University's new SSDs boost video production speeds by 16X

SSDs allow Brigham Young University-Hawaii's digital media lab to capture 4K-resolution video for playback, editing

When Brigham Young University-Hawaii's digital media lab needed to turbo-charge its high-def video processing system, it had two choices: Add a storage area network or plop an solid state drive into its Macbook Pro laptop.

It chose the latter and its drive performance immediately improved by 16 times, which allows the lab to process the 4K video resolution being recorded by its cutting-edge, $25,000 RED ONE video camera.

While by no means cheap -- the BYU lab spent about $7,000 for each of two WarpDrive SLP-300 PCIe solid state storage cards it bought from LSI Corp. -- the move was far less expensive than building out the school's SAN.

A SAN upgrade "would cost us $20,000 to $30,000," said Russell Merrill, director of BYU-Hawaii's Instructional Media and Production Department. "Yeah, you might have more storage with a SAN, but you still wouldn't have the speed of a WarpDrive,"

Merrill said it would have taken a 20-drive hard disk storage array to have achieved the performance found with the SSDs, which he alternates using in a MacBook Pro, which is bootstrapped to run Windows 7, and on the school's Avid video editing station.

LSI's WarpDrive is a PCIe-based flash card, one of a growing number of such products that have recently come to market. Others include Texas Memory Systems' RamSan-70, OCZ's RevoDrive, Marvell's DragonFly, and Fusion-io's IODrive, which offers more than 1 million random read/writes using 4K packet sizes.

Intel and Micron also plan to unveil PCIe-based SSDs this year.

LSI's WarpDrive card, which can deliver up to 240,000 I/Os per second or up to 1.5Gbits/sec. throughput, is used by BYU-Hawaii to accelerate production of the school's audio and high-def TV materials.

Using the LSI WarpDrive SSD helped BYU-Hawaii overcome performance issues found with the Serial ATA-based hard drives it had used for HD video production, Merrill said. The hard drives were only capable of delivering half the throughput required to deliver a single stream of 2K uncompressed video. "You'd get an error message saying you're out of I/O on the SATA drives," Merrill said.

Using the WarpDrive card in its media lab, BYU-Hawaii has achieved write performance of 511MB/sec and reads of 488MB/sec, supporting the delivery of 4K uncompressed HD video, as well as multiple streams of 2K uncompressed HD video.

In addition, the write performance of the WarpDrive card helped enable the lab to consolidate workflows for large-scale CD-quality recording sessions.

The older storage system only achieved half the throughput required to deliver a single stream of 2K uncompressed video. The perfromance limitation of the SATA drives also caused audio delays in the school's Avid Pro Tools editing stations, as well as preventing the use of needed plug-ins and filters.

Each of the WarpDrives only have 300GB capacity, but that's more than enough to perform the video rendering and audio editing work, Merrill said.

"The big thing for me is the savings on our resources," Merrill said, adding that the SSDs have cut the time spent in downloading video from cameras to the Mac, and has shortened the editing process where video is played back over and over again.

When in the field with the RED ONE hi-def video camera, the school is able to download content to the MacBook Pro in minutes, according to Travis Cameron, digital media manager at BYU-Hawaii.

Typically, Cameron said, in order to capture video live in the field, playback editors are required to use a low-resolution setting. The SSDs allow the school to capture 4K resolution video straight to the MacBook Pro.

"For media, that's the big thing. The capture and playback," Cameron said.

Last year, the school installed an IBM DS5020 SAN on which it stores most of its video. The system is tied into video production systems through a 16Gbit/sec Fibre Channel network.

But the expense of getting the video department's Pro Tools audio editing machine tied into the Fibre network prompted the school set up a separate gigabit Ethernet network, according to Cameron.

"Pro Tools for audio doesn't consume much physical space, so 300GB is enough for all the projects we do," Cameron said.

Beyond what the school can do in its Lab, Cameron said the new tools let him handle video editing chores on his MacBook Pro home computer using the cards with no attached networks.

"You don't need to run a cable. You can take out [an SSD] card smaller than a SATA hard drive and it's easy to plug it into the machine and go with it," Cameron said. "We use it wherever we need it -- sometimes in my house, sometimes in our audio machine, sometimes in our editing bay that's not connected to the SAN. It really fluctuates."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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