Sound without the fury

Before C5 Editorial created a Fibre Channel SAN, downloading sound files used to take hours.

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This is the second of three profiles of the winners of searchStorage's Storage Innovator Awards, which were presented at Storage Decisions 2001 in Chicago last month. The Storage Innovator Awards program is sponsored by Hewlett-Packard Co.

Without sound editing, there would have been no gunshots heard in the movie, Goodfellas, and no sound of feet running across rooftops in Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon. New York-based C5 Editorial creates those sounds, and many others, and stores them in its vault, now with over 300,000 sounds. Until C5 created a Fibre Channel Storage Area Network (SAN), however, its sound editors often had trouble getting into that vault.

Since 1989, C5 has created realistic sound for some of America's favorite films. Directors like Woody Allen, Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese have all depended on C5's expertise and vast library of digital sounds to make their films believable. Managing that growing library of sound began to strain the company's resources and sent Lew Goldstein, C5's technology supervisor, searching for a more efficient storage solution.

Post-production film editing adds every sound, other than the actor's voices, to a film. Several C5 editors work on a film simultaneously. Every editor must have the correct version of the sound library and a digitized version of the film. Downloading the files to every editor's workstation was a laborious task that used to take hours. With directors constantly changing a film, this task had to be duplicated several times per film.

At first, editors saved work on workstations' hard drives. Goldstein found himself constantly adding nine to 23 gigabit SCSI drives to increase storage. Before long, C5 had hundreds of individual drives dispersed around the company. Besides being inefficient and expensive, the SCSI drive-based system doomed any attempt to centralize the sound library. In terms of manageability and reliability, "SCSI has always been a plague to me," says Goldstein.

Goldstein's two top criteria for a new storage solution were media sharing and efficient library management. First, the library of sounds for each film needed to be easily shared among the editors working on a film. Previously, a sound being used by one editor was not available simultaneously to others. Secondly, he sought the capability to easily organize, add to and facilitate access to the library of over 300,000 individual recorded sounds.

Fibre Channel was Goldstein's top choice for a transport technology. "Currently, Fibre Channel is the only technology with the high level of throughput needed to provide real-time sharing" of C5's huge media files, he says. "The data throughput in a Fibre Channel network is so good, it's scary."

After choosing technologies, Goldstein went shopping for products. SANs designed for the post-production sound market, from Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Transoft Networks and Glyph Technologies in Ithaca, NY, were too expensive. So, Goldstein bought several very inexpensive ($100) Fibre Channel drives and host adaptors on eBay. "I built a little Fibre Channel SAN to test," he recalls. "It worked great. So, I began looking for affordable multi-user systems."

Goldstein chose San Jose, Calif.-based Gadzoox Networks as his Fibre Channel switch vendor. Gadzoox' prices were half that of competitors. Also, Gadzoox' switches expanded from eight to 24 ports, while others had only eight to 16 port capabilities.

Gadzoox helped Goldstein create a Fibre Channel SAN that included Gadzoox Capellix 2000 and Capellix 3000 Fibre Channel switches and New York-based ATTO Technologies' ExpressPCI Fibre channel host bus adapters and AccelWare drive management software. The SAN runs on Macintosh workstations and two racks of Seagate Fibre Channel drives. In the applications area, C5 uses Daly City, Calif.-based Digidesign's Protools sound editing software. Goldstein designed and built his own Fibre Channel enclosures.

The initial rollout was a snap. "I had an eight-workstation Fibre Channel SAN up and running in one day," says Goldstein. "SAN is much easier to implement than many vendors lead you to believe." In fact, he was so sold on SANs that he created and packaged a SAN solution, called PostWare, for the post-production film market.

C5 currently has 23 workstations connected to 1.168T bytes of storage through the SAN.

Using a SAN has dramatically streamlined C5's post-production processes. Now, instead of duplicating sound and film files across several hard drives, C5 simply digitizes each film to its SAN. This enables all the editors to simultaneously access media off the network. Also, every time a film revision comes in, an assistant digitizes it once and puts it on the SAN, so everyone is working with the same version.

C5 is gradually transferring its vast library of sounds from DAT tape, CDs and CD-ROM to its SAN network. Already, over 80,000 sounds have been digitized and stored. Digitizing sound will give every editor instant access to the same sound library. So, they no longer have to find a sound on a tape or CD and input it into their computer.

Goldstein's build-it-yourself approach to SAN has been a win-win for C5. The company has the media sharing and library management needed. Best of all, he says, "the 24-plus user network cost less than a vertical product vendor's two-user system."

For more information on Gadzoox, visit its Web site.

For More Information:

>>Read more about the Storage Innovator Awards

>>SearchStorage.com Tips:  Tech (SAN/NAS)

>>SearchStorage.com Discussion Forums: Storage Networking


This was first published in October 2001

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