Broken Promise

March 27, 2014  •  21 Comments

warning: this is not a review of the Promise Pegasus 2 R6: I never got that far.

I'm just a photographer, OK? I want to shoot, process, print and store and I want to do it quickly and reliably.

Trouble is, I'm addicted to high MP cameras and large files and so, increasingly, are an awful lot of the people I know. We need a lot of storage  - and if Lightroom is not to be slowed down by treacle-speed disk access, that means fast drives. 

In the past, I've merely added more internal SATA drives to my old-style Mac Pros and then done a bit of backup here and there. So as you can see, I'm no Lloyd Chambers - I have no really thoroughly structured, analysed approach to storage and backup. To me, it is the washing up after a meal - necessary but of no interest in itself.

Last month my hand was forced. I purchased a "late 2103 Mac Pro" and, because it was in stock and therefore allowed me to skip the several week custom build queue, I took the one with the small internal SSD, planning to use it merely for system files and applications. 

All was good until I noticed how slooow Lightroom was compared to my Macbook Pro. I quickly realised that my external Thunderbolt hard drive was the source of the problem and I set about looking for alternatives.

First, analyse the requirements:

  • I wanted to be able to have ALL my images in ONE LR catalog, instantly accessible. I test a lot of gear and that means a lot of comparisons - so not only do I want to be able to find any image very quickly and without switching catalogs, I also want to be able to do both A:B "Compare" and to switch from one full screen image to another instantly.
  • I needed at least 3TB of external storage but realistically it has to be able to grow to 5TB fairly soon, maybe more.
  • I needed that storage to be very, very reliable and very fast
  • I needed a backup solution

External SSDs were out of the question: too small or, if the right size, astonishingly expensive. So I had to take the plunge and learn more about RAID. Ouch.

The new MacPro has Thunderbolt 2 and so I blundered into thinking that I therefore needed a Thunderbolt 2 drive when in fact I probably don't. My bad but like I said, I'm just a photographer. Off I went to the online Apple Store and discovered that there are very few Thunderbolt 2 options yet available. So I ordered what seemed sensible - the Promise Pegasus2 R6 12 TB. It promised extreme speed and the usual benefits of RAID.

Let me explain, for those who aren't RAID savvy, what that means: most external hard drives spin at about 7200 rpm - and that means, even over Thunderbolt, a data transfer speed for a single drive of 100MB/s or thereabouts, which seems not fast enough for what I need. By comparison my Macbook Pro's SSD speed tests are read speeds of between 300 and 400MB/s and the one in my Mac Pro goes far over 1,000 MB/s.

RAID allows you to create a 'logical drive' by combining several physical drives into one virtual drive. It then splits the data between several physical disks, all spinning at once, by a process known as 'striping'. So when you access a file, it starts spinning off all your disks a once, effectively giving you speeds that can (over the right connection such as Thunderbolt) pretty much match the speeds of the internal SSD. Cool. It's like having six two litre water pistols instead of one twelve litre water pistol. RAID 0 does just this: it turns, in the case of this Pegasus drive, six 2TB drives into one 12TB drive with astonishing speed.

But RAID 0 has a major problem: if just one of your physical drives fail, then all your data is gone. So there are options to help you avoid this. 

RAID 1 mirrors data from one physical drive to another in a two disk array. It slows things down but it backs things up.

A good compromise is RAID 5, which does clever stuff across all the drives so that file data is striped across the drives, but so is parity data. I am no expert (as you can tell) but this level gives you very fast read speeds and a degree of protection: you need at least three physical drives but if one of them fails, you can 'rebuild' your data using a spare. SO you get speed AND redundancy. As long as just one physical disk fails.

The Pegasus ships preconfigured with RAID 5 and that's how I intended to use it at first. I planned to consider a later migration to RAID 10, which may under some circumstances allow two disks to fail while keeping your data recoverable, albeit at the cost of halving the capacity of the array.

So I unpacked The Beast and read the Quick Start guide. No fun yet: when you plug it in, you have to allow it to run a Synchronization routine, which takes many hours.

That done, I fiddled with some setting in the superficially wonderful Promise GUI (turning on the event alarm buzzer, for example) dragged my main LR catalog folder onto the new drive and went to bed, allowing the files to copy over while I dreamed of mythical white horses. Next morning, Bingo! The transfer was complete and so I gathered a bunch of other files and folders from another drive and dropped them all onto the Pegasus.

Buzz. Buzz buzz buzz. Red lights flashing all over the drive. Panic. The thing has frozen and worse, when I look at the GUI I am told that for two of the six physical drives, "Physical Disk is marked as DEAD due to forced offline state". Wow. RAID 5 allows one disk to die without risking your data, not two. 

But hang on, this thing is less than 24 hours out of the box. I have only once in my life had a drive failure and now it looks like there are two of them in a brand new product.

Now I really don't want to bore you with what happened next but a précis might be useful.

I discovered that Promise support isn't as good as I might have hoped (understatement).  Their online Knowledge Base seems very thin and so I opened a support case and then waited. In a mild panic I googled the problem and found a Terminal Command that could force both the drives back online, which worked but which I was later told by support I shouldn't have done because it might have risked my data. Never mind, I still had my original drive, the one from which I had copied all the files in the first place, and a backup. 

Nonetheless I was curious to proceed, to see if the fault had lost me any data (I never found out) and to see what had caused the problem (I never found out) and to see if I needed any physical replacements (after two or three days I discovered that I did, drive 2 needed replacement and I was told to raise an RMA).

Aside from the often extremely slow responses from support, the level of English used by some of the tech staff seemed to me to not be up to the job. Often questions I asked were not answered in the response, and at what was up to 24 hours per ping that became very irritating. The frequent use of opaque acronyms drove me bonkers too.

"Below is the Promise KB link to attach files in CRM"

"if the drive that your forcing online contains any errors that DDF information might corrupt the whole array"

Mind you, it's not just the support staff that love acronym soup: the case-raising process throws it at you with gusto too. I had no idea what a "TLA number was" - but I do now.

But the support staff do love to use tech speak, to show how clever they are, never mind how confusing it might be:

Them: "open disk utility from finder in your mac, select your disk and run a check filesystem"

Me: "I don't see an option for that. I did a Verify and then a repair with this result..."

Them: "Sorry, for the delay in answer yes verify and repair disk is what I meant"

And so on... it's almost farcical reading some of it back now (I was not always completely polite..) especially when a bit of internet research showed me the amusing stories people have of their Pegasus drives issues, including needing to rebuild the RAID within the first few days of ownership and arrays which unmount spontaneously when an iPhone receives a call near the cable...

So I packaged the whole thing up and initiated a return to the Apple Store. Phew?

_DSC7986-WEB_DSC7986-WEB

Pegasus was a horse, right? And horses have tails. This one had a sting: before repacking for shipping I decided to boot the drive up and initialise it so that none of my data remained on it. It turned it on and it gave me a fan warning. I tried again several times and eventually got rid of this so I tried a Mac Disk Utilities secure erase, which failed. In fact at one stage the buzzer sounded and the red lights went on again, forcing another reboot. Finally I succeeded, by using the Promise GUI, to securely erase the drive.

I have rarely if ever had a more annoying tech experience: the product failed quickly and the documentation and support are unsatisfactory, to me at least. The high data transfer speeds may peak at well over 1,000 KB/s but the average, including downtime, was downright tardy.

I have replaced the unit with two 8TB G-tech units, each with Thunderbolt One and two drives in a RAID 0 array. One will be the main drive, the other  will be cloned and an old drive will do Time Machine backups for the safe while yet another will be kept offsite. And sure, the maximum data rate of the G-Tech will be around a third of the Pegasus but judging by my previous experience with the brand, it will keep it up for far more than the first 24 hours. It's a tortoise and hare thing, and the tortoise will actually be pretty quick.

Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist, saw the Pegasus myth as (to partly quote Wickipedia) a profound symbolic esoteric in relation to the spiritual energy that allows access to the realm of the gods on Mount Olympus.

Sod accessing the Gods of Mount Olympus: I'm just a photographer and all I wanted to do was access my data.

Maybe if you're a videographer working with 4K or multiple streams, and you have bullet proof live backup strategies, this astonishingly fast unit is the answer to your prayers. But for me? I don't think so.  I will miss the extreme speed but actually, I think I need a Volvo and not a racehorse.

 

This site is not for profit but I do support the charity Photovoice.  I wrote about it in depth a while back and that article is here. If you have found this article useful and are feeling generous, I would hugely appreciate a donation to the charity, even just a pound or a dollar: every little helps. You can donate here and the Virgin Giving site is secure and takes cards and PayPal. The Gods of Great Photography will smile on you if you donate. I promise.

 

 

 


Comments

Tim Ashley Photography
Hiya Scott, happy new year to you too!

I'm gonna wait for the a7r II I think. For now the D810 and A7r cover my bases though this week I've been in Morocco and used an RX100 III for nearly everything. But I will pick up a 16-35 as soon as I see if they've got it right with the RII.

Have a happy and productive 2015!
Tim Ashley Photography
Scott, it's great. Avoid using any of the Adobe profiles in LR, start with the Camera Standard and fiddle from there, and you get, especially at ISO 64, files that are as good as you could possibly want. And (aside from no EVF and the large size) I love it: the Live View focus is fab, the new shutter is the dog's bollocks and the Group Mode AF is wonderful. All is good. But I won't be getting an A7s because with 12mp it would need to have something really special like really fast tracking AF to offer - I'm not interested in video at all, you see. Trouble is, I love lotsa pixels!
Scott(non-registered)
Hey Tim! I’m wondering how the 810 experiment is going –Old friend or necessary anvil? …and now that you have the 810 for detailed landscapes and big prints, have you picked up an A7S yet, for everything else (except sports of course)? I originally dismissed it due to the low pixel count but eventually caved to my GAS. Let me tell you this thing is the best kept secret in gearhead land for stills. My A7R files look flat compared to the S. Colors, AWB and AF all superior to the R. Silent running is spectacularly quiet…NO SHUTTER SLAP! I’ve loved shooting the R but it feels lethargic after getting it on with the S for a few days. I don’t know what kind of sensor voodoo Sony deployed here (the files look very RX1 like) to achieve such gorgeous results out of only 12MP but the A7S really exposes the lunacy of the megapixel war. And hey it loves wide M glass too.
-Scott
Best!
Ian Ludwig(non-registered)
"I have replaced the unit with two 8TB G-tech units, each with Thunderbolt One and two drives in a RAID 0 array"

Just a suggestion fwiw raid 0 is not fault tolerant. If you need the speed keep the primary raid 0 and the backup raid 1.
Tim Ashley Photography
Quick iphone reply to Scott: it's optically pretty good, I like it, but it doesn't play well with shutter slap on A7r, needs at least 2x focal length as shutter speed. And of course no real tracking ability. So I'll use it for travel to bright places only. I've given in and bought a D810 with 70-200 f4 for use until Sony release a new version with a better shutter... An alternative would be an A6000 if you can live with it!
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