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StudioDaily’s Top Stories of 2017: Part Two

Every December, we look back at the year that was to figure out which stories generated the most views among StudioDaily’s readers. It always opens an interesting window on what creative professionals were thinking about, and what they were most curious about, all year long. Here are the stories that drew the most traffic and drove the most discussion this year. (If you missed it, take a look at the rest of the top 10 here.) Enjoy this look back at 2017.

Until we kick off our 2018 coverage next week, StudioDaily wishes you and yours a very happy new year!

Ansel Elgort in Baby Driver
Photo: TriStar Pictures

#5: Film Editor Paul Machliss, ACE, on Baby Driver. It’s rare that a filmmaker reinvents the process of planning and pre-production, but director Edgar Wright did just that for Baby Driver,  a project that put an unprecedented emphasis on synchronizing action to a song score. We ran long with this one, allowing editor Paul Machliss to clue us in, in detail, on how Wright planned the film like a DJ mix and then worked together with Machliss to keep the project in perfect sync through production and post.

Sony Venice CineAlta camera system

Sony Venice CineAlta camera system

#4: Sony Announces New 6K Venice Flagship Cinema Camera. Sony’s big announcement of a new CineAlta flagship camera replacing the F55 and F65 at the top of its camera heap was a seismic event for cinematographers who are eager to figure out how Sony-based workflows are evolving in 2018.

Blackmagic Design Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K

#3: Review: Blackmagic Design Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K. Did we mention that a lot of DPs read StudioDaily? Barry Braverman took the Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K for a spin and concluded that, while it’s not perfect, this is a lot of camera for the money. Shooters who were putting in their due diligence before putting down their money drove this review toward the top of our top 10.

John Wick Chapter 2

Keanu Reeves in John Wick Chapter 2
Photo: Lionsgate

#2: John Wick Chapter 2: Burning Rubber, Bullets and Body Counts. No surprise that the John Wick franchise is a favorite among StudioDaily readers, who recognize the care and planning that go into the films’ intensely choreographed action sequences. Our pre-release collection of Wick-related production and post facts and figures was widely read and shared this year.

Kenneth Branagh in Dunkirk
Photo: Warner Bros.

#1: First AC Bob Hall on the Camera and Lensing Challenges of Dunkirk. Our single most widely read, listened-to and watched feature of the year was the episode of Podcasts from the Front Lines in which host Michael Goldman interviewed Christopher Nolan’s first AC, Bob Hall, about the massive degree of ingenuity that went into cameras and gear for capturing the stirring World War II drama Dunkirk largely with extremely heavy Imax 65mm/15-perf cameras. Click through for a summary, then watch the video or download the MP3 to hear the entire conversation — and don’t forget to subscribe to receive notifications as new podcasts become available.


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StudioDaily’s Top Stories of 2017: Part One

Every December, we look back at the year that was to figure out which stories generated the most views among StudioDaily’s readers. It always opens an interesting window on what creative professionals were thinking about, and what they were most curious about, all year long. Here are the stories that drew the most traffic and drove the most discussion this year. Enjoy this look back at 2017.

Still from the film Morgan

Anya Taylor-Joy (left) and Kate Mara in Morgan
Photo: 20th Century Fox

#10: Artificial Intelligence Comes to Hollywood: Is Your Job Safe? Longtime StudioDaily contributor Debra Kaufman looked at the perception and reality around AI techniques in Hollywood, highlighting the fact that creative ingenuity will not easily be replaced by machine learning — and identifying some other job positions that may be in jeopardy.

R.I.P. Adobe SpeedGrade

#9: Adobe SpeedGrade CC Is Dead; Long Live Lumetri Color. It was a step forward or a step back, depending on how you feel about color-grading power tools vs. ease of use. Instead of continuing to develop the venerable SpeedGrade as a standalone application, Adobe had been working to integrate SpeedGrade’s color science inside Premiere Pro. The move wasn’t unexpected, but it grabbed a lot of attention when Adobe made it official this summer.

Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin

Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin in GLOW
Photo: Erica Parise/Netflix

#8: Light Iron Colorist Ian Vertovec on GLOW and Getting a Mid-80s Film Look in HDR. Those in the know have been insisting for years that HDR is the Next Big Thing in display technology — more important even than the leap from 1080p to UHD resolution — and Netflix shows like GLOW make a compelling case in their favor. But HDR approaches can vary widely, and some creatives remain leery of the technology’s effect on their carefully crafted images. Light Iron Supervising Colorist Ian Vertovec stirred discussion by going on the record about applying HDR to enhance GLOW‘s very particular, retro look without going over the top.

DaVinci Resolve 14’s Fairlight page

#7: DaVinci Resolve 14 Is Now an Audio Console, as Blackmagic Adds Fairlight Technology. At NAB, Blackmagic Design proved that it’s still an aggressive industry disruptor by taking care of one more thing Da Vinci Resolve did not previously do — this year, Resolve became an audio console as Blackmagic released a new version that incorporates Fairlight audio technology. It was the single biggest piece of news we reported from the show.

The cast of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
© Marvel Studios 2017

#6: How They Did It: Marvel Studios’ ACES Workflow for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Everyone who’s been wondering about the impact of AMPAS’ ACES on a major feature film was poring over this piece contributed by industry veteran Sarah Priestnall. She detailed some of the ways the production team on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, using cutting-edge color science from Red Digital Cinema from pre-production all the way through VFX and the DI, got the most out of ACES workflow.


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Here Is the Physics Behind the Magic 80% Rule for Media Storage and File Systems

We’ve all heard it — the advice of both storage vendors and solutions providers to never use more than 80% of your storage. Otherwise …

Otherwise what? What terrible disaster can possibly happen if this rule is ignored?

Only a few obedient, safety-oriented users actually follow the instructions. The majority feels bold enough to bravely disregard the warnings. In their minds, they just want to use the entire capacity of the storage space they’ve purchased. 500 TB should be 500 TB and not 400 TB, they figure. Why lose 100TB of precious space for unknown reasons?

I feel the urge to write this article because I’ve seen many users, full of optimism, headed straight into disaster. Stunned to see that so many — even admins! — don’t seem to care, I want to spread the word: media storage is not an empty barrel that can be filled until it spills. You will run into a whole lot of problems trying to fill that barrel, long before it runs over.

So Why Is There an Invisible Limit Assigned?

Mostly because the drive performance guaranteed by the vendor will drop dramatically after the magic limit has been exceeded. Unless you are lucky enough to be using only SSD/NVMe-based storage (in which case you may want to stop reading, as we are going to talk about boring spinning disks), both physical limitations and fragmentation play a big role in disk performance.

Some Physics First

Sector Sizes

As you probably know, there are different sector sizes on hard drives. The old standard 512-byte drive that lived in a 3.5-inch chassis served us well for many years. When the demand for more storage space rose, the manufacturers were challenged to find more efficient ways to store data. One of their ideas was to increase the number of sectors in the same physical space on the platter, logically reducing the size of each sector. The significantly narrower sectors allowed more data to be stored, but the downside was that disk error correction didn’t work as efficiently anymore. With those tiny magnetic particles being squeezed so closely together and the disks spinning faster and faster, more read and write errors occurred over time.

Vendors agreed on one solution in 2009-2010. The plan was to move forward with the Advanced Format, which increased the sector size to 4 KB, which is eight times larger. It made more effective utilization of bytes/sectors and ECC (see picture) while keeping the same physical dimension of the hard disk.

Comparing 512 byte and 4 KB sector drive shows also an increase in throughput per rotation, as the 4 KB block is more efficient. Controllers and operating systems that have to emulate the 512 byte sector are called 512e. This usually has no disadvantage in read performance, while there is a small penalty for writes. As it’s not a plain write, the complete 4 KB sector containing the 512 bytes that are to be overwritten has to be read so that the requested 512 byte block can be modified and the new 4KB sector written to the platter. This could be more accurately described as a read-modify-write procedure, which causes an additional rotation or two.


The second critical factor is the velocity or rotations per minute (RPMs) the disk can provide. Slower drives providing 5400 RPMs can usually be found in laptops or as external drives. The standard 7200 RPM drives are considered consumer or nearline drives. In the enterprise arena, you will find drives with 10K and 15K RPM. Those drives will certainly give you a higher performance per drive, and they are built to run 24/7 for the next few years.


A new disk will always write data to the outer cylinders first and then work its way into the inner tracks. Logically, you can store more sectors on the outer portion of a disk. So it makes sense to perform a speed test in that outer area, where more cylinders can be accessed in one rotation.

A basic performance table comparing all those drives could look like this:

2TB 5400 80MB/s
2TB 7200 100MB/s
2TB 10K 115MB/s
2TB 15K 130MB/s

These numbers are fictitious, but you get the idea.

The Price of Unrelenting Physics

For data security, many set-ups lose roughly 30% space to the RAID levels right off the bat. On top of that, the manufacturers make the impudent demand to leave another 20% of the storage untouched and unused. So we basically pay double the price for what we can actually use. That’s doesn’t seem fair, right?

The inevitable reality, though, is that you start fighting unyielding physics when you reach a certain area on your hard disks. As illustrated before, the outer tracks of a disk have naturally more sectors compared to the inner tracks. Logically, there is more space for data available to be written/read per rotation. That means that the fictitious performance table above doesn’t the deliver the same performance once more than 80-ish % of the disk has been utilized. After that threshold has been breached, a more realistic table will probably look like this:

2TB 5400 40MB/s
2TB 7200 55MB/s
2TB 10K 80MB/s
2TB 15K 85MB/s

Of course, the actual numbers depend heavily on drive size, model and vendor. Comparing two 2 TB SATA 3G drives, one HGST (HUS724040AL) and the other one is a WD (WD2003FYYS) disk:

HGST 135.08 MB/sec 114.99 MB/sec 74.02 MB/sec
WD 101.62 MB/sec 78.70 MB/sec 49.02 MB/sec

What’s with the 80% Boundary?

The manufacturers (mainly in the M&E vertical) advising you not to use more than 80% of the disk space want to make sure that you get the performance they have promised. They know what will happen when your utilization crosses this threshold — performance will decrease dramatically and will miss the promised specs. That’s it. This standard advice is not exactly reprehensible. It is the natural result of our expectation of affordable storage solutions.

Plus, let’s be honest for a second: People get used to high speeds in system performance very quickly. That means that after working with a really fast system and enjoying high speed for just a few weeks, they will expect the same performance forever, no matter what.

The Cheat to Keep High Performance

With so many users ignoring advice to leave 20% of their storage untouched, some manufacturers overcome the issue by tricking you — by pretending to provide you with 100% usage of the storage/file system while in reality only giving you access to the first 80% of a disk. For example, you may purchase 100 TB and actually get 120 TB delivered, but since you only see 100 TB usable space, you won’t face any slowdowns after you’ve reached 80% file system usage.

Feeling cheated? Let it sink in for a second, and compare it with SSDs. It is quite common that you buy a 500 GB SSD that, in reality, has 530 GB or even more under the hood. Yes, the reason for this is to map bad and burnt-out cells but, as a result, the lifecycle of your SSD increases.

So, at the end of the day, this “trick” actually solves your problem, doesn’t it? You just don’t see the slow portion of the disks — that portion that you weren’t supposed to use anyway, right? So be grateful for this little trick, as it saves your butt in terms of productivity and system performance.

$ vs. TB

Many users look at their storage in a “$ per TB” fashion and yes, you will always only get what you paid for. I’m not implying that cheaper hard drives are not worth the money, but let’s face it: with more cost-efficient disks, certain limitations will be hit faster. However, even if you choose enterprise-grade drives with 10K or 15K RPMs, you will face the same issues in the long run. The only difference will be how deep you had to dig into your pockets, because you still want to obey the rule to leave 20% of the disk untouched to keep the performance up.

Bottom Line

No matter who you ask, the 80% rule applies to most of us using spinning disks. Tricks as in creating huge hidden files on a fresh file system only save you until the space is urgently needed and you have to release the blocked space. It doesn’t matter if you have a SAN or a scale-out NAS, the impact is the same and your whopping 8 GB performance clusters potentially go down to a few hundred megabytes, if even that. And please don’t forget to add the fragmentation level of a generic file system to the mix — as you know, that steals additional performance. Even if you are obedient and follow the rules, you can’t avoid and bytes ending up in the inner area of the disk. If you are interested in reading more about the impact of fragmentation, please read my earlier article on that subject.


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VR in 2018: New Products and Market Forecasts

2017 was the first year when VR was a consumer reality. Headsets were available from a variety of vendors and at a variety of price points. Commercial markets for design and manufacturing began to adopt VR as a visualization too. And plenty of consumer VR experiences became available, from games to immersive video experiences, so nobody had an excuse for letting the device gather dust. First-gen VR experiences have wowed some users and disappointed others, but it’s clear that the technology will improve rapidly in terms of both the technical specs and the creative aesthetics. So where do we go from here?

Nowhere to Go But Up … Way Up

Most observers are expecting continued strong growth for VR in the foreseeable future. In its just-released Worldwide Semiannual Augmented and Virtual Reality Spending Guide, IDC projects AR/VR spending to climb by almost 95% in 2018, growing to a worldwide total of $17.8 billion from $9.1 billion in 2017. What’s more, the firm sees that robust annual growth rate holding steady through 2021. The fastest-growing segment of the market? The public sector — essentially infrastructure maintenance and government training — for which ICG expects a five-year compound annual growth rate of 156.7%.

Mind Commerce is a little less optimistic, projecting compound annual growth of just 54.84% from 2018 to 2023. That analyst pegs the single biggest VR market sector as education training, which it says should generate $2.2 billion in revenue by 2023. The company noted that commercial deployment of 5G mobile networks, currently scheduled to begin late next year, will be an important development. Their dramatically accelerated speeds will make high-bandwidth VR delivery available to untethered mobile devices.

Off the Leash

That last bit is key — wireless is about to become a must-have feature, with next-generation VR hardware benefiting from the increased sensation of freedom it provides. Analyst firm Canalys expects more than 1.5 million standalone VR headsets to ship in 2018. That means standalone headsets will be about one in four of the firm’s expected 7.6 million total VR headset shipments.

Oculus Go

Oculus Go

Presumably Sony’s tethered PlayStation VR will remain a dominant player in this space in the new year, having moved nearly 2 million units since the gaming device’s launch late in 2016. But Oculus is working on the $200 Go for launch early next year, and its more technologically advanced Project Santa Cruz is expected to be available as a development kit later in 2018, although no consumer release date has been suggested. And the cordless HTC Vive Focus is set for a January launch in China.

Mixed Reality Matters

As good as VR gets, it still has problems as a social application. If a group of friends are in the same room together, they tend to enjoy being able to see each other, rather than wearing a closed headset. And that makes AR, which allows users to see the real world around them along with digital augmentations, an interesting story in the near term. One of the technology leaders is Apple, which got on board with the ARKit included in iOS 11. With sophisticated AR-capable devices — that is, iPhones — already in the hands of millions of consumers, 2018 could become a crucial year for creators looking to make a splash with AR applications. If those experiences are compelling enough, AR will begin to shift focus away from VR.

And there’s always Microsoft’s HoloLens “mixed-reality” headset, a $3,000 AR device launched in 2015 that has gained a foothold in design and construction, education, and retail markets as well as in crime scene investigation, where Black Marble‘s app tuServe Scene of Crime helps police map a crime scene, including evidence, and archive the 3D space for later review.

Up, Down and All Around

Don’t forget about 360-degree video, which is also a potentially gripping VR experience, especially in stereo 3D. Even the watered-down version of 360 video available in web browsers that allow users to moving the field of view around their mouse can be compelling. Google ran an interesting test last year comparing viewer engagement with 360 videos vs. their traditional counterparts and found that 360-degree advertisements actually had lower comparative “view-through rates.” However, clickthroughs were higher on the 360 version, as were earned action metrics such as views, shares and subscribes, making the 360 video a better investment. It’s not clear if those trends hold up 18 months later, but it’s something to keep in mind.



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AJA Ships Thunderbolt 3-Enabled Io 4K Plus

AJA shipped its first Thunderbolt 3 device, the Io 4K Plus.

First announced at IBC, the Io 4K Plus supports 4K/UHD, HFR, and HDR workflow. Up to 12-bit 4:4:4 IO is supported via 12G-SDI or HDMI 2.0, with HFR support at up to 60p at 4:2:2.

The inclusion of two Thunderbolt 3 ports means up to six devices can be daisy-chained.

Here’s AJA feature highlights list:

  • Portable 4K/UltraHD and HD/SD capture and playback across Thunderbolt 3
  • Backwards compatibility with Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 hosts
  • 12G-SDI and HDMI 2.0 I/O for 4K/UltraHD and 2K/HD/SD with HFR support up to 60p at 4:2:2 (on Thunderbolt 3 hosts)
  • Real time 4K/UltraHD to 2K/HD down-conversion
  • 8-, 10- and 12-bit 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 over 12G-SDI or HDMI 2.0 workflow support (on Thunderbolt 3 hosts)
  • Two Thunderbolt 3 ports for easy daisy-chaining of up to six Thunderbolt devices
  • Audio I/O: 16-channel embedded SDI; 8-channel embedded HDMI; 4-channel analog audio In and 4-channel audio Out via XLR break-out

Also released today is AJA’s Desktop Software v14, which adds required support for the new Io 4K Plus as well as some new features for other Io and Kona products, including better audio integration among timeline audio, application audio, and mic inputs. For example, it is now possible to record voiceovers to a project timeline, as well as to play audio files from multiple sources in project timelines.

Again, the manufacturer’s feature highlights list:

  • New audio controls to adjust the monitoring mix between NLE timeline audio playback, host system audio and voice over / punch-in mic input
  • Ability to audition music or other audio from a web browser/MAM/cloud, while listening to playback from an Adobe Premiere Pro CC or Apple FCP X timeline
  • Record voiceovers to timeline with low latency, full duplex audio punch-in with Io 4K Plus, Io 4K and KONA 4 for Adobe Premiere Pro CC and Avid Media Composer
  • 12G-SDI, 6G-SDI and HDMI 2.0 I/O configuration controls for Io 4K Plus via AJA’s Control Panel and Control Room Software

The Io 4K Plus is shipping now for $2,495; the Desktop Software v14 is a free download from the AJA website.



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Insta360 Pro Bumps Up Picture Quality, Feature Set in v2.0 Firmware

Insta360 released a firmware update to its Insta360 Pro 360-degree camera that it said improves image quality while adding the ability to generate still images at 12K resolution.

The v2.0 firmware, which the company said is still a beta release, is said to extend dynamic range, improve retention of detail, and reduce noise in images captured by the Insta360 Pro. And it enables a new still-frame mode that captures a quick burst of 10 8K photos, then “intelligently merges” them into a higher-resolution image. The image output can be adjusted between 8.2K and 12K, Insta360 said.

The new firmware also enables 4K 360 broadcasting over Facebook Live.

New frame-interpolation algorithms allow users to change the frame rate of footage before export, including upconverting 30fps video to 60fps.

And the new Exposure Curves feature allows users to adjust the camera’s exposure curve before shooting, to get the intended exposure in camera rather than in post-production.

Insta360 zenith optimization

A new switch for “Zenith Optimization” is designed to automatically compensate for the typical aberrations that appear at the very top of a 360-degree image.

To help VR shooters get out of the way of their images, Insta360 is suggesting a couple of new modes for wireless operation — either connect the camera to a 4G hotspot shared by a smartphone, or use the included LAN port to hook up a mobile router, which can offer connectivity in a radius of up to 60 meters, the company said.

Insta360 Stitching Box feature

Finally, Insta360 has introduced a new feature in its Insta360Stitcher software called “Stitching Box,” which allows users to connect a computer to the camera and then offload image-stitching tasks to the camera’s dedication hardware, rather than relying on what may be limited horsepower on the computer running the software.



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Oscar-Winning Production Designer Paul Austerberry on The Shape of Water

Paul Austerberry was excited and terrified simultaneously when he was told in 2015 about Guillermo del Toro’s “then-untitled fish movie.” What eventually became a current awards’ season darling, The Shape of Water, was originally discussed with Austerberry as “Guillermo’s passion project — a small black-and-white film. I was a bit terrified, because color is pretty important as a tool for design, to tell a story.”

Nevertheless, Austerberry forged ahead, and then Fox Searchlight signed up and offered a bigger budget, transforming the project into a color film. Nevertheless, a ream of design challenges lay ahead. The movie is a genre-mixed Cold War-era thriller on the one hand, and a romantic and mysterious fairy tale on another about a Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute cleaning woman who discovers, at the height of the Cold War at the facility where she works the night shift, that the government is experimenting on a reptilian fish-man (Doug Jones) discovered in the remotest part of the Amazon. And then, she falls in love with it, setting in motion an incident with international implications.

In that sense, although there is plenty of intrigue about whether the creature will escape, be killed, or be used to further military ends by either Americans or Russians, the movie nevertheless transforms into a tale about character Elisa’s environment compared to the austere military base where the creature is kept — and to the romantic vision she has of her mysterious lover’s underwater world.

Audio-only version:

Along the way, Austerberry recently told Studio during a conversation for the Podcasts from the Front Lines series, the design-obsessed del Toro “wanted to evoke an older style of filmmaking — a contemporary tale, yet told in a period setting, if that makes sense.”

Elisa’s apartment, where she and her lover would eventually take literal and figurative refuge, became, to Austerberry’s mind, the physical manifestation of the film’s title — shaped, as it were, by water, from the warped wooden floor to aquatic-style wallpaper and paint, and also a cold, blue-and-cyan lighting scheme. Sitting on top of an old-fashioned movie palace, and based on Toronto’s Massey Hall, the building features ornate 1890s architecture, a gigantic arch window shared with a neighboring apartment that was specifically based on a window seen in the 1948 film, The Red Shoes, and many more tiny detailed items designed to enhance this theme.

“We wanted to keep that notion of an aquatic environment throughout the movie in her apartment,” he says. “There the color tones are all sorts of blues and aqua kinds of colors. It sounds corny, but I always refer to her apartment as being literally shaped by water.”

The government lab, by contrast, is presented in a green, industrial form based on Brutalist concrete architecture. The home of antagonist Strickland (Michael Shannon), on the other hand, is presented as a stereotypical, early 1960s dream home. Green represents a cold, uncertain future, while red represents love and romance, and those are just two examples of the strategic manipulation of color woven into the film’s design.

Austerberry explains it all in great detail in this month’s Podcast from the Front Lines.

Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones in <i>The Shape of Water</i>.

Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones in The Shape of Water.
Photo by Kerry Hayes. © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved


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It’s cities eating cities in this unusual YA book franchise getting a feature-film kickstart thanks to a screenplay from co-producers Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens. The director is Christian Rivers, a previs supervisor for Weta Digital who’s been working as a storyboard artist on Peter Jackson films since 1992’s Braindead (aka Dead Alive), on which he doubled as creature and gore effects technician.


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Quantum’s New Scale-Out NAS Storage Scales from 48 TB to Hundreds of PB

Targeting facilities that deal with massive quantities of unstructured data on premise — such as the media required for 4K collaborative editing and VFX work — Quantum announced new Xcellis Scale-Out NAS storage that it said can grow from 48 TB at the entry level to hundreds of petabytes with throughput up to 12 GB/sec per client.

Based on Quantum’s StorNext file system, the new scale-out NAS systems are designed for flexibility in both performance and capacity while maintaining advanced media and metadata management capabilities. Client access can be expanded by adding NAS nodes to the system, and performance and capacity is scaled through the addition of Xcellis shared storage arrays in a variety of SSD, flash and hybrid configurations.

The company said Xcellis Scale-Out NAS storage will be especially cost-effective when combined with object, tape and cloud storage in a multi-tier StorNext system.

Xcellis Scale-out NAS Workflow Storage

Xcellis Scale-out NAS Workflow Storage

“Media professionals have been looking for a solution that combines the performance and simplified scalability of a SAN with the cost efficiency and ease of use of NAS,” said Keith Lissak, Quantum’s senior director of marketing for media and entertainment. “Quantum’s new Xcellis Scale-out NAS platform bridges that gap. By affordably delivering high performance, petabyte-level scalability and advanced capabilities such as integrated AI, Xcellis Scale-out NAS is the ideal solution for migrating to all-IP environments without the need to compromise in any way.”

Quantum said its new Scale-out NAS systems will ship this month in configurations starting at under $100 per raw TB.



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