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DataDirect discusses Apple's Final Cut, disses Isilon

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"It's important to be jitter-free whilst performing full-bandwidth ingests." What on earth is DataDirect Networks CTO Dave Fellinger talking about?

He is explaining why his company's S2A9900 storage box is so great. Apparently other storage products can support as many as three Apple Final Cut Mac workstations doing uncompressed high-definition video editing work in real time. Not a lot really - these workstations are storage bandwidth hogs. The DataDirect S2A9900, on the other hand, can support 30 Final Cuts. It does this through sheer speed and with very scalable block-level storage of up to 1.2PB in one box (taking up two data center floor tiles.)

Isn't clustered Isilon kit used for this kind of thing? Yes and no, says another DataDirect man. In his experience broadcast and post-production customers use, at most, 8-10 Isilon nodes in production. These users say they couldn't keep anywhere near the theoretical Isilon maximum of 96 nodes in production, no matter what they tried. In any case the energy costs would be astronomical and possibly present a potential fire hazard, our DataDirect fella claims. Isilon's kit just isn't used, he says, to support Apple Final Cut Pro workstations.

He quotes a Wachovia analyst: Isilon IQ-series systems run at 100MB/sec read and 50MB/sec write levels with a 1GB/sec internal bandwidth. DataDirect's box puts out 6GB/sec of both read and write I/O and has 24GB/sec of internal bandwidth.

Fellinger sums it up: "When running multiple Final Cut Pro sessions in parallel, only DataDirect Networks ensures that users experience extremely low latency response times for jitter-free playback while concurrently performing full-bandwidth ingests.”

Isilon has a different take on this. Ninety six nodes is a real cluster node number and it has its own internal 96-node cluster known as the Whopper.

Apples and oranges

Jay Wampold, Isilon's senior marcomms director, thinks DataDirect (DDN) doesn't understand how Isilon clusters work: "Comparing the performance of one Isilon node to that of a DDN box is comparing apples to oranges. Isilon delivers a truly symmetric clustered storage architecture where all nodes in a cluster serve as simultaneous pathways out to the network, so when comparing Isilon to a DDN box, you must compare aggregate performance (the performance of all nodes in a cluster) to that of DDN. Isilon can deliver 10GB/sec of performance from a cluster (single file system, single volume) surpassing the 6GB/sec of DDN."

The DDN view of Isilon use in post-production environments is wrong too: "Isilon has hundreds of customers in the media and entertainment industry to power a number of production applications, including Apple Final Cut Pro. Depending on the application, a typical deployment in the production segment of media and entertainment will range from 15-25 nodes. Again, we have a number of customers in this arena who have deployed much larger clusters in (the) 40-70 node range."

He reckons Isilon delivers an integrated HW + SW system whereas DDN ships out HW, "and depends on third party file system integration ... essentially outsourcing the intelligence of their system, to ... their customers. ... (who) are left to manage an extremely complex, difficult to scale science project that requires constant care and feeding to continue to operate. ... Media IT managers don't want to hold a PHD in storage to manage a DDN build-your-own system."

This area of the market for very high-performance and extremely scalable storage kit is giving manufacturers the jitters. The market is set to boom as web 2.0-type unstructured file storage needs go through the roof. No-one wants to cede superiority to anyone else. DDN is chasing an IPO. Isilon is recovering from management misfortunes, and Atrato has announced product. Waiting in the wings are HP's ExDS9100, IBM's XIV, and the hulking presence of EMC. ®

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