Tech Blog

July 11, 2018

What to Know When it Comes to Thunderbolt Storage


Thunderbolt connectivity has been a mainstay in professional video production teams since it’s inception in 2011. It gave us all the high-performance connectivity that we always wanted out of USB, though admittedly, at this point USB is pretty impressive!

With the introduction of the Macbook Pro that year and the soon following pseudo-affectionally referred to ‘trash can’ Mac Pro, finally users had legitimately high-speed connections directly on their Mac’s. A welcomed change from 10 years of adding Fibre Channel HBA’s to get anything resembling usable performance.

So immediately the logic question ‘can we just connect this high-speed thunderbolt port to a shared storage network?’

For years the answer has ranged from sort-of to maybe?

Fast forward to today, and the answer is yes, with some caveats to be aware of. Here is a comprehensive list of what to be ware of when it comes to networking over thunderbolt.

  • Cable Length. 3m (9.8ft) is the max length for copper thunderbolt cables, which are over 99% of all thunderbolt cables. This mean
  • s all users will need to be within 3m (9.8ft) of the storage device. There is 1 company, Corning, that makes Optical Thunderbolt Cables up to 60m (197ft), but pricing is pretty expensive as of June 2018, a 30m (98ft) runs $529 on Amazon.
  • Thunderbolt Switches don’t exist. This is important to know, as your Thunderbolt users will be limited to the number of thunderbolt ports on your Thunderbolt NAS device. This maxes out at 4 workstation connecting over Thunderbolt.
  • You must have a NAS device, not a DAS device. More acronyms?!? Yep, and it matters. A NAS (Network Attached Storage) device is require to connect and share storage over thunderbolt. The vast majority (almost 100%) of Thunderbolt RAIDs are DAS, or Direct Attached Storage. This means only 1 user can connect to the device at a time. So, despite there being 2 Thunderbolt ports you can
  • not connect 2 users. The additional ports on most devices are designed for daisy chaining.
  • Expandability. This one is tricky, and relates to #2. Since thunderbolt switches don’t exist, you are limited to a single thunderbolt server, thus limiting expansion to whatever that single server can handle.
  • NLE Specific Needs. This is most prevalent in Avid, for Avid Project Sharing; you will need to find 3rd party software that support Thunderbolt NAS devices and enable Avid Project Sharing.

Thunderbolt NAS vs Connecting to a NAS over thunderbolt.

There very few actual Thunderbolt NAS devices, only 2 or 3 currently on the market. The far more common way to take advantage of thunderbolt to connect to a shared storage server is through Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapters. These range from $30 to $700 depending on if you Thunderbolt 2 or 3, and if you want to connect to the NAS via 1GbE, 10GbE or 10GbE optical. See the diagram below.

Thunderbolt Blog

Summary

For smaller workgroups that do not need to be able to grow into a larger solution and are working in the same room, Thunderbolt NAS systems offer the ability to connect to a shared server without an additional adapter.


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