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Luminex' DVD Power 100 Library & HOTfolders for Linux

by David Doering

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 software.

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.

why linux?

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 individual file.

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 well.

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).

filename caching

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 recovery.

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.

hardware sidelights

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 out step-by-step.

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 action.

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 disc content.

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 proprietary package.

Luminex' DVD Power 100 Library & HOTfolders for Linux

synopsis: HOTfolders is a brilliant innovation on Luminex' already-superb DVD Power 100 jukebox chassis. The multiple-copy capability, automatic spanning of multiple discs, drag-and-drop no-premastering recording, and filename caching capability are all wonderful features in the software side. 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. Not only is this a strong contender in the prepress area, but it could be the champ for data storage in most markets.

price: $29,995 - includes 100-disc jukebox with four Hitachi DVD-RAM drives; Fire Series management software; HOTfolders v2.1 user interface software; 100 DVD-RAM discs; one-year hardware, plus software maintenance warranty.

Luminex Software, Inc.
6840 Indiana Avenue, Suite 130
Riverside, CA 92506
888/LUMINEX, 909/781-4100;
Fax 909/781-4105
info@luminex.com
http://www.luminex.com

NETWORKOBSERVER columnist David Doering (dave@techvoice.com), an EMedia Magazine contributing editor, is also senior analyst with TechVoice Inc., an Orem, Utah-based consultancy.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc. com.


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