Thumper Video

My brother Nick recently went to Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan, the area that has seen the most heavy atomic bombing on earth ever. Stalin needed the bomb. So he tried it out on his own comrades. (See article in The Telegraph)

What was my brother doing there? Making a quick film on the subject for his small video outfit StoryProductions. A Sony Z1 in one hand and a good Geiger counter in the other was all the equipment he needed for his story. Back home of course Nick is completely decked out with Apple gear. A dual PowerPC tower, all the software he could buy, and RAID storage. It does not come cheap. But it is a lot cheaper than it used to be. And it certainly sounds like a lot of fun if hard work, with random possibilities of mutation.

Working with HD video uses up a lot of space. An hour of DV-50 is approximately 22 GB. So Sun's recently released Thumper, the new data server shipping with from 12 to 24 Terra Bytes of storage, sounded like it may be very useful for an outfit such as his. Clearly this is serious machinery, and at the price one had better not be letting it grow old unused. But given its I/O capacity of over 1 GigaByte per second, and given that the fastest ethernet on most machines is GigaBit ethernet (8 times slower) one of these should be enough for eight people working together simultaneously. It looks like this could be the right machine for video editing shops.

So I did a quick price comparison with Apple's XServ Raid storage. The Thumper comes with 2 powerful (2.6GHz) Dual Core 64bit Opteron CPUs and lots of RAM for caching in addition to the storage. We therefore need to compare Thumper to an XServ RAID + Xserve G5 with 16GB of RAM. The 7TB XServ Raid + XServ G5 with 16BG of RAM + Fibre PCI-X card + OSX + Apple Care Part + Apple Care comes to $31,746 according to Apple Store, or just $1200 short of the low end Thumper which comes with an additional 5TB of storage all packaged in a very solid looking box. That's an extra 227 hours of HD video storage, that can also be used to help backup the data if needed over the powerful ZFS file system.

Now I do not myself have the luxury to play with such big machines. But I would love to hear from anyone who may like to share experiences of using the x4500 for video production, so that I can advise my brothers. Both are thinking of growing this into an online TV video company. Web 2.0 or what?
What would you suggest? Does this type of machine make some things possible that would otherwise be a lot more difficult for the scenario I am considering? I imagine that coming from Sun the Networking layer and the OS must be rock solid, since we are in the area of heavy metal (literally: Thumper weighs 77kg max), which Sun excells at.

Comments:

No, not two Xeons - the x4500 comes with two dual-core opterons: http://www.sun.com/servers/x64/x4500/specifications.jsp

Posted by Mads Toftum on July 19, 2006 at 06:24 AM CEST #

You are right of course. Thanks for the feedback. I'll fix it immediately.

Posted by Henry Story on July 19, 2006 at 06:45 AM CEST #

$12000 sounds a lot more, can you price check an extra 5TB with the XServe RAID?

Posted by Limeybloke on July 20, 2006 at 05:13 AM CEST #

You either mistyped or misread what I wrote. I did not say that the thumper was 12 thousand dollars more, just one thousand two hundred dollars more.

Here is another calculation that I made which compares the storage pricing of the two.
7TB of XServe RAID with cache backup battery modules, fibre channel PCI-X Card, apple care service kit for XServ RAID and Apple Premium and Support plan: $17,194.00 So for 12 TB that comes to 17194\*12/7 = $29,475 Which is $3500 less than the Thumper for the same disk space.
But of course Thumper also comes with 2 dual core opteron cpus (which is like having 4 processors) and 16GB of RAM. All of that in a very compact format.

I should add that I am not a video specialist. So I don't know how useful those extra 4 cpus and RAM would be in a video editing shop. Perhaps they could be used for compression of the data. It would probably go a lot faster to do that right next to the disks. But again that is something that would have to be tested.

Posted by Henry Story on July 20, 2006 at 05:45 AM CEST #

Actually, the Sun Thumper is the wrong sort of box for video editing shops. Ethernet is not going to cut it for the sort of quality of service and throughput needed for high bandwidth video editing tasks. You'll be adding overheads from the TCP/IP protocol, ethernet packet overhead and the inability of ethernet (or even iSCSI over ethernet) to guarantee in-order delivery of storage data packets.

Instead, you should be connecting your video editing workstation directly to the Xserve RAID array with fibre-channel which is guaranteed to support even uncompressed HD data streams without breaking a sweat. You don't need to go through a separate Xserve G5 (with 16GB of RAM!) acting as a file-server, so that will save you mega-bucks and give you far better performance. Just get a dual-port fibre channel card for your workstation and an Xserve RAID and you'll have a very large, very fast and very cheap solution.

That way all you're looking at is US$13,000 for a 7TB Xserve RAID array and US$499 for a dual-port (4Gbps over 2 channels) Fibre channel card and you'll get far higher throughput (real-world 380MByte/s read, 310MByte/s writes) compared to mounting volumes on the Sun over a 1 Gbps ethernet LAN as network shares. Add a second Xserve RAID and another Apple Fibre-channel card and you're looking at 14TB of directly attached 8Gbps fibre-channel storage for only $27,000. A lot cheaper and faster than the Sun box.

Later on as you scale to multiple video workstations you can add either a fibre-channel switch or add an Xserve G5 as a metadata controller with Apple's $999 Xsan software and you have an extremely cheap, high performance, scalable SAN solution.

I've just installed 14TB of Xserve RAID storage in our Operations centre and it came in at a quarter the price of the EMC SAN solution we use with most of our other big iron.

Oracle Corp and Cisco both use large Apple Xserve RAID array installations (100TB+) with Xsan in their corporate headquarters because they are a third the price of the competition.

TVN 24 Television Station, a 24hr European News Channel uses 22 Xserve RAID systems for direct to air digital TV broadcasts:

Here's some background info on the fibre-channel vs ethernet issue when scaled to multiple users:

Fibre Channel vs. Ethernet —Ethernet’s low cost and relatively easy setup make it one of the most common network protocols in use today. However, even with Gigabit Ethernet, as the number of nodes and the amount of transmitted data increase, a network can experience major problems due to the way Ethernet handles data collisions (the errors that result when more than one computer on a network tries to transmit data at the same time). As usage (or “loading”) increases on an Ethernet network, the number of collisions increases dramatically until handling them consumes the vast majority of the network’s bandwidth. Fibre Channel’s asynchronous protocol design ensures that even when network loading is very heavy, collisions are handled efficiently and maximum throughput is maintained. With 2Gb/s Fibre Channel, Fibre Channel’s data transfer rates are very close to 200MB/s, as expected. In a Gigabit Ethernet network, collision management claims so much bandwidth that even 60MB/s rates are difficult to achieve consistently.

Hope this helps.

-Mart Digital Media Specialist Curtin University of Technology

Posted by Martin Hill on July 20, 2006 at 10:26 AM CEST #

Thanks for the long reply.

Concerning Fiber Channel: I think Thumper can do one better. You can get an Infinband switch for it. See the Option Cards page. Infiniband is also available for OSX machines according to a January MacNN article.

I can see that your solution works better when you start out solo, as you can get a XSan storage and add the pieces one by one. What about a company that needs 8 people to work together? At that point Thumper will immediately give them all they need, especially with infiniband. No need to piece the things together as you explained above.

I am told that the drives in thumper are better quality than those available in XSan. The OS certainly is, as far as networking goes (as far as UI goes OSX beats everyone else hands down of course)

Posted by Henry Story on July 20, 2006 at 12:51 PM CEST #

Two comments: The thumper has 4 Gbit interfaces that can easily be bundled for higher bw - and if that isn't enough, you can always look at infiniband or 10GBit. Both infiniband and 10GBit cards retail from sun for $995 and the thumper will fit two. As for the Xserve raid, last time I looked they were using regular IDE/PATA drives rather than SATA like everyone else.

Posted by Mads Toftum on July 21, 2006 at 04:35 AM CEST #

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