April 2000 |
The challenge of being a reviewer, reporter, and columnist
on the network storage beat is in identifying and locating
value for administrators and users. The fun part is being
able to write about how valuable optically stored data can
be to the enterprise in one month and demonstrate it by
finding a company that's captured that vision.
That's what's happening with Riverside, California-based
Luminex. Long a player in the pre-press market, Luminex
has taken a bold next step toward creating high value with
stored optical data in its Power 100 DVD-RAM library. The
library itself is an award-winner, but what distinguishes
its latest iteration is Luminex's new Linux-based software
tool HOTfolders, which runs with its Fire Series management
For the most part, the Fire Series software provides
services similar to Windows-based jukebox management
software packages from the likes of Smart Storage, PoiNT,
and Tracer [See Enterprise Storage Made Easy," December
1999 pp. 51-56--Ed.] However, the combination of the
intuitive user interaction in HOTfolders and the Linux
chassis make the DVD Power 100 product a significant
innovation in the market.
Also, Luminex differs somewhat from other vendors in that
it bundles all its hardware and software together rather
than selling the HotFolders or the Fire Series software as
standalone packages. (Note that NSM is just now offering
this approach with its PoiNT software integration. See
review, March 2000, pp. 50--Ed.) They also focus more on
the archiving capabilities of the DVD-RAM library rather
than positioning it primarily as a publishing tool.
Luminex has versions of its software for most flavors of
UNIX, including SGI Irix, Sun Solaris, HP/UX, and IBM AIX.
So Linux is a natural outgrowth of that experience. For
the general market, the interest in Linux is fueled by a
few advantages it provides over a Windows NT solution. For
instance, Linux offers a highly dependable OS for host
services, such as working with a DVD-RAM archiving library.
While Windows NT 4.0 boasts a reliability rating of 97.4
percent, Linux enjoys 99.3 percent average uptime.
Translated into annual unanticipated downtime, the
differential means a typical Linux system is up and running
seven more days per year. This reliability makes a Linux
host about as close as you can get to an ever-operative NAS
system without the attendant limitations of NAS.
Since many sites already use UNIX, adding in a Linux box is
not a stretch for administration. Linux is a low-cost
license, often with unlimited users. (RedHat 6.1 is under
$150 for unlimited users.) This compares with several
thousand dollars for a standard NT server license.
By nature, Linux is a more heterogeneous operating system
than NT. It is equally adept at supporting UNIX, Mac, and
PC clients, while NT clearly favors Windows workstations
only. (In fact, the Windows 2000 Advanced Server requires
that workstations also be Windows 2000 in order to
indirectly assign rights.)
However, there are also some caveats to be considered when
contemplating a switch to Linux: For example, on sites with
networked PCs only, the Linux platform is not going to be
as manageable using the same tools as for Windows NT or
Windows 2000. Also, you will need to have a third-party
package loaded on the Linux box (such as Samba) in order
for Windows and Macintosh clients to access the server. On
the plus side, this type of software is rock solid today
(at least up to Windows 98) and shouldn't present any
difficulty once loaded.
working with HOTfolders
The key to HOTfolders is that the logic is on the server,
not the workstation. This means that the user's
workstation doesn't need to run any kind of proprietary
tool to record DVD or CD. The user interface in HOTfolders
is reduced to its simplest form: a folder on the desktop.
HOTfolders allows network users simply to copy and move
files and folders from within their application or file
manager to a network archiving directory (called a
HOTfolder in Luminex-speak). The HOTfolders software works
with the Fire Series management software to manage
transparently the process of creating and duplicating CDs
or DVD-RAM discs.
The HOTfolders system also knows when the amount of data
the user places in the folder will fill more than one disc.
In that case, it will automatically span multiple discs
with the data in a single image as required.
Running Linux software is quite different from running a
Windows application. Fortunately, as an old hand in the
DOS world, I found the Linux command line syntax not too
difficult to master. For those less familiar with the use
of command-line instructions and tools, the process for
setting up HOTfolders is still fairly straightforward:
- Establish the type of recording trigger you want to use--watermark, immediate, or scheduled recording.
- Establish the four directories you want to use to hold data to be archived, work in progress, completed work, and error logs.
- If you want, you can also set up email notification so one or more users can receive logs, show discs completed, or any errors encountered, as well as the number of blanks remaining in the system.
- Specify the capacity of the media in the jukebox (650MB for CD-R or 2.6GB for DVD-RAM.)
- Finally, mount the volume so client workstations can access it.
HOTfolders does not require premastering software on the
client workstation even for CD-R files. Thus, from the
user perspective, it's even simpler to archive files:
First, you create a folder on the desktop pointing to the
HOTfolder directory on the server. Then you drag-and-drop
files or directories as desired onto the HOTfolder, and
record to CD-R or DVD-RAM at will.
This might not seem very different from mapping a drive to
the DVD-RAM disc, or going through the file manager to
drag-and-drop data to the jukebox. What is different here
is the underlying logic capability at the server. The
automatic spanning of discs and, as we'll mention in a
second, multiple copy capability, go beyond merely
providing drive-letter access to DVD-RAM.
more WORMs, more UDF
Like some other DVD-RAM jukebox offerings, the Luminex
solution does not treat DVD-RAM discs as file-rewritable.
Instead, it treats them as erasable discs. You can erase
data on the DVD-RAM disc, but only as a whole disc, not the
This is primarily due to Luminex' decision to create
ISO9660 formatting on its DVD-RAM discs and not support the
UDF file that is typical. While this seems like a
drawback, it has one brilliant advantage in disaster
recovery: any DVD-RAM-compatible drive can read the ISO9660
formatted disc. So if for some reason there's a
catastrophic failure in the jukebox, the discs can still be
read outside of the system. This is a distinct advantage,
given that discs written with other solutions can only be
read using the same type of jukebox and jukebox management
file system within which they were recorded.
In addition to ISO9660, the software can also include the
Macintosh HFS, Joliet, or Rock Ridge formatting required
for Apple or UNIX clients and supports long filenames as
ease of management
Luminex has also implemented a browser-based management
tool for the Fire Series software. Compared with having to
locate, install, launch, and learn a proprietary tool,
jukebox management via a browser is intuitive and
time-saving. Luminex is a bit different in that you don't
have to specify an IP address to run the tool. Instead,
you specify the server name and the port number you gave to
the Fire Series software when you loaded it.
At that point, the management tool's login page pops up
in the browser. After logging in, users can perform any of the following tasks:
- View and change any of the system preferences.
- Load and remove blank and recorded media from the jukebox. (This would be through the magazines in the DVD Power 100, as it doesn't have a mail slot.)
- Record discs on demand.
- List all the available blank or recorded media in the system.
- View the system log files. One enhancement I'd like to see is a simple charting tool for the log files. While it is possible to extract data from the system and incorporate it into a spreadsheet, this is an awkward endeavor. OTG offered this feature, which allowed administrators quick viewing of peak usage times, title usage, user access, and other statistics. Having those benchmarks makes working with an optical jukebox easier (as well as easier to justify to upper management once it realizes how often archived data may be accessed).
All jukebox management software packages support caching to
speed up performance in accessing optical media. Luminex
goes a step further in letting you cache files by
extension. This is an outgrowth of the needs of the
prepress industry, but should also find significant value
in most online use.
For example, suppose you have a set of discs in your
jukebox containing project files from the last year or so.
Most often, you don't access the database files or the
layout files on those discs. But your art people often
want to locate and reuse those Adobe Illustrator files, or
those Web page icons, or company logos. Those can be .JPG,
.TIFF, or .BMP files.
For most software, you'd just have to cache the contents of
all the discs to access those files. Not with the
enhancements in the Fire Series software. In another
innovation, the software allows you to specify a cache of
only those files with the extension .JPG or .TIFF. In fact,
you can also specify the type of wildcard to use with these
names. So you can extend the granularity of the caching
down to only those .JPG files which start with MASTER*.JPG
or WEB*.JPG files. Now that's a killer application.
one copy or two?
Last, but definitely not least, the Fire Series software
also handles multiple copies in recording data. So not
only can users drag-and-drop archived files into a
HOTfolder, but can then specify that those contents be
copied to two, three, or more discs. You can then mount
one in the jukebox for local access, and subsequently
remove the other copy and store it offsite for disaster
This capability could be extended well beyond simply making
additional copies. If Luminex can incorporate logic right
now to send the data to multiple CD-R or DVD-RAM drives in
the same jukebox, couldn't it in the future be able to send
that data to an internal DVD-RAM drive in the jukebox and
to an external tape drive at the host? That way, both
sides of the enterprise MIS department could be satisfied
with their archive solution.
The DVD Power 100 jukebox itself is a sturdy workhorse unit
that was awarded this magazine's Editor's Choice in the
past [Reviewed as Elms' DVL CD Library, March 1998--Ed.],
and its construction has changed minimally since then. No
need to mess up a good thing, although it would be nice to
see an option for a mailslot in an archiving tool, that
isn't as great a problem as with a system tailored to mount
titles for network access. I continue to laud its compact
design, which incorporates five easily stored magazines.
I have also discussed at length the system's durability.
Its resin construction would seem to place it at a
disadvantage compared to the all-metal chassis of
competitors' systems. But in the three years since I first
looked at the CD/DVD Power 100, I have found no evidence of
the unit being anything less than sturdy.
If there's a drawback to the DVD Power 100, it is in the
current version of the Hitachi DVD-RAM drives. Compared
with the Toshiba RAM drives, for example, the Hitachi is
about one-third the speed in recording. Fortunately, with
write caching active on the host, most of this delay is
masked from the user. However, in a network environment,
delays tend to cascade. Maybe in the next round of drives,
Hitachi will upgrade to a faster recorder.
just the docs, ma'am
Luminex has put in some overtime in creating its manuals.
They offer extensive instructions for all functions of the
hardware and software. I also commend Luminex for
including some "cookbook" sections at the end of each
manual to help novices work with the system. For example,
the Fire Series management software manual includes a
section on how to add blank media to the jukebox, written
The manuals could use more illustrations, however, for
those of us who are visual learners. Simply telling us
what might appear on the screen isn't enough to reassure
all users that they are actually performing the correct
meet the prepress
For those in the prepress market, the Fire Series software
also works with Xinet products (including its WebNative
Internet-enabled image distribution software) and Canto
Cumulus' media assets management product.
To say I like the DVD Power 100 system is an
understatement. The HOTfolders concept is a brilliant
innovation on the superb DVD Power 100 jukebox chassis.
The multiple-copy capability, the automatic spanning of
multiple discs, the drag-and-drop no-premastering
recording, and the filename caching capability are all
wonderful must-have features in the software side. Even
more, the potential of the server-based logic of HOTfolders
may open many other services using the same robust system.
Right now, these services already provide just the kind of
enhancements to network optical storage to move this system
from the first generation of "just data storage" products
to the next generation of corporate intelligence tools.
Combined with the reliable Linux operating system, it is a
killer combination for archiving. Not only is this a
strong contender in the prepress area, but
it could be the champ for data storage in most markets.
System Requirements: Intel host running Red Hat Linux v5 or
v6 (other UNIX flavors also supported)
Don't Forget the Duplicator
So what if you want to do short runs or print labels on
your discs? Luminex also has what it calls its Power Press
CD-R duplicator. Like the Fire Series and CD/DVD Power
100, the Power Press also runs on a Linux host and supports
HOTfolders, which in effect becomes a print queue for the
The first Power Press unit offered by Luminex is the
CDR-Power-Press-4, which includes four 8X CD recorders and
robotics to move discs from spindle to recorder, and then
to an integrated color CD label printer. Although I didn't
have a chance to test this system, I feel that the approach
is exactly what network users want: to drag and drop
content onto a Power Press HOTfolder and have 10, 15, or
more copies made with labels without having to learn a