Storage Wars: The Search for Inexpensive Yet Reliable File Storage

Bob_2013By Bob Hayes, Artbeats Director of Technologies

Here at Artbeats, our storage needs are a little different than might be customary for a video production house. We don’t do much long form editing and we don’t need 450MB/s to several editing bays. What we do need is massive, reliable online storage available across a LAN via AFP, NFS, and SMB. Easy enough to do, but it can get very expensive very quickly if you aren’t careful.

The safety and availability of your data and your backup strategy is insurance, pure and simple. And just like house or car insurance, it requires a cost to benefit analysis in order to decide what you need and how much money you should spend. In an industry like finance or health care where the security, availability, and government regulation of the data are all very high, you will probably spend a lot more money up front ensuring the reliability of that data and the speed with which you can restore the data in the event of loss. If you lost critical data, how long can you withstand the non-availability of that data? Nobody wants to deal with lengthy downtimes, especially when it’s revenue-generating data. However, sometimes the relatively small possibility of that catastrophic event occurring outweighs the front-loaded money you must spend in order to get the peace of mind that comes with knowing you can restore your data in a matter of minutes or hours (at worst), versus days or even weeks. This is the kind of analysis that IT managers make all the time, and we place bets on the outcome. Exactly like insurance company actuaries do.


At Artbeats, we recently had a situation where we simply needed more server space for data that was important, but not absolutely mission-critical. Essentially, if this data disappeared one day, it was already duplicated elsewhere and we would be able to recover back to where we were within a matter of days. Perhaps not the most optimal situation, but one where we decided we could spend less money than we might spend in other situations. In the storage arena, there are high-end RAIDs with lots of great features and mind boggling prices and there are lower end solutions that may or may not do the trick, and then there’s a good selection in the middle—massive storage for a relatively moderate (but still fairly expensive) price. We decided on a lower end solution, one of the “lowest” that we’ve ever done. I’m not going to mention specific manufacturers for a variety of reasons, but a little Googling on your part and you should be able to figure out what brands I’m talking about.

We thought we knew right away what we wanted, but after some research we changed our minds on our initial choice of vendor. We ended up with a box that is quite different from anything we’ve used in the past. It’s a self-contained network attached storage (NAS) device that also supports iSCSI, complete with built in server daemons for a variety of purposes, most of which we’ll never use. (We just wanted file servers.) This box cost us about $1000. I had some misgivings because it’s not rack mountable and has very limited redundant uptime capabilities, not to mention it’s made with a lot more thin plastic than I would usually like. But I have to say, I’m impressed with what we got for the price. It has eight SATA drive bays that support drives up to 4TB, a very smart RAID system, and it’s expandable to eighteen bays. Plus, it’s quiet—scary quiet. If it wasn’t for all the blinkenlites, you wouldn’t even know it was up and running by just looking at it. Network throughput is sufficient for simultaneous After Effects renders from four or five machines with no noticeable issues due to network bottlenecks. That’s all we wanted of it.

We populated ours with eight 3TB drives, and we decided on some of the cheapest drives out there ($140 each). So, for about $2200, we got 18.75TB of usable storage space in a hybrid RAID-5 setup that will withstand the failure of one hard drive at a time. We have a standby cold spare on hand, and that’s enough insurance in this case.  It took us about an hour to completely configure it, plus an overnight RAID build. I haven’t done anything to it or even looked at it since then, and it’s been six months. Go ahead and price out 18TB of storage from an enterprise level vendor (usually with names of two or three initials) and you’ll see why we went with this particular item. For this job, it was a great way to go.


Storm Chasing from the Air

By Phil Bates, Artbeats President & Founder

Weather is an important subject for Artbeats, especially storms and severe weather, which are popular subjects with our customers. We’re always looking for innovative ways to capture the drama of large supercells, and even a tornado if we can find one. Our latest effort is a relatively new idea we call Aerial Chasing. Storm chasing is typically done in a vehicle firmly planted on the ground in relative safety, but has limitations such as bad roads and obstacles like trees, hills and buildings that make capturing good images so challenging. Taking the concept of chasing storms up into the air where those limitations don’t exist has rarely been done (and never with a high end film camera) and is a dream for storm chasers, yet poses its own set of challenges and risks. Dangerous hail, wind shear and extreme turbulence all require serious consideration. The FAA recommends that small planes stay 20 miles away from thunderstorms, and flying into a storm can easily destroy a plane in minutes (imagine no visibility, vertical winds and tennis ball sized hail), so we approached this idea with extreme caution.

The GPS display shows our position relative to the storm.

Last December, storm chaser and weather expert, Skip Talbot approached me with an idea to aerial-chase storms this May, the height of tornado season. His pilot, Caleb Elliott, is an extremely experienced commercial pilot, flight instructor and storm chaser.  As the time approached, we worked up a plan to meet in Kansas City, setting aside five days for chasing with a rented Cessna 182 to fly close to and film tornado-warned supercellular thunderstorms.

Caleb Elliott, Phil Bates and Skip Talbot in front of the Cessna 182.

Caleb Elliot preparing the flight plan.

Skip Talbot using radar to forecast in real time (now-casting).

My biggest concern was not the safety issues, but how to shoot stable images from a small plane in the turbulence near a storm. Acquiring a gyrostabilized system was not an option in this case, so after taking several test flights and trying various hand-held and mounting configurations, I settled on using a monopod wedged between the seat and the door, with foam rubber cushioning all of the contact points. The RED Epic camera was small and light enough for this setup. Our tests showed that a CANON 24-105 Image Stabilized lens gave the best focal range for this application. I knew that rolling shutter and vibration could still be a problem so I shot 5K format at 96fps, then stabilized in post using After Effects, with the extra frames to blend/hide the vibrations. Not a perfect solution, but good enough for this shoot which we considered a big experiment.

Flying towards typical storms in clear air, the plane would bounce with turbulence from thermals coming off the sun-heated fields beneath us. Fortunately, the anvil of a thunderstorm casts a large shadow, especially when you are on the east side of the storm in late afternoon. The shadow cooled the ground and gave us steady air with no thermals.  This is not to say that there was no wind; the updraft of a supercell thunderstorm creates a hefty 60mph wind that was constantly pulling us toward the storm’s core. Fortunately, our plane could fly twice that fast, so anytime we wanted, we could escape fairly easily.  We found that if we stayed under the anvil within 2-5 miles southeast of the storm’s core, the air remained steady and was free of rain and the destructive hail we were trying to avoid.  Skip was in the back seat monitoring the storm with radar and feeding the pilot with distances to hail cores and updrafts. If we found turbulent wind shear, we simply turned back to the smoother air we had just come from. This method kept us safe, yet we were close enough to see the violent storm structure looming close and large out our windows.

Despite the relatively smooth air, shooting the storm through an open window of a Cessna was a fairly chaotic experience. The lens protruded outside into the 100mph wind, which was so strong it was constantly trying to twist the focal length ring on the lens. I had to use gaff tape to hold it and the focus ring in place, but even then, the tape would buckle under the extreme forces. The vibrations would loosen the quick-release plate which required me to pull the camera off and tighten every minute or so. In order to keep the strut and wing out of the shot, I had the pilot carefully position the direction of the plane and lift the wing.

During the five days, we chased three different tornado-warned supercells in North Dakota and Kansas, and got some amazing footage. Although we didn’t get the coveted tornado shot, we did shoot some interesting structures including this mile-wide rotating dust storm:

We had to abandon the above storm for fuel after two hours of shooting. Wouldn’t you know, the storm produced a tornado 15 minutes after we left!

All in all it was an exciting, fun, albeit tumultuous shoot. In the months to come Artbeats will be producing a selection of this footage and making it available on our website.

Free After Effects Video Tutorial by Eran Stern “Sunset Model”

By Eran Stern,

Eran creates a teaser for an upcoming reality show using footage from the Rubberball, Glamour Key and Aqua Geo Graphic libraries on He has incorporated plug ins from Mettle, GenArts and Red Giant Software, with some tricks in After Effects, to create this fun, fresh piece.

Watch the complete Sunset Model Video Tutorial and download the project files!

Car on Fire: Filming the unexpected

Recently the Artbeats crew was filming establishments on the Las Vegas Strip when something totally unexpected happened. The result was some incredible footage that isn’t like anything we have in our library.

When planning a shoot, you always have certain expectations of the footage you’d like to capture. Just as in our daily lives, you can’t always control your environment and what’s happening around you, especially when shooting “on location”. Sometimes things come up that, while unfortunate to some, become an amazing opportunity for filming. As a shooter, you must be willing to expect the unexpected, and adapt to new situations. You just never know what’s around the next bend!

Please note that no one was injured in this incident, and the driver was able to safely exit the vehicle. Artbeats sends our deepest condolences to the owner of the vehicle for their loss.

This footage will be for sale on in the coming months.