How to get SAN Storage for Video Production (Part Three): Comparison of Vendors

In Part One and Part Two we listed the components of a SAN storage system. In this final part we’ll look at the cost of putting together a DIY SAN, and then compare some of the well-known names that provide SAN solutions that are video-centric.

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Costs of building a SAN

If you were to put together the DIY SAN yourself, how much would it cost? Here’s an incomplete spec sheet, but good enough to give you an indication of the ballpark:

E3 Quad-core Xeon Processor $ 250
16 GB ECC RAM $ 180
Motherboard $ 180
Chassis with Redundant Power Supply $ 700
RAID Controller $ 470
Dual SSDs for OS $ 200
8×4 TB SATA III drives $ 2,800
Battery Backup Module $ 120
HBA for FC $ 1,200
Cables $ 200
Sub-total    $ 6,300

I’ve used Supermicro parts. You could find things for cheaper of course, though I don’t see how it would go below $5,000 for a 32 TB (24 TB available in RAID 6) storage array. I’ve also not included the price of the rack unit (this might weigh more than 60 lbs or 30 kg!), and a cool (air-conditioned) and quiet (the fans will be screaming loud) area. These are costs common to any storage array.

The costing is also excluding any switches or HBAs for the workstations, or proprietary software for running the SAN file system. The server will most likely run Linux. You could make the same thing with an Apple Mac Pro and XSan, but don’t expect the new Mac Pro to be any cheaper than the old ones! Instead of building your own server, you might also invest in a ready-made solution like the HP Proliant DL380p Gen8 system. It will be more expensive than a DIY server but it comes with invaluable 3 years onsite warranty and service. As you can see clearly, the bulk of the expense involves the drives, the RAID controller with BBM and the HBA.

Three things that I haven’t mentioned are:

  • You need a system that can be expanded without changing its internals. E.g., if you want to add a 24-bay storage array to your SAN in a year’s time, you should be able to do that.
  • You need media readers for various media that will be ingested and copied directly into your array. E.g., LTO, SD, CF, SSD, SxS, and so on.
  • You might also need I/O devices that can directly record from different sources, like the ones made by Aja, Blackmagic Design, Matrox, etc.

On top of the server and storage array you have one or two switches and three (as per our test case) HBAs:

Switch x 2 $ 3,400
HBA x 3 $ 3,600
Cables $ 200
Sub-total $ 7,000

Running FC isn’t cheap. There’s also software, and the cost per seat. E.g., metaSAN costs about $995 per computer. That’s about $2,000 for our three workstations and server.

The total? Around $15,000, excluding the time it’ll take you to buy, install, troubleshoot, test and configure everything till it works like clockwork. And don’t forget to add the amount of time you’ll spend troubleshooting problems as it happens from time to time. If you’re the owner of a small and modest post facility, I’d say you might be worth between $200 to $500 an hour. If you spend 10 hours per year on your SAN, you’ve already spent between $2,000 to $5,000 (or whatever your time is worth). 10 hours isn’t much at all. If you’re totally new to this, you’ll be spending weeks on this!

This is why most people who try to build their own SANs are warned not to! This is what I figure as well, it is far better to invest in a turnkey solution with the help of an experienced systems integrator than to build your own SAN (assuming you can get it running, which is itself a tall order). Hope I’ve made my point.

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What if you’re a networking jedi? Could you put together a SAN in a day? Sure. I figure the cost of a dependable DIY SAN should be well below $10,000 for 32 TB Fiber Channel. The skill level would be similar to programming an NLE application from scratch, or designing a Ford Model T from scratch.

The players

When you hunt for SAN storage solutions, you’d be wise to hunt for video production-centric vendors. If they have spent time working with various softwares that are typically found on our workstations, and know the specific requirements of video delivery over a network, their experience and expertise is worth their weight in gold.

Here are some of the major specialized SAN solutions in our industry:

I’m pretty sure there are others, but 11 vendors is a good starting point. Let’s see how they compare.

Comparison of ready-made SAN solutions

A detailed comparison is tough, if not impossible. Every storage solution has variations that change things – there are too many ‘moving parts’ so to speak. In addition, you really can’t tell by the numbers who’s good or bad. You will need the experience and advice of thoroughbred professionals to tell you the real-world pros and cons of each brand or model.

Furthermore, not all vendors ship to every country or region, and it might be difficult to find an integrator experienced with a model or brand not currently ‘in vogue’.

Therefore, all I’m offering is a brief comparison of these brands on the basis of:

  • Price for 32 TB, our test case
  • Number of clients supported
  • Number of bays, drive type and maximum drive size
  • FC or 10 GbE support
  • Physical attributes
  • Supported RAID levels
  • Supported operating systems and file systems
  • Permission levels

Here’s the comparison chart (click to enlarge):
SAN Comparison Chart


*Where price is not available for 32 TB, I’ve added or subtracted the drive price to get to 32 TB. These prices are from ‘here and there’ all over the Internet, and might be totally inaccurate or off-base. Please contact the manufacturer directly for correct prices.
**There might be models within the brand that I’ve missed, and maybe there are better models available for our 32 TB SAN.
***Service levels are different for different countries or regions. Extended or other SLAs might be applicable. Please speak to the vendor directly to know what applies in your case.
^90 licenses included in price. If you want more, you pay more.

Important: The information provided in the above chart might be inaccurate or plain wrong. I had to dig deep into the manufacturers’ websites to get most of these. Those marked ‘n/a’ were not available. Don’t take any buying or installation decisions based on this chart!

What do you see? I can see the following general trends:

  • The market is split between FC and 10 GbE.
  • Some vendors provide switches with their arrays, among other features, and this skews the price. Don’t compare the prices directly.
  • Rack-mounted is the way to go. You will need a server room.
  • By far the most popular RAID levels are 5 and 6.
  • Many vendors have their own file systems. This is the key really. Anybody can buy and put together hardware. Making it work is an entirely different ball game.
  • Most of them offer redundant power supplies.
  • You’re staring at a price much higher than $20,000 all said and done. A mid-level post facility could invest in a SAN from anywhere between $20K to $100K.

I hope this three-part article has helped you understand what goes into designing and deploying a SAN in any facility, no matter how large or small. As we have seen, the starting price for a powerful and dependable SAN is somewhere in the region of $20,000 or more.

What do you think? Have you installed a SAN in your or any facility?

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.

4 replies on “How to get SAN Storage for Video Production (Part Three): Comparison of Vendors”

  1. the comparison of major players is wildly inaccurate, give me a shout if you’d like to get it updated

  2. Could be interesting to have an update on this:

    Difference in NAS and SAN in 2016 and the new player and price tag?

    Interesting article!

  3. Hi. I wrote huuuge reply and …it won’t allow me to post it here. I’ll try to make post on my site and ping back here :(

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