Panasas, Inc., an award winning enterprise computer storage company that always turns heads, is this month’s company highlight story. Its innovative ActiveStor® parallel storage technology using hybrid scale-out network attached storage (NAS) leverages their patented PanFS® storage operating system and DirectFlow protocol® to deliver performance and reliability at scale from an appliance that is as easy to manage as it is fast to deploy.
Founded in 1999 by Garth Gibson and William Courtright, Panasas, now under the leadership of President and CEO Faye Pairman, employs roughly 100 people with headquarters in Sunnyvale, California, and with main engineering located in Pittsburgh, PA. The company, being engineering driven early on and based in Pittsburgh, named their company Panasas (Pittsburgh Area Network Attached Storage (‘And’) Software) with black and gold corporate colors, which I suspect is an homage to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The company initially started with venture capital funding from Mohr Davidow Ventures and additional investors include the Carlyle Group, Centennial Ventures, Evercore Partners, Focus Ventures, Goldman Sachs, Intel Capital and Novak-Biddle Venture Partners. Its first products were shipped in 2004.
I recently caught up with David Sallak, their globe-trotting vice president of products and solutions and CTO for the media and entertainment (M&E) marketplace to get his viewpoint on the company, state-of-the-industry for IP Video workflows/HD HDR, and what they demonstrated at NAB 2017.
The Panasas Difference
According to Sallak, much of the underpinnings of their technology is based on the groundbreaking Berkeley RAID Paper entitled “A Case for Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks (RAID)” that introduced the concept of redundancy for data protection and proposed the fundamental approach to data protection that remains the industry standard today. Authored by co-founder Garth Gibson, David A. Patterson and Randy H. Katz, the paper set the framework that continues to serve as the foundation for Panasas’ data protection scheme and fundamental understanding of data storage at scale. “One of our tenets is developing cost-efficient systems that can contain and manage data in a scalable and highly available way using commodity HDDs and Flash,” said Sallak. “All markets and organizations struggle with the challenge of building a data infrastructure that can easily organize, manage and scale while minimizing infrastructure buildout and opex costs ̶ our solutions address that and are optimized for the most demanding workloads in M&E, as well as life sciences, manufacturing, energy, government and education.” Specifically, the company’s scale-out storage solutions are based on three tightly integrated and industry differentiated building blocks: (Click on each link to learn more)
Real World Challenges and Solutions
The world continues to generate data at an exponential rate as a result of the evolving landscape in the M&E, big data, social media, cloud and mobile markets, to name a few. IDC estimates yearly enterprise storage and compound annual growth rates (CAGR) at over 50% with traditional applications in IT departments growing data at over 30% yearly. This exponential data growth has resulted in a corresponding increase in storage subsystem capacity requirements. Panasas’s current solutions addresses this challenge head-on, but continues to develop and refine their scale-out NAS solutions to address future real world challenges in the areas of 1) linear scalability; 2) performance at scale; 3) reliability at scale; 4) management at scale and 5) hybrid leadership. For the sake of article brevity, I highly recommend clicking on the following links to learn more about how Panasas’ solutions are addressing these challenges.
State-of-the-Industry IP Video and HD HDR Viewpoint
Sallak noted that content creators and broadcasters are cautiously moving forward in adopting IP based workflows, but at the moment, are testing and evaluating IP based workflows in parallel with proven traditional non-IP operations to safeguard against a transmission blackout. As a validation point, Fox’s broadcast of the Super Bowl used IP based workflows in parallel with current SDI (‘Secure’ Digital Interface) implementations because of security concerns and noted that CBS continues to broadcast in a non-IP tradition, due mostly out of not-yet finalized standards like how you gen-lock, emulate or replicate genlock using NTP (Network Time Protocol) across multiple nodes on source destination platforms. “Broadcasters and media companies understand that many of the current IP-video components and systems function at the level of SDI implementations, and recognize the commodity value, the scale of choice and the flexibility that gives them redundancy of components for delivery of live on-air content, but are challenged to fully embrace and adopt the technology given the progress in the emergence of technology that is coming from the new generation of delivery channels such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc.,” continued Sallak. “We continue to monitor the progress of SMPTE standards ratification for a common set of protocols for IP interoperability like SMPTE 2110, 2022-6/TR03 and TR04, which we think will be in 2018 and no later than 2019 which will enable the next wave of agility, flexibility and efficiency improvements in our industry. Our goal is to support the metadata semantics necessary to allow the audio/video asset to be read by our platform that conforms to the ATSC-3 and SMPTE standards for the purpose of positioning, reading and staging data – leveraging our platform in parallel high availability and performance to deliver these assets without having to rely on a complex and expensive SAN infrastructure.”
Sallak also noted that many broadcasters, after extensive testing and at HPA’s February forum, have come to the conclusion that transmitting in HD HDR and not 4K is currently a viable option. Packet size stays at HD resolution and HDR adds roughly 10% to the overhead, resulting in a size reduction by a factor of 3 or 4. Moreover, the recent TV and monitor offerings utilizing HDR 10, Dolby Vision and upscaling improvements over the last generation are noteworthy. “This is a fair observation considering the capex and opex expenditures of having to upgrade their workflow and network infrastructure to deliver 4K vs HD HDR content to all the various forms of TV connected devices, not to mention the additional burden placed on broadband service providers and limitations in current WiFi deployments.”
Panasas NAB 2017 Demonstration
Jumping to our last topic of what Panasas demonstrated at this year’s NAB, Sallak explained. “We demonstrated a complete turnkey acquisition-to-post-to-delivery worklflow at this year’s NAB featuring our ActiveStor with DirectFlow for Mac and Linux, along with axle Video’s new axle 2017 media management software suite for small to mid-size companies,” stated Sallak as he commented on the benefits of incorporating ActiveStor and DirectFlow for the demonstration.
“ActiveStor with DirectFlow for Mac is the first and only high-performance combination of scale-out NAS with a parallel data protocol for the Apple® Mac® platform. axle 2017 is an ideal user-friendly media-management solution for post-production teams capable of supporting up to 2MM plus assets. Because axle 2017 employs the Mac Pro as its server platform, it integrates seamlessly with the Panasas storage solution via DirectFlow. The axle software runs on a dedicated Mac in the network, cataloging media assets on ActiveStor via DirectFlow. In addition, axle 2017 presents an uncomplicated browser interface to Macs, PCs and mobile devices and serves the axle Panel for Adobe® Premiere® Pro CC and AVID® Media Composer on Mac and PC.”
The joint demonstration featured our Panasas ActiveStor and DirectFlow in conjunction with the axle 2017 media-management software. This software, which includes axle’s browser interface and ingest clients, quickly finds, catalogs and organizes, shares and optimizes media for subsequent operations. In the demonstration, video assets were first ingested into ActiveStor where axle’s software performs automatic cataloging, proxy generation and tagging. The project file was then moved to post where Adobe Premiere® Pro CC or Avid® Media Composer performed the necessary editing process. From there, the project file moved to Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve® for finishing and grading. The ‘finished’ AVID or Adobe project file was then routed to the DirectFlow for Mac platform. In the delivery phase, the project file moved to an Elemental Server/Codec where users can choose to do live streaming of multiple video files to create mezzanine deliverables and on-demand assets or adaptive bitrate outputs (H.264, H.265 for 2K/4K playback) for delivery to TVs, PCs and TVCDs (TV Connected Devices).
Added Sallak, “Designed as part of the integrated ActiveStor scale-out storage solution, DirectFlow for Mac brings the performance benefits of parallel, distributed I/O over Ethernet to media production facilities using the Apple Mac platform and MacOS® operating system. Teams achieve faster media ingest, process and delivery by being able to effortlessly and simultaneously handle their media of choice, up to 4K UHD resolution. The ability to flexibly scale bandwidth and capacity for larger high dynamic range (HDR) and AR/VR projects helps future proof the system as new media formats and more-complex workloads are introduced, while unifying all Macs under a single global namespace simplifies system management and reduces total cost of ownership. This affords the Apple ecosystem of Apple applications to be able to tap the parallel benefits of DirectFlow over Ethernet for the first time, leaving expensive and complex SAN implementations behind while leveraging Ethernet’s economic benefits and infrastructure simplicity. This up to double the performance of client applications results in reducing project times, increases user productivity, which leads to higher quality outcomes because you have more time to perfect the product you are creating, while also simplifying the cost of getting the job done.”