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One-on-One Interview: Avid Unity ISIS Media Network

New Gigabit Ethernet-based storage system breaks new ground By Charlie White

At a press event in New York, Avid unveiled its new Unity ISIS media network ($107K per 8 TB chassis), a Gigabit Ethernet-based storage system that features enhanced scalability and security for real-time video data (read the press release here). ISIS, an acronym for Infinitely Scalable Intelligent Storage, leverages what the company calls distributed-intelligence architecture. The new product fits between two existing members of the Avid Unity network storage family, the high-bandwidth Unity MediaNetwork and the lower-end Unity LANshare. Digital Media Net’s Charlie White talked with Andy Dale, Avid’s senior product manager for networking and storage about the new system in this one-on-one in-depth interview.

DMN: Tell us about this new product you announced at your press event. I understand it’s been a long time in development.

Dale: We’ve introduced Avid Unity ISIS. It’s really a true paradigm shift in terms of shared storage. We can confidently say there is nothing else that has been built with the design parameters of this product. We’re really looking at a paradigm shift in terms of, first of all, a distributed intelligence, overall scalability for an online real-time collaborative system and lastly, reliability because if you’re going to scale up in terms of capacity it does very little good if you’re not making the system more reliable at the same time. So this system really nails all three at once.

DMN: Those are a few words to describe a lot – intelligence, scalability and reliability. Can you go into a little more detail into each of these and tell us why they’re significant?

Dale: The Avid Unity ISIS product uses a completely new distributed file system which actually distributes its intelligence throughout the system. It’s also based entirely on extended Gigabit Ethernet infrastructure. As a result we have a completely new type of system which removes the traditional bottlenecks that have always been a characteristic of SANs [Storage Area Networks] in terms of their scalability and the amount of storage, the amount of data, or the number of collaborative editors you can have on the system. So what we have is distributed architecture, and what we ultimately have is a system that can scale literally without limits. The system also—with this distributed intelligence, with each piece working more or less autonomously—has the ability to actually adapt in real time to changing conditions. People have been talking about self-healing forever in the storage industry—this product really brings self-healing to reality.

DMN: How did you do that?

Dale: With the distributed file system. Every piece of the system has basically a big computer, so it’s a metadata server which we call Assistant Director, and it has intelligence on it. The Editor is part of the file system, part of the intelligence. But we also put part of the intelligence down onto the storage itself, so that all of the storage elements can talk among themselves and redistribute data without talking to a centralized metadata server. 

DMN: So there’s a lot of redundancy built in, there’s parity so if one drive goes out, for example, then all the others can jump in and say, “Here’s what you’re missing.”

Dale: That’s correct. I can certainly dive into that into more detail, but in terms of what the system is capable of doing, yes, every piece is actually able to work autonomously.

DMN: There are many people who think that’s important, even mission-critical, aren’t there?

Dale:  Yes. There’s a specific group of customers whom we call enterprise-class customers. They tend to be very large customers, and they tend to be fairly sophisticated in terms of their IT capabilities. There are three primary things that define an enterprise-class customer for us: The need for very large scalability in capacity and number of clients, and the second thing is these customers are looking for 24/7 reliability (this is a system that really focuses on not just hardware redundancy and hot-swappability of its hardware components, but it goes much, much further than that). And lastly, these customers are relatively sophisticated from an IT infrastructure standpoint, and what they want to do is integrate their systems directly into their existing IT infrastructure. They don’t want to have a Fibre Channel SAN as their production island. They want to be able to plug it in and maintain it with the same resources they’re using for their e-mail, for their file servers, and they also want to give access to other people throughout the facility, people like producers or directors—anybody who has either an editorial input or review-and-approval input, or the editors themselves.

DMN: So you’re doing away with the Fibre Channel connectivity and replacing it with Gig-E [Gigabit Ethernet], so everybody else can play, too?

Dale: Yes and no. In terms of this system, this is really an addition to the Unity family, so this system is solely based on standard Gig-E infrastructure. But we will continue to develop and support the Unity MediaNetwork and LANshare EX products. MediaNetwork continues to be based on Fibre Channel which we announced at NAB, support of 4 Gigabit. We will continue to optimize the file system for that. 

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Related Keywords:hdv,hd, hdtv,Avid Unity ISIS media network, Gigabit Ethernet, storage system, scalability, security, Infinitely Scalable Intelligent Storage, distributed-intelligence architecture, Unity MediaNetwork, Unity LANshare, Andy Dale, senior product manager, networking and storage

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