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Mac Networking Shared Storage FAQ

Q: We’re looking at shared storage…what do you have?

A: Small Tree has the easiest, most cost-effectiveGraniteSTORshared storage solutions for your Mac network. OurGraniteSTORshared storage solutions revolve around Apple Xserve or Mac Pro systems as servers for your shared data. They provide all of the security, configuration, and performance you need without the expense and complexity of clustered file system software like Apple’s Xsan.

With ourGraniteSTORshared storage solution, there’s no need for fibre channel add-on cards in each of your desktops, or $1,000 per client software licenses. Plus you don't have to worry about learning another set of network switch hardware. Small Tree solutions use what you already know: ethernet.

Q: Why do I want (need) a managed switch like the Edge-Core instead of my Netgear switch?

A: Managed switches like the Edge-Core are generally meant for heavier loads and more activity than web managed or unmanaged switches. As such, they have more memory, faster network processors, and important features like Spanning Tree Protocol (IEEE 802.1d), and Link Aggregation (IEEE 802.3ad) support.

A typical low end switch is fine if your systems are primarily used to access the internet or just copy the occasional file between co-workers. However, if you need to edit video or do anything that points back to a server or other high speed "choke point", you need the ability to trunk bandwidth and deal with short bursts of congestion, which is what managed switches are good for.

Q: Does editing video over AFP (Apple Filing Protocol) work? Can I edit Final Cut files over the network?

A: Yes, you most certainly can use AFP to edit Final Cut files over the network! You just need to make sure you have enough bandwidth between your storage server and your clients and for all points in between. When trying to use shared storage to edit Final Cut video over a network, many of our customers buy large RAID storage servers and upgrade to gigabit ethernet (by purchasing the cheapest gigabit switch they can find), only to discover that editing video stored on the shared server doesn’t work. This is usually because the network they’ve built doesn’t match the bandwidth of the shared storage server.

When you purchase a network configuration from Small Tree, or one of our resellers, we will ensure you have the right resources and the right bandwidth to get the job done all the way from the server to the clients.

Q: Can you trunk with link aggregation from the server to the client and go twice as fast?

A: No. This is a common misconception. Many inexperienced Apple resellers will make this mistake, which is why you want to talk to a networking expert before installing any serious infrastructure.

Link aggregation works by load-balancing “sockets” (referred to in the IEEE 802.3ad spec as “conversations”) over all of the available ports. On a server, this works wonderfully since a server might have 10 clients connecting. Each of these 10 sockets can be routed over a different port, providing an evenly-loaded network with a higher aggregate bandwidth.

Clients generally connect to one server. Hence, if you run link aggregation on a client, this one socket (conversation) will run over one of the ports. You might see some traffic on the second port if you’re also checking e-mail or viewing web pages, but you won’t see 2X the bandwidth to the server. Some people implement link aggregation on clients, but it’s primarily for redundancy (fail-over capability).

Q: Is the Small Tree solution as fast as fibre channel?

A: Customers are quite often confused by “how fast” something can go. My car can go 120 miles per hour, but I don’t drive it that fast. There are other factors that prevent that. What I really care about is whether my car goes fast enough!

Most video editing shops are using one of the DV formats running at 3-7MBytes/sec. In this scenario, a server running gigabit ethernet is more than adequate. A direct-attached fibre channel device can certainly go faster, but installing that device on an FC network, installing Apple Xsan, FC cards and an FC switch would be akin to purchasing a Formula 1 car so I can drive to work. It might be exciting, but it’s certainly more than I need to spend to get the job done.

Using ethernet jumbo frames, a good switch, and adequate storage, a client system should be able to sustain 70MBytes/sec to and from the server. This is comparable to a low end Apple Xsan setup, and well under half the cost!

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