Storage takes a bow

There’s magic on the big screen in cinemas, and happening right before your eyes: Film is disappearing.

You’re still seeing film on the screen. However, many motion pictures in theatres today, especially those with special effects, have been processed digitally before being converted to film.

Among the masters of this conjuring act is Toronto’s Cine-Byte Imaging Inc., a 12-person company which specializes in transferring film to digital data and back.

The company’s credits include work on the movies Driven, Chicago and Resident Evil: Apocalypse.

Apocalyptic problem

Late last year Cine-Byte faced an Apocalypse of its own. A victim of its success, it was running out of storage.

According to company president Alan Bak, digital conversion soaks up hard disk space at a block-buster rate. Film is scanned at 12.5 to 50 Mb per frame. Some projects involve only scanning digital special effects. However, increasingly it’s being asked to do what is called “”digital intermediate,”” scanning an entire film so it can be digitally colour graded.

By the end of last year Cine-Byte’s six terabytes of storage was reaching its limit. Finishing work wasn’t a problem, but the space on the storage system couldn’t be freed until the customer signed off each project.

“”We had multiple movies on the go and getting final deliverables seemed to drag out,”” Bak explained.

So he turned to Helios/Oceana, a Mississauga, Ont. VAR which specializes in solutions for the entertainment and broadcast industries.

Its president, Carlos Ventura, succinctly summed up Bak’s requirements: “”He needed a whack of storage at not a whack of cash,””

Cine-Byte’s RAID system was entirely Fibre Channel, an architecture that assured it of fast transfer speeds. To meet the company’s financial needs, Helios considered a new technology: Serial ATA.

SATA changes the connectivity architecture from parallel to serial and from master-slave to point-to-point. SATA connects to motherboards with their own interfaces, offering faster speeds than parallel systems.

“”You get the cost savings of ATA drives with the performance of Fibre Channel,”” said Rob Dueckman, Helios’ technical director.

Working with Bak, Helios was able to figure out Cine-Byte’s minimum performance requirements and what it could live without. One of the things it didn’t need, they realized, was dual controllers on the new RAID system. Redundant controllers promised a never-fail system, but Dueckman said Bak acknowledged that the risk the small amount of downtime a single controller might create wouldn’t be critical. And while transfer speeds had to be fast, real-time playback speed wasn’t necessary.

Heavily discounted

Several Tier 1 vendors were asked to provide solutions, include ones based on SATA, that could connect to Cine-Bytes Silicon Graphics servers.

“”Everyone wanted this business,”” Ventura recalled. One vendor he wouldn’t name offered a heavily discounted price for a solution. However, that price was only for the initial purchase. Upgrades or expansion would cost more.

That wasn’t the approach of nStor Technologies Inc. of Carlsbad, Calif., which offered its 4711F Fibre Channel-to-SATA storage network. Though aggressive, its price wasn’t unrealistic, said Ventura. “”Affordability in upgrading definitely was there.””

Because the technology is new nStor was asked to promise it would stand behind its system.

Helios did have some concerns, said Dueckman. “”In the past their product hadn’t been up to the performance we were expecting.”” However, a test system exceeded even nStor’s figures. It won the deal for an 8TB system estimated at $75,000, about half the cost of Cine-Byte’s original storage.

After being configured at Helios, installation took about two hours without any downtime. “”They did a great job,”” said Bak.

Now there’s more room at Cine-Byte for digital magic.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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