Hardware Review: Accusys EXASAN A08S-OS
[ This article was first published in the November, 2010, issue of
Larry's Monthly Final Cut Studio Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]
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The good folks at AccuSys contacted me recently about reviewing their new A08S-PS. This is an 8-bay Tower RAID designed for media professionals. I told them I’d be delighted to look at it, so a few weeks ago, it showed up on my doorstop.
Founded in 1995, the AccuSys website describes the company as:
A worldwide leader in design, manufacturing, and marketing of RAID products. With years of experience in storage market, our product lines fulfill versatile applications, ranging from small offices to mission-critical data centers, and covering all major storage interfaces.
The unit they shipped contained eight 2 TB drives, with a formatted capacity of 14 TB. It has a retail price of $3,000 without drives. The total cost of the unit depends upon the number and size of the drives you install. AccuSys sells principally thru resellers.
SETTING UP THE UNIT
The box containing the RAID was heavy – weighing 49 pounds. The RAID itself was hard to lift out of the box — it would be nice if they included some lifting straps. (I was told later the easiest way to get it out is to cut open the bottom and lift the box off from the RAID.)
The Getting Started instructions were written by someone that knows English, which is nice. However, they weren’t accurate, which was less nice.
The RAID uses Mini-SAS connections which, while they provide very high speed, only connect to a MacPro. At my request, AccuSys also included an interface card for the MacPro, which provided a single Mini-SAS connector.
As the Getting Started instructions didn’t provide any slot instructions, I installed it in the second slot from the top on my MacPro. (I discovered later that the slot order DOES make a difference, but the difference would not have had an impact on the performance of the RAID with Final Cut Pro.)
NOTE: I like having a printed Getting Started guide. Holding a printed document in my hands while setting up new gear is MUCH better than rooting around a CD trying to find the right PDF.
The unit had a standard power plug, but there was no way to lock the power cord to the chassis to keep it from accidentally being pulled out. Since this is designed for a desktop, not a rack, power accidents like that are more likely to happen.
Connecting everything was easy. One power cord and one interface cable that only goes into the card one way. Easy.
I liked the overall design of the unit.
INSTALLING THE SOFTWARE
The power button is on the back. Press it and eight lights on the front turn yellow. Fans race. The unit comes to life.
Turn on the computer and the lights go green and the fans slow down.
NOTE: You should always turn on your storage devices before starting the computer.
The AccuSys unit is noisier than the iStorage Pro I reviewed a few months ago – though quieter than an XRAID. (Though it could be argued that Metallica is quieter than an XRAID…)
The interface cables are about four feet long – longer than many RAIDs I’ve seen. The maximum length that Mini-SAS supports, I’ve been told, is about 15 feet. The longer length of the supplied cables is nice.
AccuSys included a CD with the Getting Started guide. However, when I loaded the CD into the computer, there was no obvious location to find the Mac drivers. Everything was labeled for Windows.
Since so many media creators are on the Mac, this was confusing.
The Easy Setup says “Start the RAIDGuard X setup program Accusys_IP_Mac_2.0.5.mpkg” In this screen shot, can you guess where the installer is? Nope, I couldn’t either.
I decided to look in the ExaSAN folder. Still not a lot of clues. Hmmm… Maybe the Installer package folder.
Yup. There it is, but the version numbers don’t match the printed Easy Setup guide. Understandable, but they could make this easier to find and install with a simple alias designed for the Mac. Something like “Mac Users click here.”
No indication that you need to copy the Zip file to your desktop before trying to decompress. But you do, or it won’t work.
Installation is like any other Mac program, but does not follow the steps in the Easy Setup Guide. The last four steps on configuring the RAID which the Guide illustrates do not seem to be part of the standard installation.
Screen shots shown in the Guide were not part of the actual installation, which is confusing.
So, in spite of the Guide, to install the software, you need to :
1. Insert CD
2. Open the folder named after the system you bought
3. Open the Installer package folder
4. Locate the AccuSys zip file for the Mac.
5. Install the drivers AND RAIDGuard software
6. Restart your computer when instructed (this step can not be skipped.)
7. Go to Applications > RAIDGuard X folder > RAIDGuard X
8. Run RAIDGuard X to configure the RAID client
CONFIGURING THE RAID CLIENT
Once RAIDGuard X is running, click the Add Controller button to tell the system which RAID card you want to control. Select the controller (in my case there’s only one), enter the password and click OK.
Select the Controller and click Create a RAID array.
The RAID setup screen appears.
Generally, RAID 5 is the best balance between speed and protecting your data. That is the default setting. If you are truly paranoid about your data, select RAID 6.
Stripe size defaults to a size designed to handle large files. Leave the setting as is at 256 KB.
The installer allows you to build a standard RAID, or create a quickie that allows you to test performance, but doesn’t protect your data. The default setting is On-the-Fly, which is the best choice.
While the RAID is being built, your performance will be slower than usual, but, generally fast enough to get work done. However, any speed tests you do will not be representative of the full performance of the RAID.
RAIDS take a LONG time to build — depending upon the number and size of the drives, they can take HOURS to format completely. (See the Dialog with Mas article for how this works.) So, I’m going to leave this to configure and go get some other work done.
Back in a bit….
FORMATTING THE RAID
The next, and final, step is to go to the Utilities folder > Disk Utility and format the RAID.
AccuSys recommends formatting the RAID as HFS Plus – Journaled. As a test, I reformatted it as HFS Plus – Not Journaled. The formatting took less than 5 seconds. Generally, Journaling is a good idea for the boot drive, but it slows down data drives. Since this unit has speed to burn, journaling won’t make any significant difference in performance.
So, in the future, I’ll leave journaling turned on for RAIDs.
I started with eight 2-TB drives. The total formatted space was 14 TB. A decrease in total storage is normal for any RAID — roughly equal to the size of one hard drive. It’s how they are able to protect your data in the event of a drive failure.
On to the speed tests.
WHY YOU BUY A RAID – SPEED AND SECURITY
I fired up the AJA System Test utility.
Holy smokes! 531 MB per second read and 554 MB per second write! (The nature of hard disks, by the way, makes reads always slower than writes.)
I then ran my favorite monitoring program – Utilities > Activity Monitor – and copied a folder containing 209 files for a total of 172.79 GB.
As you can see, the speed of data transfer is limited by the slowest hard disk in my system. In this example, the RAID is barely breaking a sweat recording media (Write) at roughly 53 MB/s, while my internal MacPro hard drive is pumping out files as fast as it can at the same speed.
The transfer of roughly 200 GB of data will take slightly less than an hour. Back in a bit….
OK, let’s see what this RAID can do when it is working on it’s own. When I ask it to duplicate the 172 GB of data we just transferred, performance gets significantly better.
Copying the entire folder ran at a rate of more than 350 MB/second. This is plenty fast enough for almost all serious multicam work.
Once the drive is configured and running, it acts like any other VERY large, VERY fast hard drive. In other words, using it is a piece of cake.
DEALING WITH ERRORS
I decided to see what happens when a hard drive dies. So, while these files were copying, I pulled out a hard disk, to simulate a failure.
The ExaSAN unit immediately displayed a drive failure message, one of the blue lights on the front went out, indicating a drive failure, and a (never-ending) series of three beeps indicated that there was a problem with the unit.
However, what impressed me was that after an initial pause in copying, the system picked right back up again and continued copying the file at the same rate of speed.
When I reinserted the drive, the beeping stopped after about 15 seconds, and, again, there was no drop in data transfer speed. However, the drive did not go back online (the blue light turn back on) until after the copy process was complete.
Very impressive and exactly what you would want to happen should a drive fail.
THINGS I LIKE
* The AccuSys ExaSAN A08S-PS has speed to burn.
* It looks nice.
* It comes with longer cables between the computer and RAID than other products I’ve seen.
* It packs lots of storage in a small footprint.
* Once configured, works exactly like any other hard disk.
Things I don’t like:
* Installation instructions
* Noise is distracting, but not painful. Not low enough for an audio mixing environment
* No way to clamp AC cable to unit to prevent accidental disconnection
* Generates lots of heat
When I compare this to the other Mini-SAS connected RAID I’ve tested recently, this is in the same performance range as the iStorage Pro Tower 8. However, the Tower 8 was much more quiet and seemed to run cooler.
On the AccuSys, changing hard drives is done through the rear, which means you need to be able to access both the front and back of the unit.
Most of my editing to date has been done on RAID 0′s, which are fast and inexpensive. However, as my projects increase and the assets I’m storing can’t be replaced, I need to start thinking more seriously about data protection.
For that reason a RAID 5 is in my future. As you are looking for your own storage solutions, the AccuSys RAID is worth considering.
DIALOG WITH MAS OMAE ABOUT THE ACCUSYS RAID
Mas Omae, part of the North American Sales Team for AccuSys, is the person responsible for getting me this RAID system to test. As with any review, there are things I just can’t check, so I sent Mas a list of questions, requesting his help in getting them answered.
Here are his replies.
Larry: Are your RAIDs pre-formatted, or does the user need to set them up; in other words, how long does the configuration process take?
It will be up to the reseller whether to pre-format them or not. The initial configuration does take a long time, this could be one of the value-adds the reseller provides.
Initialization for 8 x 2TB drives in a RAID would take about 7.2 hours for the entire RAID without any I/O activity.
Larry: How long does it take the RAID to rebuild if you replace a hard disk due to failure?
Rebuild would take a little longer, about 8.6 hours, again, for the entire RAID, without I/O activity.
Larry: What do the colors of the lights on the front indicate?
LED lights during power on state:
- Green – operating normally
- Red – abnormal or failed
- Amber – transition state, i.e., rebuilding, migrating,
- No light – no drive present
- Blinking blue – disk access is happening
Larry: What is your standard warranty?
Our standard warranty is three years.
Larry: What do you recommend for those environments where the fan noise is too loud? (i.e. audio mixing)
The fan speed is temperature controlled, so if it is noisy that means it is trying to get the heat out. Is there space between the front of the enclosure? Is one of the fans not working? If drive activity is high over a sustained period of time, the temperature in the enclosure will rise and the fan speed will increase to take the heat out.
I want to thank Mas, and AccuSys, for their help in obtaining this RAID to review. As a note, I sent Mas this dialog for his review prior to publishing this newsletter. However, neither Mas nor AccuSys saw my review of the RAID prior to publication.