Recently I had several clients ask me to assist them in the review of the current options available for Enterprise Network Attached Storage (NAS) Media Production Platforms. With the recent global conditions over the past year there has been an ever-increasing push to move everything to “cloud” resources. However, when it comes to editing full resolution material (UHD, 8K, RAW, etc) cloud options tend to be fewer and further between and expensive. There is still a huge need for cost effective on-premise high performance media editing storage.
In this review I focused on a few of the primary players and one new player in this space. I did not review the likes of QNAP or Synology, which both produce great products, several of which I own personally, but because of my client’s needs I focused on purpose-built solutions for the media industry that can support small teams of simultaneous users up to potentially a hundred or more simultaneous users.
This review will also be presented in three parts as there is a lot of information to cover. Part one will cover the basics of storage measurements and requirements which are typically required for media centric NAS solutions. Part two will cover hardware based RAID solutions and part three will cover software defined offerings based on ZFS.
Part 1 – Basics of Storage Measurements and Requirements
First lets get a few items defined which will help those who may not be as familiar with storage and networking. We can start simple with a “bit” which is the smallest and most basic unit of digital information. Typically, you will see things measured in megabits (1000 bits) per second or Mbps (i.e. video bit rate) or gigabits (1,000,000 bits) per second or Gbps (i.e. network transport rate). The next term that is important is a byte which is a unit of digital information which consist of eight (8) bits. I know this may be very basic to those of us who work in the digital world on a daily basis, but it’s an important concept to understand when comparing metrics of bandwidth and even us “professionals” can get them confused.
There are two (2) types of “bandwidth” measurements that are important to NAS solutions and each are typically presented in a different metric. It is this “difference” where many people incorrectly identify the “speed” of the system.
The first item is aggregate disk bandwidth (throughput) or how much data can the disk read or write over a period of time. This is typically measured in Megabytes per second (MB/s) or Gigabytes per second (GB/s). This value is dependent on what type of disk (SATA, SAS, Spinning HD, SSD) and how many of them are being used in and what type of RAID configuration. The default RAID implementation for the media world is RAID 6 with two parity disks. This allows for up to two drives to fail in a RAID before you lose capability.
The second important bandwidth measurement is that of the network interface. The standard interface on computers today is one (1) Gigabit per second (Gbps). Over the past few years 10 Gbps interfaces have become more common to the desktop as well. Core switches are now coming equipped with 25/50 Gbps and even 100 Gbps as standard offerings.
Now we have to equate the two measurements to make sense of everything. As you might remember from computer class there are eight (8) bits in a byte. So a one (1) Gbps ethernet connection can consume up to a maximum of 0.125 GB/s or 125 MB/s of disk bandwidth. A ten (10) Gbps ethernet connection can consume up to a maximum of 1.25 GB/s or disk bandwidth.
The following chart will provide you with an equivalency between bit and bytes when it comes to measuring network vs disk bandwidth:
So what does all this mean? It means that if your NAS has 1 GB/s of disk bandwidth, you could support up to 8 simultaneous edit stations with 1Gbps ethernet connections (8 stations x .125 GB/s = 1 GB/s). However, if your edit stations have 10Gbps connections your NAS would only support a single edit station at a time if it were using the entire network bandwidth (i.e. editing more than one stream of RED 8K R3D 12:1).
One of the fundamental drivers in selecting a media centric NAS is how many simultaneous streams of video can it handle for a given CODEC, or in other words, how many editors can I have attached to the storage and be able to get their jobs done. The following chart helps to illustrate the number of streams supported on each connection type for the given CODEC and number of theoretical streams based on disk throughput:
In the market today there are two basic types of NAS solutions, one based on traditional hardware RAIDs and the other based on a software defined model utilizing OpenZFS. Hardware based storage systems have been the primary solutions for the past decade or more. They utilize a RAID controller which is a card or chip that sits between the operating system and the storage drives. RAID controllers work to virtualize the drives into a distinct group (volume) with specific protections and redundancy and present them to the operating system. The operating system then manages the file system on the volume.
In software defined storage solution utilizing OpenZFS the file system and volume management is provided by ZFS itself. ZFS is not an operating system, in fact it relies on the Linux OS (as well as being ported now to many other OS’s). It was designed as a next generation file system, utilizes storage pooling, automatic repair and provides functionality similar to hardware RAIDs which ZFS refers to RAID-Z, however this should not be confused with “software” RAID which uses software to mimic a hardware RADI model for volume management. RAID-Z can provide one or two sets of parity data like RAID5/6 but also offers the ability for a third set of parity data in RAID-Z3.
Now that we got the basics out of the way we can now dive into the review of the NAS vendors. My clients asked me to look at media centric NAS vendor solutions with three basic “size” requirements. I grouped the request into three basic categories with the following prerequisites:
- Small – approximately 96 TB, mostly HD with some UHD, Prores 422 with 5 – 6 simultaneous users
- Medium – between 192 to 240 TB with ability to expand, mix of HD and UHD, Prores 422 HQ and some RED R3D with 8 to 12 simultaneous users
- Large – 500 TB or more with ability to expand to PB, mix of HD and UHD, Prores 422 HQ, RED R3D and ARRIRAW with 20 or more simultaneous users
With these requirements and input from my clients I selected the following vendors to review their product offerings: GB Labs, Studio Network Solutions (SNS), Promax, EditShare, Luma Forge, Opendrives and creative.space. The review process consisted of a review of all publicly available material on each vendors website as well as a “zoom” call with each vendor to discuss their various solution offerings.
Part 2 – Hardware NAS Storage Solutions
We will first take a look at the vendors offering the traditional hardware-based RAID offerings which include GB Labs, Studio Network Solutions (SNS), Promax, EditShare. Each vendor offers varying capacity and performance to fit most media operations workflows and sizes.
GB Labs solution is built on a traditional hardware-based RAID solution supporting RAID 6 utilizing SATAII based HD drives. The product set is built upon Linux and the XFS file system which they call Core OS 4.0. GB Labs has two primary product lines for media based NAS which include: FASTNAS which is is their an entry level solution and SPACE being their performance based NAS solution. All of their solutions support multiple network interface speeds including 10, 25, 50 and 100G. For my clients I reviewed the FastNAS 8 (Small), FastNAS F-16 NitroMax (medium) and their SPACE+(large). Each solution includes their AI based asset organization solution called Mosaic.
⬆️ The FastNAS F-8 Studio is an 8-bay unit with a current maximum raw storage capacity of 112TB. It provides 1 GB/s of storage throughput with the ability to boost that to 1.5 GB/s utilizing their Nitro solution which adds additional SSD cache drive. The F-8 is not expandable beyond the 8 drive bays but can support up to 50 HD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 fps streams.
⬆️ The FastNAS F-16 NitroMax is a 16-bay unit which can support up to 256 TB and can be expanded by attaching an additional 3 units for a maximum of raw storage of 1.02 PB. Its base throughput is approximately 2 GB/s which can be increased to 4 GB/s with its NitroMax solution which adds an SSD cache drive. It can support approximately 100 HD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 simultaneous streams.
⬆️ GB Labs flagship NAS product is its SPACE+ which is a 16 bay base unit which can support up to 288 TB raw capacity and utilizes SAS based hard drives. It can expand to over 5 PB of storage through the addition of eighteen (18) expansion units and additional RAID controllers. It is capable of providing up to 6 GB/s of disk throughput though the addition of its Hyperspace appliance to the storage system. As a point of reference 6 GB/s is enough to support nearly 100 streams of UHD Prores 422 HQ at 23.98 fps or over 200 streams of HD Prores 422 HQ/23.98.
Studio Network Solutions’ storage products are also built on a traditional hardware-based RAID solution supporting RAID 6 utilizing SATA based HD drives. The products utilize a 64 bit, Linux OS, a multi-core CPU and a modified XFS file system supporting RAID 6 implementations. All of their solutions support multiple network interface speeds including 10, 25, 50 and 100G. For my clients I reviewed the EVO Prodigy (Small), EVO 8 (medium) and their EVO 16 solution(large). All of SNS’s solutions come with Storebrowser (MAM like software), Nomad (remote workflow tool) and Slingshot (file automation) software.
⬆️ The EVO Prodigy is a small portable solution with 4 drive bays supporting up to 48TB raw storage. It’s the only solution in the SNS product line that only supports RAID 5 which is due to the number of drive bays available. The bays can accept 2.5” and 3.5” drives enabling it to support SSDs. The prodigy supports 2 x 10G ports and can support up to 8 x 1G ports for directly connecting work stations without a network switch. It supports up to .5 GB/s of throughput which is enough to support approximately 20 HD Prores 422 HQ /23.98 fps streams.
⬆️ The EVO 8 is as its name suggest a 2RU x 8 bay unit which can accommodate up to 96TB of raw storage. It can be expanded by attaching an additional 16 bay chassis for a total of 288 TB of RAW storage in a single stack. Multiple stacks can be combined to provide over 25 PB in a total system. The unit supports both SATA and SAS based hard drives and up to four (4) 10G or 25G network ports or two (2) 50G network ports. A single system can provide up to 2.4 GB/s of disk throughput which is the equivalent of over 90 streams of HD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 fps.
⬆️ Studio Networks Solutions “work horse” is their EVO 16 which is a 3RU, 16 drive bay system housing a multicore CPU and up to 192 TB raw of storage via SAS or SATA based hard drives. The system can be expanded by attaching up to 4 additional sixteen (16) bay expansion units which attach via 12G SAS cables to form a single system stack with 960 TB of raw storage. Multiple system stacks can be integrated for form a single “name space” solution with 25 PB. The single 16 bay unit provides 1.4 GB/s of disk throughput with a single “stack” capable of 7 GB/s which is enough throughput to support nearly 300 streams of HD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 fps or nearly 100 UHD Proress 422 HQ/23.98 streams.
ProMAX Media Technology Solutions are built on a traditional hardware-based RAID solution supporting RAID 6 utilizing SATA based HD drives. Each system can also support SSD drives for increased throughput. The products utilize Windows Server 2019 on a PCIe 4.0 equipped motherboard. The system’s come equipped with 2 x 10/25G network ports as standard and can be upgraded to 6 x 100G network interfaces. ProMAX offers various suits of software that can be added for an additional cost should the customer require it.
⬆️ The ProMAX 16 bay three (3) RU unit can accommodate up to 256 TB of raw storage and comes with an eight (8) core AMD processor and 32G of base memory. The solution can be equipped with a larger processor and memory. It can be expanded by attaching up to three (3) additional 16 bay chassis for a total of 1024 TB of RAW storage in a single stack. A single node provides up to 1.2 GB/s of disk throughput which is the equivalent of about 50 streams of HD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 fps. Each additional node adds 1.2 GB/s of throughput for a total of about 4.8 GB/s in a single storage stack. This would provide nearly 200 HD Prores 422 HQ /23.98 fps streams.
⬆️ The ProMAX 24 bay four (4) RU unit is the largest system they sell currently and can accommodate 384 TB of raw storage in a single node. It comes equipped with a 16 core AMD processor and 32G of base memory. A larger processor and up to 256G of memory can be added to the base unit. It can be expanded to accommodate an additional 3 nodes for a total 1.5 PB of raw SATA HDD based storage. Each node provides 1.5 GB/s of storage throughput for a total of 6 GB/s of throughput for a complete system. A full system can support over 250 HD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 streams or approximately 100 UHD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 streams.
EditShare Solutions are built on a traditional hardware-based RAID solution supporting RAID 6 utilizing SATA based HD drives. Their systems are built on HP DL380 Gen 10 Servers with various CPU and memory configurations as well as a 12 Gbps RAID-6 Hardware controllers with 16 SATA/SAS ports. EditShare storage utilizes Ubuntu Linux based OS and comes equipped standard with dual 10G network interface cards which can be upgraded to 25/40/50/100G interfaces. Their solutions come with various levels of access to their FLOW product line with additional seats being available for purchase. The FLOW suite has three (3) primary modules including FLOW Story, AirFLOW and FLOW automation.
⬆️ Editshare’s entry level product is their EFS 200 which scales from 24 TB to a maximum of 360 TB of raw storage. Its built upon an HPE DL380 Gen10 Server with 12 drive bays with 12 core CPU and 64G of ram. It supports drives ranging from 2 to 10TB implemented in a RAID 6 (10+2) configuration and expands through the addition of two (2) storage chassis. It comes standard with 4 x 1G and 2x10G network interface cards supporting its throughput of .9 to 2.7 GB/s. At its maximum the EFS200 can support over 100 HD Prores 422 HQ/23.98fps streams or nearly 25 UHD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 fps
⬆️ The EFS 300 is EditShares mid-level storage product can scale from a single 64TB node to a 5PB cluster. It is built upon the HPE DL380 Gen 10 server with 16 drive bays with a 12 core CPU and 64G of memory. It supports 3.5” HDD drives ranging in size from 4 TB to 16 TB. The single master node can expand to 2.3 PB with the addition of eight (8) storage nodes. It can be further expanded to 5 PB through the edition of one or more Metadata controllers to the system. The master EFS 300 controller comes equipped with 4 x 1G and 2 x 10G network interface controllers and will also support 25/40/50 and 100G interface cards. Each storage nodes contributes 1 GB/s of guaranteed disk throughput providing up to 9 GB/s in a single nine (9) unit stack which would support for over 350 streams of HD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 fps.
⬆️ EditShares flagship product is the EFS 450 which like the 300 is based on the HPE DL380 Gen10 16 bay server with a 12 core CPU and 64G of memory. It however starts as a 3 node, 192 TB of raw storage solution which includes a meta data controller with native XOR supports. For those not familiar with XOR, it provides and additional level of protection by protecting against the loss of an entire storage node. Bandwidth of the system expands linearly by adding additional storage nodes with the base system starting at 2.3 GB/s of disk throughput which would support nearly 100 streams of HD Proes 422 HQ/23.98 fps and scaling to support hundreds of streams
Part 3 – Software Defined NAS Solutions
We will now a look at the vendors offering software defined solutions based on OpenZFS which include Luma Forge, Opendrives and creative.space. Each vendor offers varying capacity and performance to fit most media operations workflows and sizes.
The Lumaforge Solutions are built on custom hardware-based solutions utilizing OpenZFS configured with RAIDZ-2. Each of their solutions are configured with multiple NIC interface options allowing anywhere from a handful of direct connect edit stations up to a total of 22 directly connected machines. Their solutions also support multiple 10G connections to facilitate connecting to a network switch to increase the total number of connected workstations.
Each of their solutions come in a base storage configuration which can be expanded by adding additional storage nodes which also increases the disk throughput. You can also configure their solution with what Lumaforge calls a “Performance” boost which doubles the amount of RAM in the system. The Lumaforge solutions come with Administration tools and Media Management (Kyno software). A remote access solution can be purchased for an additional monthly fee.
⬆️ Lumaforge’s entry level or “small” solution is called the Jellyfish Mobile which is an eight (8) bay desktop form factor unit supporting from 32TB to 96TB of SATA HDD raw drive capacity. The default connectivity configuration is 2 x 1/10G network interfaces. The Jellyfish system can be expanded to a maximum of 288 TB through the addition of 2 expansion units connected via a 12G SAS cable. Disk throughput starts at 2.4 GB/s for a single storage node and can increase to nearly 5 GB/s with the addition of two (2) storage nodes. That’s enough bandwidth to support over 200 streams of HD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 fps.
⬆️ ⬆️ Lumaforge’s large solution comes in two form factors but are otherwise identical in capabilities and are both 20 drive bay solutions in either a tower or rack mounted configuration. Its raw SATA based HDD capacity ranges from 80 TB to 240 TB per storage node. An additional four (4) storage nodes can be added to the system for a total of 1.2 PB of raw storage. Like the Jellyfish the rack and tower solutions include 2 x 1/10G network interface connections. A total of 22 x 10G network interface connections can be added to each solution. The maximum disk throughput for a fully expanded system is 8 GB/s which is enough bandwidth to support over 300 HD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 fps streams or over 50 UHD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 streams
Opendrives provides a very modular approach to Network Attached Storage. Their offering includes three (3) lines which include Momentum (HDD based), Optimum (Hybrid HDD and SSD) and Ultimate (All SSD). Each line has a specific “head” unit/controller which is matched with storage nodes of the appropriate drive type. All three solutions are built upon Debian Linux and OpenZFS implemented as RAIDZ-2 vdevs. The Momentum and Optimum solutions come with 4 x 100G network interfaces and the Ultimate is provided with 6 x 100G network interfaces. Opendrives also have a custom container like functionality they call “pods”. In addition they have a centralized management console called Atlas which can manage a single node or a highly distributed implementation.
⬆️ Opendrives Momentum product line is an all SAS based HDD solution. The system controller utilizes a 12 core CPU with 512G of system memory. Each storage node contains 21 drive bays with a maximum of 336 TB of raw storage per node. They also offer 60 and 102 bay drive modules for increased capacity. Momentum storage can be expanded to a maximum of 5.86 PB via a total of sixteen (16) storage nodes interconnected via 12G SAS cabling. A single storage node provides 1 GB/s of disk throughput up to a maximum 5 GB/s per full stack. That is enough throughput to support over 200 HD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 fps streams or about 50 UHD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 fps streams.
⬆️ The Optimum product line is a hybrid solution with SAS based drives providing the primary storage and implementing an SSD based caching tier to improve overall storage throughput. The Optimum control unit consists of an 8 core CPU and 1 TB of system memory. It utilizes the same storage node architecture as the other product lines. Its base configuration maximum is 336 TB of raw storage with the 21 bay storage node. It can be expanded to over 5 PB of raw storage via additional storage nodes interconnected via 12G SAS cables. Its starting single node disk throughput is 2.5 GB/s and maxis out at 15 GB/s. At its maximum configuration the Optimum system can support over 600 HD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 fps streams or over 150 UHD Prores 422 HD/23.98 fps streams.
⬆️ Opendrives Ultimate product line is a pure SAS based solid state drive (SSD) solution. Its control unit houses a 16 core CPU with 1 TB of system memory. It supports 8 and 24 bay drive nodes with drive sizes ranging from 960 GB to 15.36 TB. A 24-bay unit with 7.68 TB drives provides 184 TB of raw storage. It can be expanded by connecting up to 8 additional storage nodes with a maximum capacity of approximately 8 PB. The systems disk throughput is 25 GB/s which can support over 1,000 HD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 fps streams or over 250 UHD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 streams.
DigitalGlue’s creative.space storage solution is one of the newest players in the enterprise NAS market. DigitalGlue is system integrator with over 2 decades of experience implementing various storage solutions for their customers. They spent two years developing the creative.space solutions to support the needs of their clients.
Their offerings are software defined systems utilizing a highly optimized/customized version of OpenZFS developed by their development team. They also have a unique financial model in that they offer the storage as an on-premise service as opposed to a product purchase. This appears to have a few advantages for the end user, first of which is there is no capital outlay, its paid for out of Operation (OPEX) dollars just as you would purchase AWS services which typically makes the corporate accounting department happy and reduces the need for the creative departments to go to management to request/justify a capital purchase to get their jobs done. Additionally the service is fully managed/monitored proactively. This reduces the need for additional IT support further reducing the overall cost of the solution.
Another advantage is that end user can upgrade the system without another large capital outlay. It’s simply an increase or decrease to their monthly billing and creative.space takes care of transferring data to a new larger (or smaller) system or adding additional storage nodes. And because creative.space is built at the time of the order the system you receive will have the latest CPU, PCIe standard, etc. Since its purchased as a service, creative.space can source the highest quality and newest technologies at the time of acquisition unlike standard product offerings which are typically designed a year or two before they come to market.
⬆️ The creative.space entry offering is the ROGUE PRO which is an eight (8) bay desktop form factor enclosure with the customer’s choice of interface (10/25/40/100G) at no additional charge. Again, because its purchased as a service, the interface can be changed out anytime during the contract term without an additional charge. It is powered by a 12 Core AMD Ryzen CPU and is equipped with 128G of DDR4 ECC 3200 MHz SDRAM on a PCIe 4.0 based motherboard. Its available in from 60 to 144 TB of RAW storage. The listed disk throughput is up to 3 GB/s which is enough to support over 100 HD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 or nearly 30 UHD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 streams.
⬆️ Creative.space’s medium sized offering is the AUTEUR which is a 24 bay enclosures supporting between 240 TB and 432 TB of raw storage per chassis. It comes equipped with two (2) Intel Xeon Silver processors and 128 to 1.5TB of memory depending on the storage capacity. It is provided with 10/25/40/50/100G network interfaces based on client’s need at no additional cost. The system scales by adding individual Auteur storage nodes to the system with each node providing up to 5 GB/s of throughput, enough for over 200 streams of HD Prores 422 HQ/23.98.
⬆️ Creative.space’s “flagship” model is the DEUS EX which is also a 24 bay enclosures supporting between 240 TB and 432 TB of raw storage per chassis which can be expanded by attaching up to 3 additional storage nodes for a total of 1.7 PB of raw storage. It comes equipped with two (2) Intel Xeon Gold CPU’s and 256 to 1.5TB of storage depending on the total amount of storage ordered. It is provided with 10/25/40/50/100G network interfaces in the same fashion as the Auteur. Each storage node provides 5 GB/s throughput for a total of up to 20 GB/s of storage throughput for a full stack which would support nearly 900 HD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 streams or nearly 200 UHD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 streams.
⬆️ Creative.space offers an all SSD solution called BREATHLESS which supports up to 24 NVME SSDs for a capacity ranging from 92 TB to 368 TB of raw storage and can provide over 24 GB/s over dual 100G network connections. Typically, this would be used for high-end VFX or DPX based workflows, however it can support nearly 250 streams of UHD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 fps.
⬆️ The creative.space also offers a large nearline solution called TANK which is a 60 bay storage system that can support up to 1.08 PB in a a 5 RU form factor. It comes equipped with dual Intel Xeon Gold processors and up to 1.5 TB of memory. Its designed for active nearline storage and provides up to 5 GB/s disk throughput supporting over 200 HD Prores 422 HQ/23.98 fps streams.
As you can see there are a lot of offerings in the high-performance media centric network attached storage space. Though this is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but to provide a list of the leading providers offerings. You will also notice I did not mention price directly for any of the offerings and this was on purpose for a few reasons.
The first and foremost is that price should not be the primary attribute of your selection criteria for a specific vendor’s offering. If you use price as your primary driver you will inevitably miss the mark on what your actual needs are for a solution. Second, there are many options available with each manufacture that systems would vary in price based on specifications. I completely understand that price is an important element in purchasing a solution and I would always suggest reaching out to an individual manufacture that provides the level of performance you require and discuss pricing directly with them for the most accurate costs.
So how would I rate the various options? I have been in the “storage” world for nearly 2 decades, both as a purchaser/user as well as a vendor of high-end broadcast storage for playout and ingest and would say my views on the topic have definitely shifted over the past 5 years. In the past I would have only recommended a hardware-based solution as software defined storage just didn’t have the performance required.
However, software defined solutions based on ZFS are now equal to and in many cases surpassing the performance of hardware-based RAID solutions. A lot of this due to Moore’s law and the advances in compute and memory technologies, but also the various optimizations in the OpenZFS platform. In addition, ZFS was built from the ground up for the protection of data and through the use of its Copy on Write and Snapshotting technology as well as providing for 3 stripes of parity I can say without a doubt your media will be very safe on a ZFS based solution.
I built an analysis model to try to provide a high-level positioning for all the vendors reviewed. It is based on the “Gartner Magic Quadrant” model modified to better present a comparison of the vendors overall solution offering.
The vertical axis represents overall performance which includes not just aggregate disk performance, but network connectivity, drive interface, CPU/Memory configuration and expansion architectures. These items were not independently tested but based on the publicly available data provided to me from by each vendor.
The horizontal access represents the overall “solution” which takes into account several factors including price/value, technology architecture, software suite, integration capability, scalability, etc. Again, information utilized came from publicly available data from each of the vendors.
I would encourage you to identify your current/future requirements in order to ensure you can effectively communicate your needs to a vendor and understand how their offerings might fit your needs. There is no one perfect solution for all user’s needs, but thankfully we have several available solutions from multiple vendors which should fit any organization’s needs.