognizing the RAID mounted on the desktop. As I am somewhat new to using such a powerful RAID, I was a bit stumped by this, but have since learned that this is the way it should be. This is to prevent anyone from accidentally reconfiguring the RAID’s settings which could result in a heart wrenching loss of projects and data.

Wanting to see that the controller is, indeed, connected, one just needs to click on the ‘Add Controller’ tab on the upper left of the window and then click on ‘Add’ at the bottom

At that point, you can see that your RAID is recognized.

There are multiple sections in RAID GUARD X and I won’t go into them too deeply, but will just point some of the different areas. In the preferences, you can check the ‘Smart Mode’ which will alert you with emails advising you of the RAID’s current healthy functioning. RaidGuard will only notify you of any failure with the raid itself such as a drive failure.

In the ‘Options’ tab, shown below, are also several choices and tasks that you may set. The ACCUSYS owners manual does a decent job of explaining how to go about the various tasks, though it reads heavily on the technical side of things. I must admit, there were a few areas of mention in the manual that were either just confusing or over my head.

In the lower part of the RAID GUARD X menu are also several tabs. The ARRAY tab, shown below, provides your information regarding your RAID configuration, drive status and striping information.

A simple click on the Drives tab shows you how many drives you have installed, their type, and their capacity, while the events tab displays successful booting of the drives as well as any problematic drives that might show up down the line.

As of now, due to a relatively small client base there are no registration requirements when installing the ACCUSYS A08S-PS, so currently there is no system in place to notify you of small updates in software or firmware. On the flips side of that, if all is well, usually updates don’t always do much anyway that you might notice. Never the less, you would have to periodically go the ACCUSYS website to check if any were there.

By now you should be assured that this is one wickedly fast RAID suitable either for individuals or companies working within a SAN. During the testing and the time I spent with it, it left me impressed on all levels. My contact with both the marketing and support personnel was most rewarding and educational. Support for the ACCUSYS RAID is provided by the dealer’s representing ACCUSYS. Should they not be able to solve a problem or support the customer they can then elevate the issue to ACCUSYS’ own tech personnel who I found to be greatly knowledgeable, easy to reach and quickly responsive to any inquires. The ACCUSYS A08S-PS RAID comes with a 3 year warranty that beats out any other company I have come across.

The ACCUSYS A08S-PS RAID comes with a 3 year warranty that beats out any other company I have come across.
At $3,000.00 for the ACCUSYS A08S-PS RAID and PCI card, plus the cost of the drives themselves, this is not exactly inexpensive. However, when one accounts for RAID’s speed, quality and reliability; it’s capacity and flexibility, and the knowledge that this is a system that you will not need to replace any time soon, and that it should last longer than the years I have left to me, the initial outlay well offsets future expenditures saving me considerably more money in the long run.

I have reviewed a good amount of hardware over the years. Much of it I no longer use, however, the ACCUSYS A08S-PS RAID will stay an integral part of my editing bay for many years to come.

The Accusys A08S-PS RADI is available from Accusys at a retail price of $3000.00 for enclosure & PCI card (drives not included).

Credits and FTC Disclosure.

Huge thanks and appreciation to Ronny Courtens of Studio I’Equiep, a global post production facility in Belgium. Ronny went out of his way to provide his experience, insight and wisdom which were so valuable towards the writing of this review. Thanks Ronny.

The ACCUSYS A08S-PS RAID system was provided to the reviewer free of charge for the purpose of this review.

All screen captures and textual references are the property and trademark of their creators/owners/publishers. Copyright © Steve Douglas 2012

About the author:Steve Douglas is a certified Apple Pro for Final Cut Pro 7 and underwater videographer. A writer and reviewer for the kenstone.net and lafcpug.org editing websites, Steve was a winner of the 1999 Pacific Coast Underwater Film Competition, 2003 IVIE competition, 2004 Los Angeles Underwater Photographic competition, and the prestigious 2005 International Beneath the Sea Film Competition, where he also won the Stan Waterman Award for Excellence in Underwater Videography and ‘Diver of the Year’, Steve was a safety diver on the feature film “The Deep Blue Sea”, contributed footage to the Seaworld Park’s Atlantis production, and productions for National Geographic and the History channels.

Steve was a feature writer for Asian Diver Magazine and is one of the founding organizers of the San Diego UnderSea Film Exhibition. He is available for both private and group seminars for Final Cut Pro and leads underwater filming expeditions and African safaris with upcoming excursions to Bali, Raja Ampat, Indonesia, and the Maldives Islands. Feel free to contact him if you are interested in joining Steve on any of these exciting trips.