From Camera to the Clouds: the very real story of Hedge and Postlab

Note: I want to explain how our current workflow for editing remotely. I am always testing new tools and methods, so workflows change all the time. This is a snapshot in time of what we are trying now. So far it works.

Hedge

We use Hedge to copy camera cards to multiple drives on set (or after a shoot if on location) and then we use Hedge once more to copy one of these drives to the office shared storage (Apple’s Xsan).

Why use Hedge? A nice simple app which hides its complexity well. Hedge has an easy interface to copy multiple sources (camera cards, usually) to multiple destinations (two external drives, or two SAN locations etc), and it does it well. It verifies, and double checks its work and leaves receipts. What was copied when. This is very nice and very useful for troubleshooting. It also has an API which made it easy to build an app that configures Hedge for its current task, and AppleScript support for extending automations after specified actions.

Kyno and Postlab

We are using two other tools in our remote ingest workflow currently: Kyno from Lesspain software for rewrapping and converting camera footage and Postlab, the remote collaboration tool for Final Cut Pro (and Premiere Pro). Testing with other tools is always ongoing and during a recent test of the workflow we also tried EditReady from Divergent Media.

The Workflow (so far)

While we are exploring various workflow automations we are currently doing the following steps manually.

  1. Hedge to copy camera cards two external drives on set, and then Hedge copy the drive to Xsan
  2. Making re-wrapped in MOV files from the original camera MXF files using Kyno and then
  3. Making H264 MOV 4K proxies in Kyno
  4. Uploading finished proxies to Postlab drive using Hedge
  5. Set up FCPX production and new FCPX library from template connected to proxies in Postlab drive

Hedge and Postlab

Hedge is super useful. Two times good. Hedge and Postlab are best friends. And the UI on both shows the simple aesthetic shared by the developers. Three panes. Source / Start to Destination / Projects. Whether you are copying Proxies to Postlab Drive or accessing your editing projects in Postlab the apps will guide you through.

Copying the Proxies with Hedge to Postlab Drive.

Details. Rewrap and Proxies

Workflows will depend on your goals, and your available tools. In this case we are using a Canon camera and ingesting MXF files. In order to edit with small Proxies in FCPX but also be able relink to original (and larger) files easily we need to in our case re-wrap the original MXF to QuickTime MOV container.

Right click on a clip in Kyno to rewrap to Mov.

Originals. Not Proxies.

And to be clear we are treating these in FCPX as “new” originals not as actual FCPX proxies. With the rewrapped MOV files we make transcoded H264 files which are swapped 1 for 1 with the original. When we need to export a final 4K version we can relink to the original 4K source and export easily.

Proxies. Not originals

The transocded H264 4K proxies we made in Kyno were 15x smaller than the original re-wrapped Mov files. We had almost 600GB in originals and 37GB for the 4K H264 proxies!!

Postlab Pro Tips

Working with Postlab pro tip #1 –> keep those FCPX libraries light. Keep all media and cache files out of the library. We knew that and we had Storage Locations set to outside of the library but one new issue came up when the libraries grew really big and we realized the editors were making multiple sequences, not backups, but versions. Now we are trying to work around this habit with Postlab itself. You can check in a version of the library and duplicate library for an alternate version. Modifications of old habits are always tough but technical reasons may force a change in habits here. We will see. Postlab pro tip #2 –> Keep your cache large and fast. By default the Postlab cache is your local drive and only 20GB. If you have a fast SSD or an external drive then move that cache and increase the size. It will help. Trust me.

Kyno vs EditReady

Another small issue we encountered in testing was that we could make the rewrapped Mov files in Kyno or in EditReady and both were fine. The only objection the editors had was that in Kyno we could keep the folder structure of the original camera cards and they felt that this lent some confidence to being able to track the files to the camera card folders if any media was missing or misplaced. The EditReady files kept the original names but they were all in one folder. As the tech I see no issue with FCPX handling these files since we’d be ingesting all the finished proxy files and all the files were named by the camera. Editors should be able to tell which reel the clips were from by the clip name and that’s all you need technically, but you can’t win every argument with an editor. As the tech you need to test alternative tools and methods and see what works technically but also see what can be accepted to work in the way the editors want to work. Changes to workflow are some of the hardest to make, making a system that is used, actually used, by the editors is the goal.

Errata

Errors. If you get them, how do you know? This was one area where I could comment on both Kyno and EditReady. I am spoiled by Hedge and it’s nice reports when it is done copying. And Postlab which has a Help menu :collect logs for support button, very nice. If your software tool is going to process a lot of files (rewrapping then transcoding) I want to know if there were errors. EditReady popped up a window to what had succeeded or failed and Divergent Media support told me to look in the logs for any issues encountered. Not great. While Kyno has a separate jobs window which shows jobs done or failed. But still no report. I would like a receipt or report or log at the end with files converted or failed to convert. It would help troubleshooting any issues when they arise. Tech support for both companies is great and responsive. Thanks again. And I’ll keep sending in feature requests.

Testing. More Testing. And Teamwork.

We are testing this workflow in production with a real project and getting feedback from the team. So far the proxies have proven to be easy to make, quick to upload to Postlab drive, simple to use in FCPX in Postlab. Assembling the cut and editing are going well. We will find out about the colour process when we get to that stage and relink to the originals. Stay tuned.

Thanks!

Thanks to Felipe Baez / cr8ivebeast for his assistance on this part of the workflow. We were having trouble relinking to the original MXF and he gave us the excellent tip to rewrap then in Kyno then make the smaller proxies. Works like a charm. Thank you Felipe! Here’s a link to a video Felipe made showing a similar procedure using Compressor to transcode and then relink in FCPX and it goes to show you that there are lot of ways to do things and to keep trying, and experimenting. You might learn a thing or two.

Xsan Upgrade and Big Sur Prep. Hello Catalina!

Big Sur summer testing time!

Summer time is beta testing time. A new macOS beta cycle with Big Sur is upon us. Test early, and test often. With all the excitement of Big Sur in the air, it’s time to look at Catalina.

Our day to day production Xsan systems do not run beta software, not even the latest version of macOS, they only run tested and safe versions of macOS. I always recommend being a revision behind the latest. Until now that meant macOS 10.14 (Mojave). With the imminent release of macOS Big Sur (is it 10.16 or macOS 11?) then it’s time to move from 10.14.6 Mojave to 10.15.6 Catalina. It must be safe now, right? 

Background

Xsan is Apple’s based Storage Area Network (SAN) software licensed from Quantum (see StorNext), and since macOS 10.7 aka Lion it has been included with macOS for free (it was $1,000 per client previously!).

Ethernet vs Fibre Channel vs Thunderbolt

A SAN is not the same as a NAS (Network attached storage) or DAS (direct attached storage). A NAS or other network based storage is often 10GbE and can be quite fast and capable. I will often use Synology NAS with 10GbE for a nearline archive (a second copy of tape archive) but can also use it as a primary storage with enough cache. Lumaforge’s Jellyfish is another example of network based storage.

Xsan storage is usually fibre channel based and even old 4GB storage is fast because … fibre channel protocol (FCP) is fast and the data frames are sent in order unlike TCP. It is more common to see 8GB or 16Gb fibre channel storage these days (though 32GB is starting to appear). And while fibre channel is typically what you use for Xsan you can also use shared Thunderbolt based storage like the Accusys A16T3-Share. I have tested a Thunderbolt 2 version of this hardware with Xsan and it works very well. I’m hoping to test a newer Thunderbolt 3 version soon. Stay tuned.

Xsan vs macOS Versions

We’ve discussed all the things that the Xsan is not and now what is it? Xsan is often created from multiple fibre channel RAID storage units but the data is entirely dependent on the Xsan controller that creates the volume. The Xsan controller is typically a Mac Mini but can be any Mac with Server.app (from Apple’s App Store). The existence of any defined Xsan volumes depends on the sanity of its SAN metadata controllers. If the SAN controllers die and the configuration files go with it then your data is gone.  POOF! I’ve always said that Xsan is a shared hallucination, and all the dreamers should dream the same dream. To make sure of this we always recommend running the same version of macOS on the Mac clients as well as the servers (the Xsan controllers). And while the Xsan controllers should be the same or at a higher macOS version level it can sometimes be the opposite in practise. To be sure what versions of macOS are interoperable we can check with Apple’s Xsan controllers and clients compatibility chart and Xsan versions included in macOS for the rules and exceptions. Check the included version of Xsan on your Mac with the cvversions command

File System Server:
  Server  Revision 5.3.1 Build 589[63493] Branch Head BuildId D
   Built for Darwin 17.0 x86_64
   Created on Sun Dec  1 19:58:57 PST 2019
   Built in /BuildRoot/Library/Caches/com.apple.xbs/Sources/XsanFS/XsanFS-613.50.3/buildinfo

This is from a Mac running macOS 10.13

Host OS Version:
 Darwin 17.7.0 Darwin Kernel Version 17.7.0: Sun Dec  1 19:19:56 PST 2019; root:xnu-4570.71.63~1/RELEASE_X86_64 x86_64

We see similar results from a newer build below:

File System Server:
  Server  Revision 5.3.1 Build 589[63493] Branch Head BuildId D
   Built for Darwin 19.0 x86_64
   Created on Sun Jul  5 02:42:52 PDT 2020
   Built in /AppleInternal/BuildRoot/Library/Caches/com.apple.xbs/Sources/XsanFS/XsanFS-630.120.1/buildinfo

This is from a Mac running macOS 10.15.

Host OS Version:
 Darwin 19.6.0 Darwin Kernel Version 19.6.0: Sun Jul  5 00:43:10 PDT 2020; root:xnu-6153.141.1~9/RELEASE_X86_64 x86_64

Which tells us that the same version of Xsan are included with macOS 10.13 and 10.15 (and indeed is the same from 10.12 to 10.15). So we have situations with Xsan controllers running 10.13 and clients running 10.14 are possible even though macOS versions are a mismatch, the Xsan versions are the same. There are other reasons for keeping things the macOS versions the same: troubleshooting, security, management tools, etc  To be safe check with Apple and other members of the Xsan community (on MacAdmins Slack).

Backups are important

Do not run Xsan or any kind of storage in production without backups. Do not do it. If your Xsan controllers die then your storage is gone. Early versions of Xsan (v1 especially) were unstable and the backups lesson can be a hard one to learn. All later versions of Xsan are much better but we still recommend backups if you like your data. Or your clients. (Clients are the people that make that data and pay your bills). I use Archiware P5 to make tape backups, tape archives, nearline copies as well as workstation backups. Archiware is a great company and P5 is a great product. It has saved my life (backups are boring, restores are awesome!).

P5-Restore-FCPX.png

Xsan Upgrade Preparation

When you upgrade macOS it will warn you that you have Server.app installed and you might have problems. After the macOS upgrade you’ll need to download and install a new version of Server.app. In my recent upgrades from macOS 10.13 to macOS 10.15 via 10.14 detour I started with Server.app 5.6, then install 5.8 and finally version 5.10.

After the macOS upgrade I would zip up the old Server.app application and put in place the new version which I had already downloaded elsewhere. Of course you get a warning about removing the Server app

 

Xsan-ServerApp-ZipRemovalDetected.png

Install the new Server app then really start your Xsan upgrade adventure.

Serverapp-setup.png

Restore your previous Xsan setup.

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If everything goes well then you have Xsan setup and working on macOS 10.15.6 Catalina

Xsan-Catalina-Upgrade-Success

Reset Printer Queue

TIL (thing I learned)

Had a user upgrade to macOS 10.14.1 and no printers showed up anymore.

So using my Google fu I found some posts (see one below) which described a novel way to reset the print queue on macOS. An old trick apparently. Learn something new everyday.

A quick trip to a terminal and it worked! The existing printers returned to System Preferences and printing resumed.

$ cancel -a

Reference

macOS High Sierra vs Server.app

Upgrading to macOS High Sierra is akin to walking on the bridge of peril. Too perilous!

I don’t recommend macOS 10.13.x for production, but it is necessary to test and for this reason back in September I did upgrade my test Mac. Of course, when the installer detects server it will give you a warning about it not being compatible and you’ll have to download a compatible version from the App Store. Be warned!

ThisVersionOfServerNoLongerSupported2

Which is no big deal as long you are warned and have backups and maybe you can download the compatible version from the App Store. Trying to launch the old version will get you a warning to go to the App Store and be quick about it.

ThisVersionOfServerNoLongerSupported

Some people are reporting that the macOS installer is erasing their Server.app and refusing to upgrade their Server with the macOS 10.13 compatible version (v.5.4).

In that case, restore from Time Machine or other backups and start again?

Root Me Baby One More Time!

UPDATE: Apple has posted a security update. 2017-001

Root-a-pocalyse. Root down. Root a toot toot. Many funny tweets today about a very serious issue. A bug was discovered in macOS 10.13 that enabled anyone to login with a root account. With no password. Wow. Seriously. Yeah, that’s bad.

Bug discovered by Lemi Orhan Ergin.

I tested by clicking on the lock icon in System Preferences. Normally this requires an admin account. I was able to authenticate with “root” and no password. This actually also set root to no password. You can choose a password here and this makes it for you. How convenient. You can also login to the Mac via the login window. With root. And no password. Crazy.

If your Mac is off it’s safe. Not joking. If your FileVault protected drive is encrypted and your mac is turned off then you’re good. If you Mac is turned on and you’ve logged in at least once (or at least decrypted the drive on boot) then you’re not safe.

What can you do? Change the root password and set the shell to false. Until Apple fixes this. Should be anytime now. Or soon.

dscl . -passwd /Users/root “random or very secure password here”

dscl . -create /Users/root UserShell /usr/bin/false

Read a comprehensive explanation on Rich Trouton’s site:  Der Flounder blog

 

I don’t get High — Sierra!

Friends don’t let friends install macOS High Sierra in production. Don’t get High, Sierra.

macOS 10.13 was released on Sep 25, 2017, and almost two months later with only one point release update, it’s still too new for production. Download it on a test machine or two or more, test it with your apps and systems, file bug reports and radars, but for the love of all that is Python and Monty! don’t run it on your production Xsan. Well, at least not yet. Wait until next year. Or as long as you can. Or until the new iMac Pro is released with 10.13 pre-installed or wait until they ship the new Final Cut Pro X 10.4 that may or may not require macOS High Sierra.

With that out of the way, I’ve just upgraded the production Xsan to … macOS Sierra. Yes, macOS 10.12.6 is stable and it’s a good time to install last year’s macOS release. Time to say good bye to macOS el Capitan 10.11.6, we hardly knew ya. Besides guaranteed security updates, stability and the annoying newness of a changed macOS, what else is there? In Xsan v5 they introduced a new “ignore permissions” checkbox for your Xsan volumes. Looking forward to that feature in production. No more Munki onDemand nopkg scripts to run chmod. No more tech support requests for folders, files, FCP X projects that won’t open because someone else used it, owns it, touched it. We’ll see how that pans out. I’ll let you know.

Upgrading Xsan to v5

Step 1. Back up your data

You’re doing this, right? I’m using Archiware P5 Backup to backup the current projects to LTO tape. I’m using Archiware P5 sync to sync the current Xsan volumes to Thunderbolt RAIDs, and using Archiware P5 Archive (and Archive app) to archive completed projects to the LTO project archive. That’s all I need to do, right?

Step 2. Back up your servers

Don’t forget the servers running your SAN! I use Apple’s Time Machine to backup my Mac Mini Xsan controllers. External USB3 drive. I also use another Mac Mini in target disk mode with Carbon Copy Cloner to clone the server nightly. (Hat tip to Alex Narvey, a real Canadian hero). And of course I grab the Xsan config with hdiutil and all the logs with cvgather. Because, why not?! For Archiware P5 backup server I also have a python scripts to backup everything, another scripts to export a readable list of tapes, and BackupMinder to rotate the backups. Add some rsync scripts and you’re golden.

 

Step 3. Upgrade the OS

Unmount the Xsan volume on your clients or shut them down, disconnect the fibre channel. Do something like that. Stop your volume. Download the macOS Sierra installer from the App Store. Double click upgrade. Wait. Or use Munki. I loaded in the macOS 10.12.6 installer app into Munki and set it up as an optional install to make this portion of the upgrade much quicker and cleaner.

In my case after the OS was upgraded I checked the App Store app for any Apple updates (you can also use Munki’s Managed Software Center to check) and of course there were some security updates. In this case the security upgrade hung on a slow network connection and the server crashed. Server down! I had to restore from Time Machine backup to the point where I just upgraded the server. It took some extra time  but it worked (can’t wait for next year’s mature APFS / Time Machine and restoring from snapshots instead).

Step 4. Upgrade Server

After macOS is upgraded you’ll need to upgrade the Server.app or just upgrade the services used by Server (even those not used by Server get upgraded).

Step 5. Upgrade the Xsan

Bur first we have to restore the Xsan config. Don’t panic! It may invoke bad memories of data loss and restoring from backups. Xsan PTSD is real.

Restore-previous-Xsan.png

Step 6. Upgrade the rest

Next you have to upgrade the Xsan volumes.

Xsan-volume-needs-upgrade

New version of Xsan, ch-ch-changes! Ignore permissions check box will remount the xsan with the “no-owners” flag. Let’s test this out.

 

Upgrade the OS and Server app on the backup controller. Upgrade the OS on the clients using Munki or App Store if you like doing it the hard way. Ha Ha.

Step 7. Enjoy

Plug those Thunderbolt to Fibre adapters back in, mount those Xsan volumes and be happy.

Step 8. Wait for the complaints

The next day the editors walked in and went straight to work with Final Cut Pro X. No one noticed anything. Xsan upgraded. Workstation macOS upgraded. Everything appeared to be the same and just worked. Thankless task but well worth it.

 

Reference: Apple’s iBook guide here