2021: Thunderbolt Shared Storage Report

It’s 2021 and what is the state of Thunderbolt Shared Storage?

Thunderbolt Shared Storage is a RAID which you connect to with Thunderbolt (and Ethernet) which can be shared with other workstations. It’s a Thunderbolt SAN. Shared by Thunderbolt.

I’ve long been a fan of Apple’s Xsan and other SAN products that use Fibre Channel (or iSCSI) to connect clients to super fast block storage. It acts like a fast direct attached RAID but you can share it with others. The sharing part is crucial to collaborative workflows. We used XSAN when I was in VFX and I now use XSAN for post production workflows. Editors like to edit, have large video files, and often work in teams. All those camera files aren’t getting any smaller. So you need a lot of storage that can be shared by a team of editors, colourists, motion graphic artists, producers, etc

What you don’t often want is a complicated network infrastructure or a server room with fibre channel switches and fibre channel RAIDs and assorted other equipment. You don’t want that. You’d have to call me and pay me to set up your storage, backup and archive workflow. While it is always recommended to work with a trusted contractor it can be expensive. For small teams a shared Thunderbolt storage SAN can be quick to set up, doesn’t take much room and can easily connect 4-8 editors. Thunderbolt 3 passive copper cables extend up to 2m but optical Thunderbolt cables are available up to 60m.

I want to review one such example of shared Thunderbolt storage that stands out, the Symply Workspace. It’s a RAID, but it’s a SAN too. It is storage you plug into with Thunderbolt, but with an extra ethernet cable you make it a SAN. Inside the storage it has Quantum StorNext which runs most of the world’s expensive enterprise SANs, but it’s in the Symply Workspace and it works with Apple’s Xsan client software (included free with macOS since macOS Lion 10.7 !!). So basically, it is enterprise storage in a Thunderbolt box. One more thing, add a 5 seat license to a simple but powerful media asset management (MAM) tool axle.ai to organize your assets, add keywords and access from anywhere. Almost too good to be true, so I had to test it and see.

I received a Symply Workspace to test with. I like testing storage. My clients always need more storage. I keep telling them to not fill it up, but they do. That’s why we have LTO, nearline and cloud archive with Archiware P5 but that’s another story. For now, let’s test this storage: how easy is it to setup, how awesome is it to edit with, and what is a MAM good for anyway? Let’s find out.

It starts with a box. You open the box. You take the drives out of the box. Two trays of drives. Then there’s the RAID itself. Put the drives in the RAID. No screwdriver or tools necessary, just slide and click. Next step read all documentation online, ha ha, just kidding, don’t read anything keep going. Ok, kidding a bit. There’s an info card in the box with a website link to help explain the setup. But I didn’t read it all, uh, I know Xsan, I can do this, ok, what’s the link? now back to building.

The tricky part is plugging in a few cables, which will be improved in the shipping production version with stenciled labels of where to plug in what. There’s three cables after the power cable. One Thunderbolt to a Mac, that’s easy. One ethernet to your local network, no problem. And lastly one more ethernet to your new SAN production network (aka metadata). Ok, what’s that? Add a 5-port switch and plug in all clients and the storage to this network for SAN private metadata. It really is a SAN. Like Apple’s Xsan or Quantum StorNext, you need a data pipe (40GbE Thunderbolt 3 in this case) to transfer the data, and a metadata network, to talk about the data (1GbE ethernet to our extra switch). The public network will be used to talk to Axle MAM or for re-sharing out the volume to non-Thunderbolt connected Macs.

Once the Symply Workspace is wired up and powered on you’ll be able to reach the unit via a local bonjour name in your web browser (http://symplyworkspace.local:8088) and from there a simple web interface allows you to monitor the status of the unit, download drivers to configure a Mac or Windows client, restart or shutdown, contact support or start troubleshooting if needed. It’s a great tool to do the few things you need to.

So with everyone working remotely how do we connect to our shared storage? I’m glad you asked. There are a lot of good options. My favourite is Tailscale a mesh VPN (based on the open source Wireguard project) which you would install on a locally connected Mac then you can remote in and share a screen or the storage. There’s also the Axle 5-seat license included with the Symply Workspace which can scan your storage, make proxies and serve it all via a website which can also be accessed from anywhere.

To be continued…

Update: Added a clarification that there is an included 5 seat license to Axle media asset management in the Symply Workspace

PostLab ❤️ Hedge

Great news everyone. Hedge has acquired PostLab and with this news the main developer Jasper Siegers joins the Hedge team. Great things will come of this collaboration. The brilliant idea of using version control for FCPX project sharing simplifies the whole process that has usually been left to huge media asset management systems that control data and projects. This is project sharing simplified and it’s about to get a lot more awesome with more developer time and a company to support it.

I am equally excited about Jasper coming to MacDevOps:YVR in June to talk about how and why he developed this app using GitLab and Docker and how version control for editors is useful and necessary.

Hedge is a small company in the Netherlands that makes the Hedge software to securely copy camera cards. I’ve incorporated this software with my Final Cut Pro X clients to secure their original footage on location as well as back in the office. Workflow post explains more.

I first wrote about PostLab last year

Some recent articles published about the news:


Hedge announcement

PostLab: FCP X + GitLab

Final Cut Pro X and Shared Projects: FINALLY !!

I’ve been playing with PostLab the last few days. It’s a free and open source app that lets you use GitLab with Final Cut Pro X to do version control of editing projects. Yes, this is very cool. Shared Projects, Read only versions of projects. Versions. Of. Projects. Commented. Makes it awesome to work on projects together.

Of course, like any workflow app it can be annoying to those who don’t want to play along. But I like the price and the simplicity of it. Using GitLab means you can have free private repos for shared project sharing. You can use their website on the internet to act as your gateway or you can setup your own internal GitLab server. For Free.

PostLab is pretty awesome with its Final Cut Pro X project sharing and it’s not $100K app that is expensive to setup and everyone hates it. It’s free and some people might not use it, but it could allow for effective remote workflows and nice finely grained version control for projects that need it even in an internal on site production SAN environments.

It’s worth checking out.


Install PostLab, and the Xcode cli tools. Then launch PostLab, agree to the license, authorize accessibility for PostLab to enable it to launch FCPX. And you’re on your way.

All that’s left is to configure a GitLab account. Set u a group and a project. Configure token in GitLab to Enable PostLab with GitLab account access. Then start sharing projects. Enjoy.

Lots of cool set up videos on the PostLab website. Robot narrator says Jit-Lab instead of “Git” Lab, but it’s still worth watching. Do it now.



Best of 2015: VidiXplore

This is another great product of 2015 and  when I found it, I thought VidiXplore proves that Media Asset Management could be done better and simpler. At the end of December 2015 they released version 1.0 with new some tricks, including some changes to make a migration from Final Cut Server a reality. Time to move some clients!!

To sum up VidiXplore, I’ll quote my tweet from Dec 21, 2015:

Finally the perfect solution for simple asset management! Keep proxies in the cloud, originals local. Search + share!

Working with video editors, animation and visual effects studios, I’ve come to realize that media asset management (MAM) systems can be complicated and painful. Changing workflow, oh no! Building a better pipeline is not easy, nor is it always welcome. Well, hello from the other side, we found the solution, or at least part of it.

With VidiXplore you have 3 steps:

Step 1. Manage your videos by keeping all the originals local. Use your own storage. Use your folder structure. Use your vids as you would normally. Don’t pay for cloud storage.

Step 2. Proxies (thumbnail vids) go into the cloud to be viewed by you and your team.

Step 3. Organize your videos and photos into collections, batch edit by adding tags to add metadata, search for particular assets and share them with colleagues and external clients.

That’s it. You’re already ahead of the game. We skipped right over step 4 which was “have a lot of meetings to debate proper metadata” and step 5 which was “convince everyone at the company to adopt a different workflow.”

With VidiXplore you switch to a monthly payment model, that is true. You don’t own the cloud platform, but what you gain is that you don’t pay a lot of money upfront to set up a large server (or many large server), nor do you need render farm for video transcoding nor for the databases you need to keep track of it all. Pay monthly. That’s the way for a lot of smaller companies. Lower up front starting cost. No extreme capital outlay in the beginning.

Honestly, VidiXplore is a refreshing and easy way for so many people to use asset management now, so why not try it? Harder to say that with a large system setup that costs a lot of money to set up, only to find that no one wants to use it. That’s not what anyone wants.

And now for something completely different…

Let’s take a quick look at VidiXplore. If you’ve installed the VidiXploreAgent-1.0 agent then you’ll have a nice “V” icon in your menu bar (Mac) or system tray (Windows). Use this to open the VidiXplore agent.

Vx Menu agent Open

In the VidiXplore menu you can access the settings where can you set whether certain file types get a Cloud Copy uploaded by default or how many concurrent jobs can run at once.

Vx agent prefs settings cloud copy

When the agent is open you’ll see folders you’ve configured for media, and an option to go the website of your particular instance of VidiXplore.


For the first web login you’ll see an intro screen which allows you to upload additional media to VidiXplore (that is, in addition to any particular media folders you’ve configured in the agent) and the option to connect cloud storage such as S3, Azure or Dropbox. Lastly, there are also the installers for the agent.

Welcome Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 11.43.20 AM

Once logged into your website you see a basic layout with options to sort by files or collections, to specify all files or particular types, sort by location and bulk actions.

Collections Screen Shot

If we want we can sort the results and see only collections:

Sort collections

Or we can sort by files which have a cloud copy:

Sort cloud copy images

So many options to sort, search and find what we’re looking for. Of course, we want to also edit the metadata but not so much that we require weekly meetings to decide on the 500 important and required metadata fields. Just use tags. Of course, meetings are good, and so is process, but it is so quick to select bulk actions and add a tag to a group of objects. Done!


add tags bulk action MacDevOps

“Finally the perfect solution for simple asset management! Keep proxies in the cloud, originals local. Search + share!” 

There’s so much more you can do with VidiXplore, and I’ll go into more detail in another blog post, but this was just a highlight for my best of 2015.

Check out their website for more information: