Product Review: Page (1) of 1 - 02/18/08 Email this story to a friend. email article Print this page (Article printing at page facebook


Facilitating PC/Mac Harmony By Ko Maruyama
When it comes to large SAN solutions, everyone knows that the ever-growing need for storage space becomes a serious issue when deciding on a server.  Additionally, the adoption of multiple operating systems within a single server might also be a concern you need to address.  When AlphaDogs in Burbank, CA decided that they needed something - they turned to Terrablock.

TERRENCE CURREN OF ALPHA DOGS told me that when they began to look at large storage solutions that would be able to evolve with the studio's quickly growing media demands, Unity was one of the options they considered.  They quickly decided that it was really cost prohibitive for the limited opportunities it would give them.   An alternative was the Apple XSAN, but the ability to plug-and-play wasn't there.   Another solution which was on par with these solutions was Terrablock.  It offered the ability to quickly grow with their needs, and allowed them to manage everything in-house effortlessly.

Because Alpa Dogs cuts on both Avid and Final Cut, and their shop operates both on Macs and PCs, the SAN had to be able to perform across both platforms seamlessly.  Terrance remarked that there isn't any problem moving specific jobs around the facility. 

File level sharing is simple, which makes each individual bay work fluidly with the others.  Partitioning the drives to make way for more room is  easy enough, and has become somewhat standard - as clients decide to incorporate more HD versions and source material to their projects.

Now, because Mac OSX allows reading of NTFS, there are no cross-platform issues when it comes to the Windows formatted drives.   This opens up more opportunities for clients as well.  

 Alpha Dogs has started to use Apple's Color application to color grade HD footage.   Final Cut editors, graphics bays and the colorist's suite all have access to the Terrablock stored material, so tweaks and revisions can be made at a moment's notice.

I asked about fragmentation - which might be an issue for any drive being attacked from so many bays with multiple files written to it.  Terrance responded, "We never get slow downs.  At any given time we have 40 to 50 different partitions without any noticeable fragmentation problems.  We're constantly reorganizing and repartitioning drives for the different jobs that come through here.  With all of the shows and documentaries, we need a solution that can respond to rapid change."

There are two different types of fragmentation that a SAN could face, in the XSAN files are written to different parts of the disk, and get scattered on the server.  Because the file system is smaller and easier to manage in the Facilis solution, files don't break up as much.  Also, Facilis creates virtualization which allows for more than just making individual volumes - the data is randomly sprayed across the drive so that performance is more uniform, without peaking or bottoming out for individual users.

For Alpha Dogs, the future will definitely include more server space.  This year they've seen projects with 4:4:4 source material, raw 4K footage from the RED Camera and enough HD footage to swamp any smaller system.

In Terrablock's version 3 release, a custom NAS is no longer required and more of the drives utility can be accessed easily through the desktop.   With up to 250 virtual volumes per server and native file formats which include Windows, Mac and Linux available, Terrance remarked "We can do it all really easily - for any client - any media - and any format."

Problems so far with Terrablock?  Of course no solution is without error - Terrance recalls the one instance they had to call the company: "We had this one problem with a single drive.  I called Facilis.  They answered the phone, logged in remotely and identified the problem (a SATA card), just like that.  That's after more than two years of using Facilis Terrablock.  It just works."

You can find alphadogs in Burbank, California
and online at:

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Ko Maruyama is a freelance animator in Los Angeles.  In addition to working on film and broadcast animations, Ko teaches at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design - focusing on motion design.  When working, writing or testing software allows, you can find him lending a hand in the After Effects board and lurking among the Cinema4D, Visual Effects and Photoshop posts within the DMNForums.
Related Keywords:company profile, product review, SAN, alpha dogs, facilis, XSAN

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