In this section you’ll read about a few real-life storage solutions.
Homemade Recycled Server Solution
A photographer buddy of mine was dealing with the same struggles that everyone else has. He had three or four machines in his studio, each doing a different primary job, but any of them could be called upon to do a different job as needed. As a result, he found himself loading files on FireWire drives and sneakernetting (physically carrying data on a storage device) around the studio as needed. This worked for a while but became a real drag as production ramped up.
We determined his needs and discussed a budget. I talked about buying a server, but that just wasn’t in the numbers at that time. He did have an older G4 Macintosh lying around that had been retired. It still worked fine; it just didn’t have the horsepower needed for editing work.
We added two additional hard drives on top of the two that the machine already had via an add-on SATA card mounted in a PCI slot. This gave him a decent amount of internal computer storage. We also added a gigabit Ethernet card to provide him with better bandwidth than the standard 100 Mbs connection.
With those modifications in place, a fresh install of Mac OS X 10.4 gave him a solid platform to build on. The part that turned this bulked-up computer into a server was a piece of freeware called SharePoints from www.hornware.com. It allows you to create sharepoints on the computer that others can connect to, as well as modify rights and permissions. This was a slick solution for his needs at the time. The software installs as a Preference pane, and all management happens there. The downside is that it can only be used with Mac OS X 10.4 and earlier versions.
Standard Server Solution
For years, the server needs of a small marketing and design firm were taken care of by an ancient Mac server. On the network were less than ten design workstations and a handful of other machines for special purposes, such as a dedicated printing server. The owners of the firm knew they had to upgrade their server. Although the old server had suited their needs, they were starting to run out of space on the hard drives. They were also concerned about how reliable the hardware would continue to be because the machine was at least five years past its prime.
I looked at their workflow and decided that although they didn’t need anything fancy, a small server solution was still appropriate for their needs. We specified one of the Apple Mac Mini Servers and a Promise DS4600, a four-bay RAID box that connects via FireWire 800. For less than $2000, they had a fully supported server with RAID 5 level storage that worked out to be about 3 TB in total. File services were their primary concern, but the additional collaboration services of OS X Server, such as wiki and calendaring, was a big plus for their productivity.
The full set up of OS X Server is beyond the scope of this book, but for additional information, refer to the Apple Training Series, Server Essentials 10.6 (Peachpit, 2010).
High-end Xsan Solution
Short of implementing a full-blown enterprise solution, the Apple Xsan storage system is about as high-end as you get. It is designed for creative workflows and offers high performance. For these reasons, Steve McCurry Studios decided to adopt an Xsan system over other solutions.
The company’s first Xsan system had about 15 TB of storage connected to four Xsan client workstations in its New York office. Due to workflow changes, it decided to move the Xsan hardware to its Pennsylvania office and reconfigure the system for additional storage and users.
Currently, the company has six workstations and one server connected to the Xsan, plus two metadata controllers. The server is reserved for asset management and future use. The six workstations are connected via dual optical fiber cabling to a fiber patch bay and onto redundant Qlogic Fibre Channel switches.
Storage is provided by two Promise VTrak E Class RAID chassis paired with two Promise VTrak J Class expansion chassis, resulting in approximately 52 TB of space. All of that storage appears as one drive icon on each of the Xsan user’s desktops, which is a big advantage to the studio. Having just one icon helps make it easier to keep track of the files because they don’t have to be split up across multiple volumes.
Protecting the power are two UPSs sized to take the load in case of a power failure. Most of the equipment in the system has dual power supplies, and each power supply is plugged into the two UPSs. This prevents a failure of one UPS from taking down the entire system.
The Xsan infrastructure is all mounted in a sound-deadened rack system with blowers to help vent the hot air from all the running equipment. Even with the sound deadening, the rack enclosure needs to be kept in an area used for storage, not a working office. With 64 spinning disks, three servers, two Ethernet switches, two Fibre Channel switches, and two UPS systems, a lot of noise is produced. Reducing the transmission of sound needs to be considered when planning such a sizable system.
When planning a system as complex as Xsan, you should build the system to meet good working practices, which include designing redundancy into the system. Each of the RAID units has dual controllers, fans, and power supplies. The metadata controllers are set up with triple redundancy and use Apple Xserve server hardware. Up to two of the three Xserves can fail, leaving the third metadata controller to take over. The Fibre Channel switches are in a stacked configuration. Because each Xsan node has two Fibre Channel connections, we were able to split those connections across the two stacked switches. If either switch fails, there will still be one fully functioning path.
The only single points of failure are the two Ethernet networks, and there’s no good way around that. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that any one connection can fail, and it will only affect the one node. But if the Ethernet switch fails for some reason, it will affect the entire Xsan infrastructure.
This may seem like a lot of work for a half-dozen workstations, but it eases the workflow for the studio. Everyone knows where the data is, and it doesn’t have to be moved around for use. It is all right there on a volume that provides good performance.