White Paper: Which Network Is Best for Your Business?

Picking the right option — NAS, SAN, or DLC — can boost broadcaster productivity, profitability, agility

Whether it’s higher demand for sporting content around the world, higher-resolution broadcasts, or tighter production timelines, each of these very real trends in sports media has one direct consequence: underlying storage resources are being tasked to do more than ever. As modern broadcasters are being asked to do more, storage technology is advancing in parallel. It’s critical that organizations architect and configure a storage solution for their unique requirements; there’s no “one size fits all.” An array of parameters are configurable to create the best workflow-optimized foundation for a business, including drive type, storage-array capacity, networking topology, and file-system–performance tuning. Getting the choice right significantly impacts productivity, bottom line, and overall agility.

Networking Options in Architecting a Storage Solution
Networking choice has a fundamental impact on the performance and cost-effectiveness of the storage infrastructure. Two of the most well-known choices are Network-Attached Storage (NAS) and Storage Area Networks (SAN); the former using Ethernet-based protocols, the latter Fibre Channel (FC). A third option is also gaining momentum for its blend of performance and cost: Quantum’s proprietary LAN client, Distributed LAN Client (DLC).

Jason Coari, Quantum, Director, High-Performance Storage Solutions

NAS: Network-Attached Storage is a file-level server connected to a network. It allows retrieval of data from a central location for authorized network users and heterogeneous clients and was designed to enable groups of people to share files over a computer network. NAS typically provides access to files using network file-sharing protocols such as NFS and SMB, and clients access storage resources over IP.

SAN: A Storage Area Network is a dedicated high-speed network that interconnects and provides access to block-level data storage. A SAN organizes storage resources into a high-performance network, enabling each client to access shared storage as if it were a drive directly attached to the server. Typically, a SAN is a separate network where connected devices communicate with SAN disk-drive devices using the SCSI protocol. The network is formed using SAS/SATA fabrics or mapping layers to other protocols: for example, Fibre Channel Protocol (FCP) maps SCSI over Fibre Channel; iSCSI maps SCSI over TCP/IP.

DLC: Created as an advanced data-sharing capability allowing LAN-based access to StorNext volumes, the Distributed LAN Client connects to StorNext volumes through clustered gateway systems. This essentially turns StorNext File System environments into a “clustered NAS”-like solution, or block-over-IP.

Making the Right Choice: A Detailed Comparison
NAS: Ethernet networking has significantly improved in performance so that it’s now suitable for a substantial percentage of common M&E workflows. This, coupled with its ease of management, makes it the most widely deployed storage architecture in the world.

NAS scores highly when cost is a primary consideration. Not only is the cost of the IP infrastructure significantly less than that of Fibre Channel, so is the cost of management. NAS devices are considered appliances with fewer hardware- and software-management components than a storage area network. Storage administrators can load-balance without expensive switches or a secondary layer of software.

Given such a well-balanced architecture, there are no major negatives to a NAS architecture. Performance is an area that NAS lags behind the other two networking options, especially from the perspective of latency compared with SAN-based solutions.

SAN: As the historic performance leader of the trio, SAN was optimized for storage traffic — especially rich-media content — and is designed to manage multiple disk and tape devices as a shared pool with a single point of control.

Fibre Channel offers natively high bandwidth and low latency and is still the most-efficient/fastest protocol for the port-speed value. Given that SAN was built from the ground up as a storage architecture — servers communicate with SAN disk-drive devices using the SCSI protocol — it doesn’t get penalized as much from the file-system layer.

Another major plus for SAN architectures is scalability, as its network architecture enables storage admins to easily scale performance and capacity in multiple configurations.

The main downside of SAN is cost. This isn’t necessarily a factor of the hardware but of the increased cost to manage a SAN. However, there’s low overhead on the individual hosts, and recent upgrades to Gen 6 Fibre Channel switches allow organizations to easily implement NVMeOF storage into existing SAN implementations, with little cost to the infrastructure.

DLC: As the networking option that provides higher performance than NAS, but, within a reduced cost footprint compared with SAN, DLC has several strengths.

DLC offers high performance over traditional copper infrastructures with throughput near or at wire speeds. Quantum’s testing has shown DLC over 40 GbE offers a performance improvement of 128% to NFS on a single connection and nearly 250% faster than SMB.

DLC-attached clients take advantage of the unique-server or distributed-server configurations. When multiple servers are implemented, data I/O is distributed over the servers, creating a balanced workload. In the event of a server failure, the remaining servers pick up that workload again and then distribute it. This provides both flexibility and control.

Internal lab testing has shown that DLC also provides increased resiliency vs. other LAN options, such as NFS or CIFS, and is nearly transparent through path failover.

There are two weaknesses associated with DLC. One, it can’t match the latency characteristics of a SAN-based solution, so, for the most demanding video applications, a SAN is still most suitable. Second, network engineers and storage administrators are still new to the technology, so there’s a learning curve in becoming familiar with deploying and managing the technology. Once familiarized with the technology, the manageability of a DLC is similar to that of a NAS-based solution.

Recommended Use Cases for Sports and Broadcast Workflows
Now that the strengths and weaknesses of each networking option have been evaluated, this paper will align these with common use cases found in sports video and broadcast. With this knowledge, it will be easier to choose the best networking configuration for a particular workflow requirement, maximizing the value of every budget dollar spent.

NAS: NAS is suitable for a wide cross-section of media use cases given its performance and cost.

The move to the new SMPTE ST 2110 standard will enable 4K cameras to connect directly to the shared-storage environment.

Specific use cases that don’t require above-average performance in either throughput or latency include offline editing, transcoding, 2D compositing, and basic VFX. NAS architectures are also suitable as a gateway, either to provide access to large active-archive content repositories typically found in broadcast, or as an ingest from web-native applications via S3. For broadcasters that have large volumes of historical sports-video content, having an easily accessible active archive can be an important component of producing new footage for fan engagement. Another element driving the adoption of NAS in sports-video production is the move to the new SMPTE ST 2110 standard. This enables uncompressed video footage to be delivered to storage directly over an IP-based network, which, in sports video, means that 4K cameras would have the ability to connect directly to the shared-storage environment, simplifying IT infrastructure onsite at events.

SAN: Often the first choice of most video professionals needing a high-performance storage infrastructure to run their editing applications, SAN’s high-bandwidth capability is a great match for large-volume workflows where an absolute “no contention” dependency is required. High bandwidth, often greater than 10 GBps, is also needed for uncompressed high-resolution 4K or 8K formats, which is common in sports-video production. It has the low-latency characteristics needed to run large stream counts of compressed video or large numbers of concurrent streams in shared/collaborative environments. Given the real-time nature of the editing environment in sports video, and the typically common multiple streams of video being ingested, operations based on SAN architecture are cost-effective and logical.

DLC: As the networking option that provides higher performance compared with NAS but still within the same cost structure, DLC has the capability to support the more demanding workflows increasingly common for sports broadcasters. More specifically, it has the distinction of being able to fit into scenarios where a tailored configuration is based on the customer’s infrastructure and access throughput needs that are greater than what NFS or SMB provide.

Excellent use cases for DLC include remastering historical sports footage to 4K content, editing uncompressed high-resolution video, and real-time editing of lower frame rates of uncompressed and multiple-stream compressed video.

The choice between NAS, SAN, and DLC is as important as it is nuanced. StorNext-based storage solutions allow organizations to choose amongst these networking options and can support multiple networking configurations simultaneously. This ability to provide comprehensive and coordinated access into a shared file environment is critical to supporting an organization’s drive to procure the most cost-effective storage solution for their needs.

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This White Paper was originally published in the Fall Edition of the SVG SportsTech Journal. CLICK HERE to read the full publication. 

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