Finding the Space: The Search for a Better Storage Solution.
After shifting from 5K to 8K, we decided it was time to upgrade the way we handled digital media storage.
The Spry Equipment Setup
For the most part, Spry is a RED-house through and through. The efficiency of the RED platform enables us to focus more on the story than the technical. We shoot mainly on either our Helium 8K or our Epic 5K, utilizing a mixture of Xeen cinema lenses, as well as Canon and Sigma EF lenses. Every now and again, we’ll rent a different camera or lens package for special circumstances, but for the most part, we choose to shoot with our in-house gear.
The Old Ways
Agency life is its own special form of mania. The day-to-day is often brisk and frenzied, filled with corrections, changes, twists, turns, new concepts, and uncharted territory. On any given day, we can find ourselves neck-deep in an edit for one project, only to realize that we’ve just received color notes on another one.
In our current media management process, after every shoot, we arrive back in the office with two separate 2tb G-Drive Portable Solid State Drives. Both of these drives have identical copies of all raw media recorded on set. The media on those travel drives are then transferred onto the permanent external working drives for the project. While work is being done on the project, we’re also transferring all of the media and regularly backing up project files to our current office NAS, a Drobo system we call the “Work Drive”. Our projects are never only in one place, eliminating the possibility of file loss.
The Magic and Misery of an 8K Workflow
8K is breathtaking, almost magical. The fact that we’re able to record at higher-than-cinema quality resolutions with relative ease in this day and age is amazing. The pros of shooting in this format are seemingly endless as well. From better low-light performance to increased motion tracking accuracy for graphics, VFX, and stabilization, the reasons to switch are truly as plentiful as Premiere crash reports. But with great post-power comes a need to beef up workstations and bolster our workflow efficiency.
Previously, only one of our two edit suites had a machine powerful enough to handle 8K. The other had an older iMac that was quickly showing it wouldn’t be up to the task of handling raw media of this size, and this was beginning to bottleneck our post-production pipeline when enough work would flow in. This is the thinking that led us to upgrade our second edit suite.
We decided to go with the newest-model Mac Pro. A 36-month lease that will cost you about $250 a month from Apple’s leasing program afforded us a 12-Core Intel Xeon W processor that can boost up to 4.4GHz under load, 32gb of RAM, and a Radeon RX 580 8gb graphics card. I know what you might be saying here. 32gb of RAM is child’s play. We knew you would say that, so we thought ahead and purchased 64 extra gigabytes of aftermarket RAM, which we installed ourselves, saving around a thousand dollars in total by not purchasing through Apple. We paired two LG Ultrafine 5K monitors with this setup to enhance our color-correction capabilities and truly harness the power Davinci Resolve offers our post-production team.
With the move to 8K, we would not only need an upgrade in processing power to cut the footage at a reasonable resolution, but we would also need to tweak and workshop a new, more streamlined post-production workflow. With the addition of our Helium 8K to the lineup, our projects were starting to span multiple work drives, creating an organizational nightmare. We needed to find a better way. That’s where Studio Network Solutions comes in.
We’d already been a few months deep into our storage research at this point. Countless friends, colleagues, peers, and Youtube videos pointed us in the direction of home and small-office-based NAS systems like our current Drobo setup, or other similar brands like Synology or Qnap. These products are fine machines with great specs but our main goal always eluded us: we were looking to be able to have two or three editors simultaneously pulling 8K footage from one single source. How do we achieve this for under $50k? Anyone who recommended a pre-built NAS system couldn’t give us an answer as to whether or not their recommendation could handle multiple streams of 8K R3D footage simultaneously and the custom-built solutions that could achieve this seemed just out of our grasp.
What is a NAS?
First, let’s talk about what a NAS actually is. NAS stands for Network Attached Storage which really just means digital storage that you can access on a network. There’s fierce debate in this corner of the tech world on different systems being better than one another and certain brands being worthy of criticism or praise. In our experience, it all comes down to the drives you use. Every pre-built system is just a computer with a certain list of specs. Those specs determine what exactly you can achieve with a pre-built NAS device, but the quality of drives you install in your system is what really determines your overall speed and reliability.
We decided to go with Studio Network Solutions, or SNS, is a networking company that specializes in creating network and storage infrastructure for production companies and studios just like us. They design, build, and package server hardware and software that can be rack-mounted and used to edit, store, and transfer high-quality raw cinema footage. They even design software that brings all new possibilities to the post-production pipeline, including plugins for the Adobe Creative Suite.
SNS requires that you work with a local representative, ensuring the product you invest in works for your needs; this vendor is also able to assist with installation if needed. Having a human being on the other end of a phone, or by your side in the office, is much more effective than scouring a confusing manual alone.
We have to thank our SNS representative Stephen McKenna for helping us find exactly what kind of system we needed to fulfill our goals. We decided to go with the 8-Bay EVO with a DIY configuration. This means we built out the server rack and installed the EVO system ourselves, and then had a call with SNS to finish the setup. SNS offers a wide range of products, including more turnkey systems and professional installation for the less tech-savvy.
Our 8 Bay EVO NAS system has two 10 gigabit ethernet ports, each running directly to one of our two edit suites, allowing 10-gigabit hardline speeds for each of our edit suites. Down the road, we could even add an expansion device to add a third hardline edit suite to the setup if we choose to. Currently, we have about 40TB of working space open for new projects to be loaded onto EVO, running in Raid 6 with an additional hard drive “spare tire” stored in the office in case we should have a drive failure. These drives run us around $900 each and take about a week to ship, so it’s good to keep a spare on hand.
Based on the specs SNS provides for the 8 Bay model we’re currently running, EVO is theoretically capable of transmitting two streams of a single stream of 8K R3D footage per workstation without experiencing lag. It’s best to think of streams as Premiere video layers. So, in theory, we can have both of our edit suites each playing a timeline with an 8K layer simultaneously with no lag. We currently work with 720p, Prores proxies with the height decided based on keeping a 16x9 aspect ratio. If we were to even improve our proxy quality to reach 1080p resolution, our stream capabilities would increase to around 12 simultaneous streams per user. With EVO, our editors and colorists are now able to easily maneuver between projects, streamlining the post-production pipeline and effectively doubling our output capabilities.
Taking the leap and diving into a more robust NAS system such as EVO was the right move for us, and surprisingly enough, it’s much more financially feasible than many would have you believe. All in all, our system ended up costing us around $25k, which was a far smaller investment than we were originally anticipating, and it does even more than we originally wanted it to. The bottom line here is that efficient, powerful storage systems are no longer reserved for full-scale movie studios or massive agencies. SNS has provided small agencies with a phenomenal tool to add to their belt without completely wrecking their bottom line. Having this information sooner would have definitely helped us build better internal systems and may have saved us time and money as well. Here’s to hoping that this information helps you.
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