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Avid spotlight: All-mirroring, tiering and other neat NEXIS tricks

What level of protection does all-mirrored storage offer? Should you be editing directly from Cloudspaces? How difficult is migrating to NEXIS from older storage? To celebrate the fourth birthday of Avid’s NEXIS storage system, we put these questions and more to our resident Avid Solutions Architect Neal Kemsley, who explains just what you’re missing if you haven’t upgraded your NEXIS recently…

Liz Sunter


For customers who perhaps haven’t updated their storage for the last few years, can you fill us in on some of the progress the NEXIS range has made?

Absolutely. Avid started off having a very basic portfolio with a differentiation in terms of scalability between their NEXIS Pro range, which is intended for more small-scale productions and potentially more price-sensitive workflows, and their NEXIS E range, which is intended to deliver flexibility and scalability to larger-scale production environments and more demanding workflows. Avid very quickly expanded out from that, adding support for larger drive capacities and more engine model variants. If you bought an early NEXIS, they only supported 2TB and 6TB disks, but recently Avid announced support for disk capacities all the way up to 16TB.

While the initial lineup was all spinning disk storage, there's now support for solid state drives (SSDs). The read/write performance of an SSD is six to eight times that of an HDD. So for example, if you’re working in a high demand, high bandwidth situation like a finishing suite, you can now choose between putting in four NEXIS Pro engines, which would deliver performance in the region of 2400Mbps, or one E2 SSD, which offers equivalent speeds at a similar cost. The trade off is that you get less storage capacity with SSDs, but you also have far fewer units to house, cool, power and maintain in order to service demanding higher resolution workflows. This works well for larger systems consisting of mixed storage types, especially since you can now move storage workspaces between storage types.

There is now also a mode of operation for spinning disk-based NEXIS systems called High Performance mode, which is recommended for small groups of edit workstations working on higher resolution finishing workflows. This mode increases the bandwidth capability of the storage by up to 50%. Storage configured this way only supports up to 10 users, so the normal "Scale-Out" configuration is recommended for storage intended for larger groups of users.

At the other end of the speed spectrum, Avid have also introduced a nearline version of the E5 (NEXIS’ most high-density engine), which replaces the E5’s 40GbE connection with a 10GbE one and uses higher capacity HDDs to deliver a lower cost per terabyte storage suitable for the requirements of storing archived or paused projects.


How easy is it to move projects between these different storage tiers?

Putting all of your media files into SSD would be astronomically expensive, so the notion of being able to have workspaces that you can move between different performance tiers is very attractive, and Avid have implemented that now.

Their tiering system is in its infancy, but currently it allows you to incorporate SSD, high performance spinning disk, and nearline storage into a single storage environment under one NEXIS System Director. A workspace – the software-defined area of your NEXIS array where yourwhere your media files (and optionally your Project) are stored – can start out on a standard performance spinning disk tier for the early stages of production, be moved up the tiers to high performance SSD storage for post, and then move back down the tiers to nearline storage so that it’s not taking up space while you wait for it to be signed off. You can move whole projects or simply a selection of your media depending on how you organise and manage the contents of Workspaces. 


Where does Cloudspaces fit into this?

Cloudspaces is a quantity of Azure storage connected to your facility’s NEXIS via a high quality internet connection. Your local NEXIS System Director sees it as a virtual media pack, and can access it in much the same way as it does local on-premise NEXIS storage packs.

Each Cloudspaces instance in closely linked to an on-premise instance of NEXIS, so it’s most often used as a sort of offsite backup. Facilities synchronise their urgent, high priority media out to workspaces in the cloud so that, should their on-premise storage become unavailable, it is retrievable from the cloud. This gives you a much faster time to recovery - if disaster strikes, you can put up a network connection to the Azure storage, rent some NEXIS engines and a System Director, and duplicate your Cloudspaces workspace back down to the ground so you can start editing again.


So Cloudspaces aren’t intended as live production storage?
Yes that's correct - NEXIS Cloudspaces Workspaces present to on-premises editing workstations in much the same way as the Workspaces for the on-premises NEXIS storage, however the storage performance for the Cloudpaces is affected by network latency and will not offer the real time editing performance enjoyed from the on-premises Workspaces. There may be some cases where low requirement workflows, such as browsing proxy version media, may be possible, however Avid do not recommend considering NEXIS Cloudspaces for real time editor workflows


How is this different to the NEXIS workspaces in Edit on Demand?

Edit on Demand is Avid’s cloud-native offering, in which you can spin up Media Composer workstations and NEXIS workspaces in the cloud on demand. This storage very much is designed to replace an on-premise NEXIS in situations where using one isn’t feasible, and effectively provides a collaborative shared storage workflow realised within a cloud connected virtual environment for editors who are geographically dispersed. They simply connect to their virtual machine using a PC over IP client, and the appropriate storage volume is mounted on the back of their machine, and that of anyone with access to the same virtual machines, so isolated editors can share the same NEXIS workspaces and collaborate effectively.


One of the most recent additions to NEXIS’ capabilities is the all-mirror engine. What does that offer users?

First, let’s dig in to how NEXIS protects your data. Traditionally there have been five tiers of protection available, and you’ve been able to assign different levels to each workspace in your NEXIS. These are:

1.    No protection, in which any individual disk issue in the Media Pack could result in lost data in the Workspace (available in all NEXIS models).

2.     One disk protection, in which your NEXIS engine can tolerate the failure of one disk in a media pack without losing any data (available in all NEXIS models).

3.     Two disk protection, in which your NEXIS engine can tolerate the failure of up to two disks in a Media Pack without losing any data (available in all NEXIS models).

4.    One disk and mirroring, in which each data block stored on a one disk protected storage engine is duplicated in its entirety, meaning your system can withstand the loss of a whole engine without losing data (option only available with NEXIS E Series systems with three or more identical engines and the System Director Appliance).

5.    Two disk and mirroring, in which in which each data block stored on a two disk protected storage engine is duplicated in its entirety, meaning your system can withstand the loss of a whole engine without losing data (option only available with NEXIS E Series systems with three or more identical Engines and the System Director Appliance).

Now, those last two options allow for a huge amount of redundancy, but vastly reduce the capacity of your storage environment. Each file you save takes up around 2.5 times its raw size because of the degree of duplication involved, meaning you need vast amounts of storage if you want to mirror engines at any kind of scale. People have been nervous about using mirroring because it increases storage costs so rapidly. Avid’s all-mirror engine is designed to encourage the use of mirroring by providing large arrays of disks at a lower cost, with the caveat that this storage must all be mirrored – you lose the ability to assign different levels of protection to each workspace. You end up with a highly resilient, highly redundant system at a lower cost, but you lose flexibility.


Who would benefit most from this all-mirror option?

It’s really for the world’s broadcasters, news organisations and production facility situations where there’s fast turnaround material that's got to be protected no matter what, and there’s a massive penalty to be paid if a piece of material doesn't make it to air. In a situation where any downtime is completely intolerable, an all-mirror engine offers confidence and security.


NEXIS has evolved rapidly – does that mean it would be unrecognisable to someone who was coming from an older Avid system?

Avid understand that familiarity and confidence in a system are important, especially in high pressure environments like broadcast and post-production. And what NEXIS offers anyone who's still on an older generation of Avid storage is a completely transparent migration path in which NEXIS very cleanly replaces ISIS systems, and anyone who has been trained on ISIS will very quickly become comfortable with the way the NEXIS works. The terminology used in the management layer is almost identical, and anyone trained on ISIS storage would only need minimal training in order to work with a NEXIS.


Do you think the rate of change is slowing now, or is the NEXIS ecosystem still gathering speed?

I think the latter. Avid make their own APIs available to developers, and there’s a thriving community of manufacturers like NL Technology and Marquis who work to bring very workflow-specific functionality to NEXIS and make it even more versatile.


Thinking of updating your Avid storage?

As an Avid Cloud Partner and Avid Elite Partner for Storage, we’re the best people to ask about your options (and with ten Avid Certified Support Representatives on staff, we’re also the best people to ask if something goes wrong).

We can help you expand and configure your NEXIS array, help you deploy an all-mirror solution, set you up with Cloudspaces backup or even help you deploy hosted cloud storage of your own – more on that here.


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