Maybe It’s Time to Dial Down the Flash

Published on Jul 19, 2017 in Quantum

This post was originally posted to the Quantum website.

There’s no doubt that post-production and animation/visual effects (VFX) studios need strong storage performance for a variety of demanding tasks. Facing extremely tight deadlines, your editors, colorists, artists, and other team members need a responsive experience—even as they work with multiple streams of large 4K media files at high frame rates.

The quest for efficient—lag-free—productivity has led many studios to invest in flash-based solid-state drives (SSDs). In a recent global survey of post-production professionals, two thirds of respondents reported using SSDs in their storage environment.

But given the high cost of flash, you might want to put on the brakes. Flash is not the best solution for every studio and every workflow.

How do you know whether flash is right for you? Start by evaluating your performance requirements.

What type of performance do you really need?

Many VFX and animation tasks require strong random I/O performance. When you’re creating an animated character, for example, you might need to quickly access numerous data blocks located in a wide variety of places across your storage environment. The mechanical spinning disks used in hard disk drives (HDDs) can’t access that data as quickly as flash-based SSDs. So, for those tasks, flash is often the right choice.

Video editing, however, relies more on sequential I/O performance. As your editors play back and edit video in a timeline, they are accessing blocks of data that are probably located close to one another in your storage environment. HDDs can read that data fast enough to support most editing tasks without major hiccups.

How many streams do you have to support?

Some HDDs will start to struggle as you add more and more simultaneous streams. Let’s say your editor has to integrate footage from 12 different cameras, running 12 simultaneous streams could slow the performance of some HDDs.

As part of our extensive performance testing of Quantum reference architectures for 4K content we found that 3.5-inch HDDs are not the best choice when you need to run multiple 4K streams. However, 2.5-inch HDDs can support high 4K stream counts at a significantly lower cost and with much greater capacity than flash-based SSDs. When you need to run a very high number of simultaneous streams—like when editors are working on huge multi-camera projects or when multiple team members need to work on post-production tasks in parallel—SSDs might be worth the investment.

Performance isn’t everything

Although performance is often the primary factor that drives organizations to flash storage, you shouldn’t base your storage purchases on performance alone. Thoroughly evaluating a full range of technical and business requirements is crucial for the decision-making process.

Ready to keep that evaluation going? Review our Flash Tip Sheet and 4K Reference Architecture White Paper  to help you evaluate you storage needs.

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