Everybody working in digital art, 3D animation and visual effects needs to handle large data sets. Here's some kit that does the job admirably.
Every 3D artist, visualisation specialist and video pro understands the need for stable and efficient storage and backups. For compositing and working with large videos files, especially as full HD has become the norm and 4K is on the increase, data throughput/bit rate has become an essential component of what makes an efficient setup. Everybody working in digital art, 3D animation and visual effects needs to be able to handle large data sets, continuously and reliably.
Often the need increases as workflows and pipelines develop, with projects using multiple applications simultaneously, even with single users. This raises questions not just about bandwidth but about speed and, critically, reliability and the opportunity for expansion.
Hunting for a suitable solution has often meant that compromises had to be made. You could have the speed but you would miss out on configurability, or maybe an array was a solid reliable option but at the cost of lowered data throughput. This doesn't even cover the intrinsic problems many people have had deciding on the best format for their RAID arrays, or the speed limitations so many of that kind of system suffer from.
The last few years have seen some developments in these areas, with each new iteration of both Firewire and USB helping to ease problem areas of any given pipeline but neither option has really fully countered the problems, only alleviated them slightly.
The advent of the Thunderbolt has meant that hardware developers now have the ability to easily counter all the data storage and transfer problems that once hindered digital artists, with devices such as WD’s My Book VelociRaptor Duo providing everything needed for the modern workflow and all with a single cable.
In the 1990s with the advancement of cheaper digital cameras, we all remember the way that the average consumer was pushed towards mega pixels as a statement of quality, ignoring all the other factors. For those of us in the ‘know’ we never got caught up in the hype. But in reality we still face the same type of misunderstandings over today’s digital storage solutions.
Take Thunderbolt. As an example, as a technology it offers a fantastic data transfer opportunity. However, no two Thunderbolt hard drive solutions offer the same data transfer and it is critical to compare each models capabilities when deciding on how best to add storage solutions to a given set-up.
The first and most obvious benefit is the speed increase over other methods of data throughput. Thunderbolt offers massively increased bit rates, allowing collaborative teams much greater fluidity when working on large scenes. 3D artists working on billion polygon models can backup as they go, or application swap on the fly, without the fear of spinning beach balls or even worse crash scenarios.
This is all wasted opportunity with many drives, though. Having the bit rate means nothing for many systems, as the vast majority of drives spin at about 7000rpm. This is where Western Digital have stepped in with the VelociRaptor drives, which run at, a nearly 40% faster, 10,000rpm. A drive setup like this can easily handle retrieval and playback of HD video files, or handling huge texture scratch files and be backing up your system at the same time.
What's more; the ability to daisy-chain drives lets you add more storage as and when it's needed, with each addition actually increasing the speed of your data throughput, where other systems could slow the bit rates considerably.
For example in recent tests, the increase in large file transfer speed is in the region of 35-60% depending on file size when deploying the second My Book VelociRaptor Duo in the daisy-chain.
This not only makes your working area tidier and your cable management easier but seriously benefits other areas of hardware considerations. Many workstations will have limited numbers of ports, or the ports will be hardwired to the motherboard, reducing the possibility for expansion. Daisy chaining thunderbolt drives delivers the best flexibility, meaning multiple devices can be wired to each other in series, using just a single port at the interface to the computer, so no expansion cards are needed.
If the drives were only available as standalone units, the drives would either need to be enormous or there would need to be more ports to plug smaller capacity units into. There are obvious dangers to both scenarios, with the ultimate threat being workstation redundancy. Other areas of a computer may well still be capable of delivering the performance and efficiency needed by the operator but if storage, data throughput and backups become unusable then the workstation's effective life is considerably shortened.
This has financial implications that are immediate and obvious, without accounting for the lost man hours in transferring data to new machines, or software licensing issues.
Weighing up the limitations of some technologies and comparing the downsides of them to the inherent benefits of the thunderbolt interface as implemented in WD’s My Book VelociRaptor Duo shows, very clearly, how we can not only maximise our working day as artist but how we can increase both technical and financial efficiencies for businesses from single freelancers upwards.
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