Published on Wednesday, 24 December 2014


Hillsong Church Media Unit Reaches Out with DDP Shared SAN

Hillsong Church runs a media unit to record, post-produce and distribute concerts, conferences and other performances to local and international followers. Based in Sydney, Hillsong creates content for television programming, DVDs and CDs to communicate with audiences through branches located across Australia and overseas.

Xsan Drive Failure

The media unit comprises 14 suites using iMacs running Final Cut Pro and Adobe editing and compositing software. They had been storing all of their production material in an Apple Xsan storage system until recently, when the drives began to fail and they realized they needed more storage capacity. Luke Irvine, Hillsong’s television technical manager, said that when the Xsan started to affect their workflow and lose important media, they decided to replace it and upgrade to a bigger system.

Digistor Hillsong

“I wanted a complete, simple to use system, capable of sharing content across multiple suites simultaneously, that we could to add extra workstations to fairly easily. The five television production suites also need to be able to access multi-camera feeds, and the system had to match our budget. I found a few systems on my own and talked to several vendors,” Luke said.

He also consulted a systems integrator, Digistor in Sydney. The company’s senior sales consultant Matt Wood designed a custom system from various products, rather than relying on equipment from a single vendor, and also suggested different options. Luke preferred this approach and in the end they decided on a Dynamic Drive Pool ethernet SAN made by Ardis Technologies.  “Digistor organised an online demonstration to show me what the DDP system could do and how it could work within the existing infrastructure. I wanted to double the existing 40Tb storage, but Matt explained that one of DDP’s products, the ARDIS DDP48D, had a 48 bay chassis with up to 120Tb of usable space, which was even better.”


High Bandwidth over Ethernet

DDP systems share media at file and project level at high bandwidths. Based on the iSCSI interface, it uses standard Ethernet only, without requiring more expensive fibre channel connections. With iSCSI connectors fitted to the workstations, standard Gigabit ethernet ports can be paired together to increase the bandwidth from 100 to 180 MB/s. Optional 10 GbE ports can also be combined.

DDP has its own virtual file system, controlling the metadata that manages access on the ethernet SAN and giving simultaneous read and write access for users. Permissions can be set for the variety of users connecting to the Hillsong network. “We sometimes bring in freelance editors for different projects. If our suites are busy we can hire in extra Macs or the editors can bring in their own laptops,” said Luke. “With the DDP we can manage the list of users, add in extra people and assign read/write permissions allowing them to access the correct folders.

Digistor Hillsong2

“Because it uses standard ethernet protocols, the DDP storage shows up on each desktop as one local drive with normal read and write access. Initially, we set it up as folder volumes to match the Xsan but then changed to simply letting everyone see the one volume. We were able to change over without having to do any formatting, which was very helpful.”

System Handover

A team from Digistor set up the ARDIS DDP48D and put it through benchmark load testing first by simulating its targeted working environment before delivery. To make the changeover, a workstation was configured as a connection between the old Xsan and new DDP storage so that Luke could migrate his data and connect the suites to the new storage, which took two days.

Digistor Hillsong-ddp

Overall, it took approximately two weeks from placing an order to installation. “We left the Xsan running for a month to ensure we could go back to it if we had to, and then shut it down for a month before taking it apart,” Luke said. “The process was straightforward because we already had a large rack for the Xsan, and the DDP unit was installed straight into our main server room.

“Our workflow is a lot faster now, and we can do multi-camera editing, which we couldn't do before because the issues in the Xsan had limited our bandwidth to cuts-only editing, without transitions. The best part is that the new storage system can sit functioning on its own without intervention, and can be expanded in the future without much trouble.”