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In the Line of Fire: FireFly Launches "V-Line" Video Storage
Posted Mar 1, 2003 Print Version     Page 1of 1

Unveiled at COMDEX 2002, the FireFly DM Digital Virtual Library was billed by its vendor (ASACA Corporation) as "the world's first fully electronic, non-robotic, truly random-access library." The company also claimed that this hard disk-based system is so fast and inexpensive that it will make tape-based nearline storage obsolete.

Among the organizations who will most benefit from the FireFly storage solution are video broadcasting and post-production facilities, according to Chuck Larabie, ASACA's vice president of sales and marketing. Larabie says the video field is one in which he sees "a painful need for efficient and cost-effective high-speed storage," and thus he considers it his company's "number one target market."

Larabie thinks the FireFly can save broadcasters money. "There's no reason to keep a video stream online if you only need it once a day," he says. He even foresees FireFly systems replacing the tape cartridges now commonly used for the insertion of commercial spots into daily TV broadcasts. Post-production will also be an important market for FireFly, especially as the increasing popularity of HDTV creates demand for higher-capacity storage in editing suites throughout the world. FireFly will also appeal to the VOD and PPV markets and to the elearning market, says Larabie.

Part of the innovation behind FireFly is in the incorporation of as many as 192 Serial ATA drives (200GB or 250GB) within a single ASACA library. This combination will provide network environments with as many as 48 concurrent streams of data at speeds that will shatter previous nearline storage expectations. Individual libraries can be configured with Serial ATA drives capable of delivering 400+MB/sec of sustained performance to and from the library. FireFly users can cluster as many as 10 cabinets together for up to 480TB of data storage. The FireFly DM is expected to have a starting price of $100,000.

Calling the FireFly product "revolutionary," ASACA has also coined a buzzword for the new type of storage it enables: FireFly enables "V-Line" or "Virtually Online" storage, according to ASACA.

This new storage level provides high-speed transmission of data on demand, similar to an online RAID, but remains in a quiescent state until needed. "We fully power-manage the devices, actually spin the discs down," Larabie explains. "When video is needed, we can deliver on demand by spinning the discs back up."

Larabie says the FireFly takes only 8 seconds to spin up or "cold start" a disc. In comparison, optical disc (CD and DVD) jukeboxes—today's dominant nearline storage technology—usually take about 30 seconds to find the disc and mount it before the video comes online.

The FireFly's 8-second spin-up speed is so fast that users get access to video virtually as fast as they would if their video was being stored online. Hence, the aforementioned buzzword for such access—"Virtually Online" or "V-Line" storage.

"There are the traditional three planes on which data reside: online, nearline, and offline," explains Larabie. "Well, we've created a fourth plane of storage we call V-Line. We've built a beast that is virtually as fast as online, but with a cost as low as nearline."

As a result, the FireFly is an electronic library based on hard disk drives, offering superior performance and tremendous capacities, without the price tag of traditional online storage, according to Larabie.

"The FireFly is rooted in stable, industry-standard, cross platform-compliant hard disks—the same basic technology every computer user has relied on for nearly three decades," says Larabie. "By incorporating Serial ATA hard drives into a virtual library, the users' long-term storage investment is preserved, enabling organizations to make storage investments today in technologies capable of supporting their requirements decades into the future."

SATA drives are "key" to the FireFly solution, according Larabie. "SATA made this solution possible," he says. "Any V-Line system using older technology such as SCSI would be too complex and too expensive. We couldn't have built a system at a price point that anyone would be willing to pay."

Besides unveiling FireFly at COMDEX, ASACA also used the show to announce a business deal which will make Maxtor Corporation ASACA's exclusive provider of SATA drives. "The move from Parallel ATA to Serial ATA in low I/O data center environments is inevitable, and Maxtor's serial offering allows us to be at the forefront," said Larabie, during the COMDEX announcement. "Maxtor's Serial ATA hard drives push beyond the 133 Megabyte per second transfer rates of Parallel ATA and allow our new FireFly series to meet the bandwidth requirements of today's data centers. Maxtor's Serial ATA MaXLine drives are a perfect choice as they offer the highest capacity on the market, and offer an interface footprint that is scalable for decades to come."

Maxtor's MaXLine family of ATA drives—including the 250GB, 7200RPM MaXLine Plus II and the 300GB, 5400RPM MaXLine II—are specifically designed and tested for nearline, network-attached storage and other similar secondary storage environments. MaXLine drives offer an attractive cost-per-GB and faster data-access times and transfer rates than traditional offline storage media currently used to store and recall nearline data. Maxtor high-speed Serial ATA drives deliver a new generation of storage solutions that meet bandwidth require- ments from up to 1.5Gbps today to 6.0Gbps and beyond. MaXLine SATA hard drives are hot swappable and help simplify system design with cables that are thinner, have smaller connectors, and are simpler to route and install.

"ASACA's new FireFly is a huge data depository for a wide variety of nearline data," said Mike Dooley, senior director of product marketing for Maxtor during the COMDEX announcement. "With new SATA technology, the FireFly can quickly store and recall fixed content such as a digital video, which demands great bandwidth and performance. And with up to 192 drive slots housing our highest-capacity drives, there should be voluminous capacity to spare."

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