sviko.com

Do you REALLY need a fast NAS in a digital studio? Finding out using QNAP TVS-951X

I recently discussed with a colleague installation of a CAT-7 copper cable in a flat for a 10 Gigabit network with a grow up potential to 40 GBps. Not easy, I will tell you, the idea - to drag the cable thickness of a penny coin on the skirting boards and through the wall, and it is very bad bends, plus it needs special connectors, which is very uneasy to find… And here listening to my groans, the friend asked: "and why to you all this?"I said, "for the fast connection between NAS and the computer to copy large files at a speed of 400-500 MB/s: video, photos, VMs… To this, a friend objected: “fast NAS is only needed in data centers or offices for hundreds of job places, neither in a compact studio nor at home, the speed of network storage is not important.”

The dispute came to a standstill, and in order to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, it was decided to check everything on their experience. I must say: the words “Fast NAS” I mean a device with a 10-Gigabit network and SSD as a medium or at least cache. This is approximately 300-400 MB/s when copying large files both ways for a single connection point. Today, this solution is already affordable for many small studios working with digital content, as well as home enthusiasts.

We will settle the dispute on the latest QNAP TVS-951X: the ideal candidate for our task, and here are the reasons:

First, it is a hybrid storage with 5 bays for 3.5 “high capacity HDD and 4 bays for high speed 2.5” SATA SSD. Only QNAP, in desktop NAS-s implemented and SSD-caching, and Tiering technology (multi-level storage), migrated from the world of industrial storage systems. That is, we can use the SSD as a layer to speed up access to the HDD, and as a high-speed part of the total data array in the NAS, and to better understand the difference between these methods, we recommend that you read our review QNAP TDS-16489U, where everything is explained and tested.

Secondly, QNAP TVS-951X has one 10-Gigabit Ethernet port, which puts it in The SMB/SOHO category and allows you to feel the sense of installing an SSD. And thirdly, it is a small noiseless desktop NAS, created exactly as a high-speed office device for working with files, and not for them to lay you dead weight.

Dual-core Intel Celeron 3865U with 1.8 GHz and 8 GB of RAM will not allow you to deploy in the field of virtualization (although the memory can be expanded to 32 GB DDR4 SO-DIMM), but for embedded applications of the operating system this is more than enough. Besides, on the processor there is support for transcoding and AES-NI instructions. The huge, low-speed 120mm fan is designed to convert heat into silence, and it does a great job of that. The only thing that disturbs “Zen harmony” is a full-fledged built-in speaker from which voice messages are heard (it is disconnected in the menu: General settings - Equipment - audio Broadcasting). Well, what to do - QNAP is actively promoted in the Asian market, and there such surpluses as HDMI port, speaker and audio output are valued by the audience.

Test bench configuration :

NAS:

  • 3 x HDD Seagate IronWolf 14 TB
  • 3 x SSD Kingston 60 GB
  • 3 x SSD Kingston 1.92 Tb

OS:

  • Windows Server 2016

The first step is to look at the synthetic tests, what speed gives the NAS without using SSD, on three modern extremely interesting hard drives Seagate Ironwolf. It is unlikely that in a small company employees will simultaneously copy to NAS and NAS-and more than 4 huge files, so we will use 4-stream testing, and start with your favorite in the Studio sequential access blocks of 2 MB.

Aggregated results are just mind-blowing: 771 Megabytes per second on three hard drives in write mode! Note that when you install a new QNAP and it updates its firmware , you will see a message that the developers have revised the file system handling (ext4 is still used here) and the machine will run faster than before. By default, NAS enables caching of read and write operations in the device’s RAM, which increases the write speed, but threatens to lose data trapped in the buffer during a sudden power outage.

Let’s see what kind of speed will get each of your designer when you copy a 15 GB movie to your computer.

Why only video? Let’s copy a folder containing 2000 photos with a total capacity of 1.5 GB.

When we talk about copying, we understand that no one in their right mind will buy a combo-device such as QNAP TVS-951X in the office to stand idle: it is a machine that needs to be loaded with simultaneous reading and writing, connect to a dozen workstations, store backups on it or use additional applications, so let’s samulate the workload of 4 computers, each of which is busy with their own business:

  • Batch processing 1500 photos in Adobe Photoshop CC (adding profile to photo) from NAS to NAS
  • Export 4K video with Adobe Premiere on the NAS
  • Render Blender on NAS
  • Batch processing 1500 photos with FastStone Photo Resizer.

Well, the blender is literally “for furniture” in our test, because it is extremely rare to access the disk even when rendering a 3-megabyte car demo model, photoshop stuck somewhere in the 1990-th, and processes photos in one stream, Adobe Premiere loads the disk system a little, but very weakly. Nevertheless, each appeal of this trinity to NAS leads to change of positioning of heads of hard drives, and speed of linear reading falls three times: to 280 Mbyte/s that you will agree, too very much and very well.

If we will add to our test stand a simple multitasking batch photo processor, FastStone Photo Resizer, which is able to process as much as 4 CPU threads, the speed of NAS will not change, and will be the same 250-280 MB/s, and this is the merit of various mechanisms for predicting reading and caching, implemented in QNAP TVS-951X and modern Seagate IronWolf hard drives.

Let’s turn on SSD acceleration

As you remember, QNAP supports two types of SSD acceleration: caching and tiered storage. In both cases, you can mount a single SSD drive for the read/write cache or multiple drives by combining them into an array. In contrast to the competition, NAS you QNAP allow you to use for the cache entries, even a single SSD, but the system some times will warn you that it is unsafe, because in case of failure of the SSD you can lose all the data on the array.

SSD cache:

  • reacts very quickly to the frequency of access to data blocks on the NAS.
  • In the “read+write”, an entry on the NAS is always running through a SSD.
  • You can use the cache only for random access to save its resource, but for modern drives it is already insignificant.

Tiering:

  • first gaining statistics on the frequency of data access, and then on a schedule transfers the hot data to the SSD.
  • The volume of the solid state pool is summed with the volume of the disk pool,
  • once you enable QTier, you will not disable it without deleting the array.
  • There is a function of recording new data directly to the SSD, as well as the ability to manually transfer data to the solid state layer

In general, if you decide to use a large SSD cache, be prepared for the fact that you will need to increase the amount of RAM. If you plan to install all four SSDS in TVS-951X, it makes sense to give two for the read/write cache, combining them into a mirrored RAID 1 array, and two for the QTier array.

Our tests show that SSD caching is a mature technology that is better suited for multimedia tasks than Qtier. Whatever you say, but multilevel storage is the lot of some specialized tasks like hosting virtual machines or databases. On the other hand, no one prevents you from using both technologies at the same time.

SSD Profiling

We are all used to SSD write speed degrading over time when the drive is full, and QNAP decided that for applications that are critical to high write speed, it is possible to sacrifice part of the useful volume of the SSD, calling this technology “SSD profiling”. The meaning of it is to pick up the amount of SSD, in which the recording is made directly to the memory cells, bypassing the cleaning mechanism of the Garbge Collection. By backing up 10-40% of the useful disk volume, you can increase the write speed and, of course, increase the write resource of the drive. In the QNAP interface of TVS-951X, this function is called “extra space allocation in SSD” (SSD Over-Provisioning), but at its core, it works diametrically opposite: it reduces the volume of your drive.

SSD_over_provisioning2

Given that QNAP has found a way to make SSDS even faster, in some All-Flash arrays you can install a cache of read operations from SSD drives using the space redistribution mechanism. Let’s test this feature on two SSDS from Kingston: an old 60-Gigabyte budget and a new 1.92-Terabyte DC500M series for data centers: as they say, from such a volume is not a sin and cut off a little for the sake of high performance.

Testing shows that a good modern SSD does not need any profiling and you can use its entire volume. Well, for a cheap SSD profiling - is the ability to raise the speed of random recording almost 2 times, which is not so bad for the old drive.

Real-World tasks

Our tests showed that neither Blender nor Photoshop, nor Adobe Premiere does not depend on the speed of NAS-and. The only app that really accelerated thanks to the SSD caching is FastStone Photo Resizer.

Our tests show that even the most modern computers and workstations in the tasks of rendering or converting media formats, do not rely on the speed of NAS, and as 10 years ago, are entirely dependent on the performance of GPU/CPU. So you can safely store drafts and work projects directly on the NAS, working with them on the network, without downloading to a local disk. By the way, QNAP TVS-951x also implements backup technologies to the cloud or other remote NAS, so that your data is protected from destruction of the local NAS in case of fire, flood or other disaster.

Summing up the dispute…

Sadly, but my friend was right: I can proudly say that I have VMware Workstation 15 installed on my working computer, whose images of VMs are stored on the iSCSI disk on the NAS. Yes, there is a 10-Gigabit network, and SSD caching give such a boost in speed that the Workstation 15 just flies, and some VMs are loaded as quickly as with a local SATA SSD. Actually for the sake of this, I stretched a thick CAT-7 cable through the skirting board, bought 10 USD RJ45 connectors and configured the routing and size of the network package, but Photoshop did not work faster, and all other programs that are associated with media processing - too. I thought it was the processor, but after running all the same tests on the 64-threads AMD EPYC 7551p, I can’t imagine any chart that would show that I was right.

Recommendations for video studios to choose NAS

However, now in the yard 2019 year, and we must look at the device in modern realities: today TVS-951X is about as much as a year ago cost 4-disk TS-453BT3 (though it has two thunderbolt 3 ports), but today you get for the money is already 9 bays for drives. Just like a year ago, you get a ready ecosystem of applications with which you can configure any backup scheme of your office, and in this regard, the QTS operating system continues to evolve, making your NAS more functional with each update.

Network first

Answering a direct question: do I need a fast NAS for a multimedia Studio, I will say this - only to speed up the operations of transferring mediafiles to and from the NAS, but do not need to run to order the NAS in the maximum configuration. If you already have an old network infrastructure or an old NAS, the first thing to think about when upgrading is the transition to 10-Gigabit networks. Where high speed is needed, namely in recording operations on NAS video from cameras or external SSDs with USB 3.1 interface, you will get a performance comparable to that given by NVME SSD in your computer or laptop. It is not necessary to buy server network cards for this: motherboards with Broadcom and Aquantia chips give themselves speeds of up to 1 Gigabyte per second.

Then - HDD

It is better to put 3 disks of a huge volume to subsequently expand the storage capacity without stopping (fortunately, QNAP is able to do this since the first models) than to fill all the compartments with small disks for 4-6 Terabytes, compensating for their speed with SSD drives. All SOHO/SMB models of QNAP feature extension functions/storage migration, so choose the largest drives that are in the compatibility list with the device.

Last but not least - SSD

Of course, in the field of SSD preparation, QNAP is clearly the leader, offering customers caching, multi-level storage and even disk profiling, but do not rush to buy solid state drives. First, as our tests show, modern SSDS for business users do not need profiling, and you can use all their capacity without dropping the write speed. Secondly, the only area of work with multimedia data, where SSD is a good thing - it is multithreaded processing or some rare software, or a large number of employees.

Roughly speaking, for one workstation connected to QNAP TVS-951x for video or photo editing tasks, an SSD in the NAS is not needed at all. For three or four machines, perhaps, too, but for ten or twenty computers, already - yes. Given that TVS-951X allows you to install SSDs without compromising the HDD and combine them into RAID 5/6, choose at least two drives to implement read/write caching. The effect of SSD cache will be only one: high-speed recording of large files on the NAS and copying from it in the middle of the working day, when the machine serves dozens of designers in your company. Neither Photoshop nor Premiere or Blender or SketchUP, the presence of SSD in your NAS-e will not notice.