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Testing the ExaSAN A08S3-PS RAID Array

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We featured Andrew Gormley's review on the Promise Pegasus R4 back in 2013. In this new review, he takes a look at the bigger and faster ExaSAN A08S3-PS RAID Array.

We will let Andrew Gormley reveal the details on his test:

As a video editor, occasional graphic artist, and hoarder of all manner of digital files I feel like I can never have enough space and, more importantly, enough disk performance. The faster your disk array, the more concurrent video streams you can play, the smoother playback of high resolution or high framerate videos will be, etc. It's with all this in mind that I can confidently declare the ExaSAN A08S3-PS one of the best RAID arrays I've ever used.

 

A LITTLE BACKSTORY

When a representative from Accusys reached out to me about reviewing this unit, I had to do a little research into the company to make sure it was something I felt confident tackling.

Accusys has been around since 1995 and their primary focus has always been RAID technology, starting first at the software level.

In 2003 they manufactured Apple's very own Xserve, which was designed to be up and running practically out of the box, much like this unit.

Later in 2010, they manufactured their first storage unit and based it entirely on PCIe technology, which means speed and compatibility will never be a problem.

So once I came to the conclusion that their products promised an insane amount of performance for video editing and visual effects, I knew this was right up my alley.

Right out of the gate, since pricing is impossible to find without requesting more information, I'll tell you that my 8TB review unit runs in the neighborhood of $4300 with Enterprise SATA drives (Seagate Constellation, if brand/model is important to you).

VIDEO OVERVIEW

 

AESTHETICALLY PLEASING WITH A SINGLE CAVEAT

The A08S3-PS (I know, it's a mouthful) is massive, weighing in at 25 pounds and taking up the space of the average desktop PC tower. It's solid aluminum and feels amazingly well-built—it's like the little brother of the old Mac Pro towers. All of the parts you'd ever need to interact with like the drive bays, power supply, and RAID controller can all be removed easily, making this an incredibly modular setup if you were inclined to upgrade it yourself.

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For me to test on a Mac required an additional unit about the size of an AppleTV/Roku called the C1M. This little guy can be tucked away quite easily and provides the conversion from the provided QSFP cables to Thunderbolt. If you were running a more traditional PC tower or older Mac Pro, the unit comes with a PCIe card that will allow you to connect directly with the provided QSFP cables. ( Looking at the website, it says this is Thunderbolt 2  - Editor)

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I've spent the last several years moving away from traditional tower designs (my last three computers have been a MacBook Pro, Retina MacBook Pro, and the pictured 5K iMac), so for me I'd prefer to have this tucked away under a desk or in a storage/server room out of sight. It's literally more than twice as large as my current day-to-day RAID array (the Promise Pegasus R4).

I love the ease of use when it comes to replacing the drives, which is just a slight press in and then removing the drives by the handle that appears.

Obviously an enclosure this powerful needs a certain level of cooling to keep from overheating and here is the one of the few problems I've found with the the A08S3-PS: it gets loud. It's very loud when you first start it up, then it levels out a bit, but still noticeable. Seemingly randomly for me, the fans spun up to their highest level for a minute or two at a time, then went back down to normal. This happened regardless of whether I was working with the RAID or it was simply idling. You'll be able to hear this clearly in the video below.

SETTING UP THE RAID

The setup for me was a little tricky, but mainly because I believe it's a little more finicky when connecting over Thunderbolt as opposed to the QSFP cables. The basic gist is this:

  • Get the RAID plugged in
  • Run cable from the RAID to the C1M unit
  • Run power to the C1M
  • Power on the RAID
  • Plug in Thunderbolt from C1M to computer

After that, it's a simple matter of adding the RAID controller using the software from Accusys, then setting up the array according to your preference—RAID0 for my testing.

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PERFORMANCE

Hold on to your socks, lest they get knocked off. I tested the A08S3-PS mainly with Final Cut Pro X, DaVinci Resolve 9, and After Effects using RAW footage from a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, 4K ProRes 422 footage from a Blackmagic Production Camera, and 4K compressed footage from a Panasonic GH4.

With such high quality footage available at such low costs these days, it's easy for your disk to get bogged down and start dropping frames. That was never the case for the A08S3-PS. Even in situations like having multiple 4k ProRes streams playing at once with effects applied to each, I never detected a hiccup. Here are a few numbers for your consideration, these tests were run via Thunderbolt 2 on a Retina iMac:

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 A08S3-PS in RAID0 with Blackmagic Disk Utility

 

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A08S3-PS in RAID0 with AJA System Test

 

Which easily bests the Pegasus R4, which I use for almost all of my current editing projects:

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A CHART, BECAUSE OF ATTENTION SPANS

Accusys actually makes a variation of the model I tested called the A08S2-TS that acts more like a traditional direct-attached RAID, removing the SAN functionality from it. I figured I would compare this to the most similar Thunderbolt 2 RAID array on the market: the Pegasus2 R8.

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So, all told the two systems have quite a bit in common. You get the ability to buy the ExaSAN drive-less which might be appealing to some people, though the Enterprise drives it recommends are slightly pricier.

The lack of a second Thunderbolt port on the ExaSAN for daisy-chaining is disappointing, but not a dealbreaker as long as you keep it at the end of the chain.

 

 ABOUT THE NOISE...

 

FAST NOW, FAST IN THE FUTURE

Speed and compatibility are the two features that pretty much dictate my storage purchasing habits. While USB 3 drives are great for their backwards compatibility, ubiquity, and large storage sizes, they're just not up to snuff when used as a scratch drive for video editing. That leaves Thunderbolt and PCIe connections, both of which are supported here with the A08S3-PS.

As 4K and UHD gain more and more traction as shooting formats, you'll need to consider carefully how you plan to store and work with this footage. This RAID array will serve you incredibly well out of the box and into the future as you can install eight 4TB hard drives for a mind-blowing 32TB of storage.

At the price tag of roughly $4300 (less if you choose to buy it without hard drives installed), I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to a post-production house that required huge amounts of storage and performance. With the addition of a PCIe switch and a little configuring in the software, it goes from being direct storage to shared storage (hence the whole "SAN" part), which makes it ifinitely more useful in a studio setting.

To an individual editor, despite how many awesome things I have to say about this exact RAID array, I think it's going to be a tough sell. Most people will just do a Google search for "Thunderbolt RAID" and buy one of the first three results... I know because I own all three of those brands.

For those folks, I would definitely recommend the A08S2-TS, that acts more like a traditional direct-attached RAID. You can probably count on the price being about half as much by removing a single feature you may not even require.

Overall, the A08S3-PS is a powerhouse and will definitely deliver results in even the most demanding situations.

 

 

 


Written by
Top BloggerThought Leader

I am the Editor-in-Chief of FCP.co and have run the website since its inception ten years ago.

I have also worked as a broadcast and corporate editor for over 30 years, starting on one inch tape, working through many formats, right up to today's NLEs.

Under the name Idustrial Revolution, I have written and sold plugins for Final Cut Pro for 13 years.

I was made a Freeman of Lichfield through The Worshipful Company of Smiths (established 1601). Though I haven't yet tried to herd a flock of sheep through the city centre!

Current Editing

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2020 has been busy, the beginning of the year was finishing off a new property series (cut on FCP) for Channel 4 called The Great House Giveaway. I also designed and built the majority of the graphics as Motion templates. It has been a great success and the shows grabbed more viewers in the 4pm weekday slot than any previous strand. It has been recommissioned by C4 for 60 episodes, including prime-time versions and five themed programmes. The shows have also been nominated for a 2021 BAFTA.

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Although both were postponed to later in the year, I worked again on ITV's coverage of the Tour de France and La Vuelta. 2020 was my 25th year of editing the TdF and my 20th year as lead editor. The Tour was the first broadcast show to adopt FCPX working for multiple editors on shared storage.

 

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BBC's Snooker has played a big part in my life, I've been editing tournament coverage since 1997. I'm proud to be part of a very creative team that has pioneered many new ideas and workflows that are now industry standard in sports' production. This is currently an Adobe Premiere edit.

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Covid cancelled some of the regular corporate events that I edit such as trade shows & events. I was lucky however to edit, from home, on projects for Amazon Kindle, Amazon Black Friday, Mastercard and very proud to have helped local charitable trust Kendall & Wall secure lottery funding.

As for software, my weapon of choice is Final Cut Pro and Motion, but I also have a good knowledge and broadcast credits with Adobe Premiere Pro, MOGRT design and Photoshop.

Plugin Design & Development

I'm the creative force behind Idustrial Revolution, one of the oldest Final Cut Pro plugin developers. It hosts a range of commercial and free plugins on the site. One free plugin was downloaded over a thousand times within 24 hours of release.

I also take on custom work, whether it is adapting an existing plugin for a special use or designing new plugins for clients from scratch. Having a good knowledge of editing allows me to build-in flexibility and more importantly, usability.

FCP.co

Now in its 10th year and 4th redesign, running FCP.co has given me knowledge on how to run a large CMS- you are currently reading my bio from the database! Although it sounds corny, I am pretty well up on social media trends & techniques, especially in the video sector. The recent Covid restrictions has enabled live FCP.co shows online. This involves managing a Zoom Webinar through Restream.io to YouTube and Facebook. 

The Future

I'm always open to new ideas and opportunities, so please get in touch at editor (at) fcp.co. I've judged film competitions, presented workflow techniques to international audiences and come up with ideas for TV shows and software programs!

 

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