Backing up is nice, restoring is better. Slow backups, mean slow restores. Make good decisions, and backup only the files you want to keep to the fastest storage you have.
When working with a fast fibre channel or Thunderbolt SAN your first choice for fastest backup destinations is a Thunderbolt RAID. I recommend to have this onsite with an off site LTO and/or cloud disaster recovery setup (a replicated SAN or shared storage system is nice to have too).
A built-in option to copy Xsan files is cvcp (cv stands for centravision).
cvcp is fast. Really fast. And cli commands are scriptable. A very smart person (Jasper Siegers) wrote a script called cvcpSync which combined the power of rsync and cvcp. It was awesome. But there are limits to the best of scripts. For my clients I use Archiware P5 with large SAN and other shared storage to simplify the number of things which need to be monitored. One dashboard to monitor tape or cloud backups, tape archives and sync to nearline RAIDs or NAS.
(Luckily I have almost 2 TB of video from my Cycliq bike cameras to test backups. Sadly, after my last bike vs car incident I felt obliged to buy bike cameras for my safety. I edit small fun rides when I can. Sometimes traffic near-accidents too. Please be kind, don’t kill cyclists.)
Note: In my tests I tested backup to a nearline RAID. I also like to use tape drives. LTO tape is another recommended option for backups or archives. Cloud or other offsite replication is also recommended if possible but is the slowest of all the options. Good to have slow and fast options, offsite and on premise, though any practical solution should be affordable and useful to help decision makers take the steps to preserve data and ultimately their own business.
LTO vs Cloud backup comparison: For LTO backups to one LTO7 drive I normally see 1TB in under 2 hours versus some recent cloud backups I did using rclone which took 9 hours for 1TB. Remember: restore times will equal your backup times. Want to restore 100TB? Got a spare 900 hours? 38 days for cloud restore vs 8 days with one LTO7 drive (much faster if you have more than one drive). Even faster if you restore from a Thunderbolt RAID. Only 2.5 days. Think about it.
Thunderbolt Xsan in a box. I’ve written about the Accusys T-share in 2020 (and in 2015 when I first found this cool tech). What’s different now? New year, new macOS. And a new challenge: can we build Xsan only using Terminal? No apps. It’s the journey that counts, right? One nerd’s journey to make an Xsan with macOS 11 Big Sur cli. Destination adventure with family fun, next stop a blinking cursor on a command line prompt.
make —Xsan —-bigger
Sudo make me an Xsan sandwich. I wish it were that easy! Stick around for the two or three commands you do need.
Xsan goes Terminal
Important commands for using Xsan have always been cvadmin and cvlabel (cv is short for centravision the original creators) but more recently xsanctl and slapconfig are important for creating the SAN and the OD (Open Directory) environment. Read the man pages, search the web, read some help documents. This blog is for entertainment and occasional learnings.
If you don’t have a fibre channel switch and fibre channel hardware RAIDs do not worry. You can build a useful Thunderbolt based Xsan with a little bit of effort. Just a little bit of peril It’s not too perilous, don’t worry.
Apple includes Xsan for free in macOS. Xsan is Apple’s fork Quantum’s StorNext SAN software. Want large fast storage made for Final Cut Pro editors, just add Xsan. Download Server.app from the Mac App Store and make your Xsan. Easy peasey. Right?
Why? Why are we doing this? Nothing beats fibre channel or Thunderbolt SAN speed for editing. Network attached storage (NAS) at 1GbE is barely usable. NAS at 10GbE is much better but still has road blocks for editors. Fibre channel or Thunderbolt with a big enough raid behind your SAN then life is great. Xsan can be shared by a small or media sized team of editors, producers and assistants.
Oh, ok. There is one problem. Apple did a major upgrade of Xsan (now version 7!) in macOS 11 Big Sur but apparently they took out the Xsan config in Server.app. (Note: This is what I was told early on and what seemed to be confirmed by Apple’s recent Xsan cli guide. It turns out that Xsan’s disappearance in Server.app to not be totally correct). Xsan is there in Server.app if you upgrade to macOS Big Sur but when you install Server on a clean macOS there is no Xsan visible in the app. Hmm. What do we do? Apple published a very nice handy guide about how to build Xsan in Terminal. So let’s get started. This is fun.
What do we need? 1) Hardware raid. Ok check I have an Accusys T-Share. It’s a raid with Thunderbolt switch built in. 2) Mac. Ok I have a Mac Mini. 3) A network. Some cables, a switch and a DNS server. Ok I have a new raspberry Pi. That’s perfect.
Step 1. Hardware raid. With the Accusys T-Share I just have to plug in some clients with a Thunderbolt 3 cable. Let’s fill the RAID with drives. I picked two different sizes. One group of larger disks for a data LUN (main production storage) and two smaller disks for a raid mirror to be used as metadata storage.
Step 2. A Mac running macOS Big Sur 11.5.2. Download the Accusys Mac installer on your Intel Mac (M1 is not supported with the T-Share yet as of this blog post).
The raid. Not only a great movie it’s the central part of this production media network for creatives. Once the drives are in the raid we have to make raid sets which become LUNs for Xsan. RAID5/6 for the data LUN and RAID1 (mirror) for the metadata LUN.
Read the label. Using Xsan cvlabel
Normally after we create RAID sets in the hardware raid utility we would open up Server.app and label the LUNs for Xsan use. But since we are now hardcore SAN architects we can use Terminal and the cvlabel the command to do this the hard way. Well, it’s not that hard but it can be intimidating the first few times. It’s much easier to label new LUNs than stare at a broken production SAN that has lost its labels. StorNext fun times. More about in another blog post.
Whether using Server.app in the good old days or cvlabel to label your LUNs now you should all be familiar with the command to list available LUNs. For larger SANs that won’t mount the first thing I’d check is see if the LUNs are all there. You don’t want a SAN to mount if it’s missing an important piece of itself.
This command lists available LUNs. It’s handy to know. Do this before trouble arises and you will be a cool dude when trouble happens. It does that occasionally. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, IT motto.
To create labels for newly created RAID arrays use cvlabel to output a text file of the unlabelled LUNs, make some minor changes then label those LUNs. Create the template files first:
Edit the file. I like nano. Maybe you like vim. Or BBEdit. Or text edit. Change the name of LUNs from CVFS_unknown to whatever you like. I like to name LUNs based on the hardware they originate from so that I can find them, remove them, fix them or whatever I need to do for troubleshooting. Trust me. It’s a good idea.
*WARNING* This program will over-write volume labels on the devices specified in the file "/Users/xavier/Desktop/cvlabel". After execution, the devices will only be usable by the Xsan. You will have to re-partition the devices to use them on a different file system.
Do you want to proceed? (Y / N) ->
Requesting disk rescan .
Congratulations this is the hardest part. You’ve labeled the RAID arrays as usable LUNs for Xsan. Ok, just kidding that’s not the hardest part. Have you ever heard of Open Directory? Do you fear LDAP and DNS? Well, maybe you should. It’s always DNS. Just saying.
DNS (domain name system) is just a fancy word for a list of IP addresses and host names. Using the raspberry Pi with dns masq installed we can populate the list of hosts for the Xsan and then we are golden. Hopefully if we did it right. Turns out we can make mistakes here too. Don’t use “.local” domain names. I did. It was late. I blame being tired. Changing them to “.lan” worked better.
Next up we finally create an Xsan in terminal. Or do we? let’s check the hostname first. It’s always DNS.
scutil —get HostName
scutil --set HostName XsanMac.lan.
And now we make very big Xsan using the Xsan guide example
It was at this point that it started falling apart. It was late. I had messed up my DNS with “.local” and the Xsan wouldn’t go past this basic OD setup. I did what I always do and reach out to my Xsan colleagues and I got some curious feedback. “What do you mean Xsan isn’t in macOS Big Sur Server.app?” Hmm. I don’t see it on a fresh install. On an upgrade from 10.15 Catalina I do. So, uh, Where is it? And then it was revealed. In the View menu. Advanced. Ugh. It’s right there. Almost staring right at me. When I opened the app it said it couldn’t create an Xsan with my “.local”. That was helpful. Fixed that and Xsan with my pre-labeled LUNs was super quick to set up.
I’ll have to play with the cli set up again soon. Because there were some strange formatting it recommended to me when I tried some variations of the xsanctl createSan. I’ll dig into another day when I have more sleep. Ha ha.
There’s a lot of useful commands in macOS Big Sur Xsan which was upgraded to v7. You can check which version of Xsan you have in macOS with the cvversions command.
In Catalina (macOS 10.15.7)
File System Server: Server Revision 5.3.1 Build 589 Branch Head BuildId D Built for Darwin 19.0 x86_64 Created on Tue Jun 22 21:08:03 PDT 2021 Built in /AppleInternal/BuildRoot/Library/Caches/com.apple.xbs/Sources/XsanFS/XsanFS-630.120.1/buildinfo
In Big Sur (macOS 11.5.2)
File System Server: Server Revision 7.0.1 Build 589 Branch Head BuildId D Built for Darwin 20.0 x86_64 Created on Wed Jun 23 00:32:35 PDT 2021 Built in /System/Volumes/Data/SWE/macOS/BuildRoots/d7e177bcf5/Library/Caches/com.apple.xbs/Sources/XsanFS/XsanFS-678.120.3/buildinfo
There’s a lot of cool new binaries in Xsan v7. We will dig into those next post. For now enjoy this and go forth make some Xsan volumes with Thunderbolt or fibre channel storage. It’s fun.
I am so happy to install macOS Big Sur 11.5.1, now that it is a ready for production. Have fun with macOS Monterey those of you on the bleeding edge. For media professionals using Xsan in production storage environments August is a great month to update to the soon to be yesterday’s bad boy Mr. Big Sur.
Upgrading to a new major version of macOS can be fraught with peril for a fleet of mac devices but it is potentially fatal for a production SAN environment. That is why we wait. We want a nice stable storage system for our Final Cut Pro editors and other media creatives so it is safe to be one version behind. Less drama that way. We prefer our dramas to be on AppleTV+
Watch TV Upgrade Xsan
It is not boring to watch AppleTV+ while upgrading Xsan
The Xsan upgrade to Big Sur was pretty much not exciting except for one funny roadblock that I had set up myself last as a kind of booby trap for “future me”. More about that later. First the boring stuff. The last few weeks have been very busy updating and re-writing documentation in Pages.app and running multiple redundant full and incremental LTO backups with Archiware P5, syncing to nearline archives, and archiving finalized projects to the LTO shelf in paradise (sounds more exciting when you put it that way don’t you think?). Updating and re-writing documentation can sound like a waste of time but “future you” will appreciate what “past you” was doing today. And today I had fun updating Xsan to macOS Big Sur. Now I must write down all my thoughts before I each too much vegan vanilla ice cream and slip into a food coma.
“Planning for disasters, while hoping for none” is the IT mantra. We planned hard and we were ready to restore Xsan from Time Machine, if we had to. Not a joke. The server is backed up by Time Machine. The data is backed up to LTO, nearline archives racked and stacked in a server room and on redundant thunderbolt RAIDs which are parked on electric trucks ready to blast off at the earliest sign of danger. Well, everything except for the last part. Would be nice. And cloud backups for those clients that want them. Plan for the worst, pay for what you can to keep your business operational and lessen the impact of mechanical failures, human oopsies, or ransomware. Sysadmins are indistinguishable from malware sometimes, but we mean well. More seriously, humans makes mistakes and break things (that, me!) but ransomware is real and my elaborate backup and archive planning has saved a few customers this year.
Xsan volumes are typically made of up fibre channel RAID arrays. Nice icon!
Preparation is key. Be prepared. Get ready. Psych yourself up. I used Greg Neagle’s installinstallmacos.py to download macOS Big Sur as a disk image and had that and the App Store’s Server.app downloaded beforehand and not be dependent on internet access (production SANs are not always internet accessible). It is both true and not true that you can setup Xsan in Big Sur with the Server.app. It is true you need the Server.app for an upgrade from macOS Catalina 10.15.7 but if you’re starting from scratch in macOS 11 you will be building your Xsan in Terminal. Have fun! (We will cover this in a future post).
Server.app manages only three (3) services for an Xsan upgrade: Profile Manager, Open Directory and Xsan. In macOS Big Sur new setups of Server.app Xsan is gone. Why they haven’t taken out Profile Manager and not kept Xsan instead made me scratch my head. No one in their right mind is using Profile Manager to install or manage profiles, they’re using commercial MDM vendors. But Xsan in macOS Big Sur (11) is not only production ready storage SAN awesome it has been upgraded to be compatible with Quantum’s Stornext 7 (previously it was only v.5)
Profile Manager does not belong here. Long Live Xsan!!
Installing macOS 11 Big Sur and upgrading Xsan to v7 is compatible (in my testing) with macOS 10.14 Mojave, 10.15 Catalina and of course macOS 11 Big Sur. If you don’t believe me check out this not updated in forever Apple’s compatibility chart.
Ok, by this time you get the idea I’m an expert, right? I’m ready to upgrade. But I run into my first real road block. And I have only myself to blame. I can’t launch the macOS Big Sur install app. It is blocked. “Contact your administrator”?! I am the sysadmin. Oh, ok. That’s me. What have I done now? I installed Hannes Juutilainen’s Big Sur Blocker last year, that’s what.
Of course I installed that. With Munki. On all my Mac clients that were upgraded to macOS Catalina. (And of course my Xsan controller has Munki!). But no worries, let me read up on my last year’s blogpost about it to figure out how I installed it, there must be a launch daemon or something.
this is not how I expected it to go
Hmm, no didn’t mention there. And where is that pesky launch daemon that I can unload and get to this Big Sur install. Oh? It’s a launch agent. Unloaded. Hmm, still no. Ok, delete the app from /usr/local/bin, hmm, nope. ok kill the app process. Ok, now we can install macOS Big Sur. Sorry for the delay. I had told Munki to uninstall the bigsurblocker app and it did for every other Mac, I swear, really. It did.
So ready for macOS Big Sur. Oh wait, we noticed that you’re running Server.app and well, we don’t do a lot of the same things anymore in the new Server.app so maybe this is a warning.
So a lot of progress bars and stuff. See my last upgrade blog post and it’s the same as installing macOS Big Sur on any Mac, except this Mac Mini is running an Xsan production SAN environment with a lot of RAID arrays in a server rack or two. Ok, yeah, just run the installer.
After macOS Big Sur is installed zip up your older server.app and drag in your new one (or use that fancy App Store app to do it for you if you’re lazy). Click a bunch of buttons (see all my old blog posts) and launch the new Server.app.
So we have to wait while the bag of scripts that is Profile Manager gets updated but no one uses it but it’s the most important app in Server.app now, no I am not bitter why do you ask. Xsan is awesome.
Time to restore from your old Xsan configuration. Wheee…..
Activate your Xsan and carry on upgrading all your Mac clients. Note: I did test macOS Mojave 10.14, macOS 10.15 Catalina and of course macOS 11.5.1 Big Sur Xsan clients. All worked.
Upgrading Xsan with macOS Big Sur is easy if you’re going from macOS Catalina. Starting from scratch is another story to be covered in another blog post. Also not covered is certificate issues from self-signed certs breaking when I upgraded my Munki and MunkiReport server. That’s definitely another blog post. It’s just a webserver. Just. A. Web. Server. What is so hard? haha
With more than one Xsan controller it used to be recommended to upgrade the secondary before the primary but it is now best practise to upgrade the primary first to maintain the sanity of the OD data.
Xsan Upgrade Step by Step:
Clone the controllers. (+ Time Machine backups) Turn off the clients. Stop the Xsan Volume. Run cvfsck on the volume. **Upgrade the primary. Confirm the secondary can see the primary. *Upgrade the secondary. Confirm the secondary can see the primary. Check SAN access on both controllers.
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
Setting up your very own Xsan at home… What could be more exciting? Nothing like SAN storage to cure those stacks of hard drive blues. Don’t have a spare fibre channel switch or fibre channel storage at home? No problem Grab some thunderbolt storage from Accusys and join the fun.
I am testing the A12T3-Share 12-drive desktop Thunderbolt RAID solution to build my Xsan. Accusys also have a 16 drive rack mounted raid storage box if you want to install a nice pro set up in the server room you have tucked neatly in your home office. Ha ha. Seriously, the 12 drive unit is whisper quiet and would be a great addition to any home lab or production storage setup. I mean, aren’t we all doing video production at home these days? And even if we are doing a proxy workflow in the clouds, we still need to store the original footage somewhere before it goes to LTO tape, or backed up in the clouds (hopefully another cloud). A few years ago I tested the Accusys 16 drive Thunderbolt 2 unit and it worked perfectly with my fibre channel storage but this time I am testing the newest Thunderbolt 3 unit. Home office test lab is GO!
It is a pretty straight forward setup but I ran into some minor issues that anyone could run into and so I want to mention them and save you all the frustration by learning from my mistakes. Always be learning. That’s my motto. Or “break things at home not in production”, but if your home is production now, then break things fast and learn very quickly.
First step is to download the software for the RAID and you’ll find it on the Accusys website.
(I found the support downloads well organized but still a bit confusing as to what i needed)
The installer is not signed which in our security conscious age is a little concerning, but examining the package with Suspicious package should allay any concerns.
The installer installs the RAIDGuard X app which you will need to configure the RAID.
Of course, RAIDGuard X needs a Java Runtime Environment to run. Why is this still a thing? Hmm…
RAIDGuardX will allow you to configure your connected Thunderbolt hardware.
Configure the array as you like. I only had four drives to test with. Just enough for RAID5.
Choose your favourite RAID level. I picked RAID5 for my 4 drives.
The first gotcha that got me was this surprisingly simple and easy to overlook section. “Assign LUN automatically” asks you to choose which port that LUN (the configured RAID) will be assigned to. If you don’t check anything like I didn’t in my first run through then you configure a RAID5 array that you’ll never see on your connected Mac. Fun, right? Ha ha.
Xsan requires a sacrifice…. I mean, a LUN (available RAID array). Check your Fibre Channel in System Information. Yes, this is from the thunderbolt storage. Hard to believe, but it’s true!
Setting up enterprise grade SAN storage requires a trip to the Mac App Store. Server.app
Open Server.app, enable Xsan, create a new volume and add your LUN from the Accusys Thunderbolt array. Set the usage to “any” (metadata and data) since this is a one LUN test setup.
Pro tip: connect your Xsan controller to your Open Directory server. Ok, just kidding. You don’t have an OD server in your home office? Hmm… Create an entry in /etc/hosts instead.
If you’ve set up your SAN volume then you will see it listed in the Finder.
Easy shareable SAN storage is possible with thunderbolt RAID arrays from Accusys. No more Fibre channel switches needed. Small SAN setups are possible for creative teams without a server room. This setup was a quiet 12 drive RAID and a Mac mini. Add some Thunderbolt cables. There are four thunderbolt 3 connections and you can add more with an additional RAID. Up to 8 connections with one of them for the Mac Mini running the SAN. Not bad at all. And Xsan is free. Add a Server app from the App Store, but the Xsan client is free and built-in (Xsan has been included with macOS since 10.7 so many years ago). Fibre channel protocol (even through Thunderbolt) is faster than network protocols and great for video production. Fast and shareable storage at home. Or in your office. Thunderbolt Xsan. T-SAN.
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?
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 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:ServerRevision 5.3.1 Build 589 Branch Head BuildId DBuilt for Darwin 19.0 x86_64Created on Sun Jul5 02:42:52 PDT 2020Built 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 Jul5 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!).
Xsan Upgrade Preparation
Before attempting a macOS or Xsan upgrade please check your backups. Test your restores. Your SAN volumes should be backed up. I backup of all the san volumes on nearline Thunderbolt raids and a Synology NAS as well as LTO tape backups and archives. That’s the SAN data, the creative files that the clients care about, but what about the Xsan itself? The Xsan controller has configuration files. How do we save those?
Xsan config files are here:
Make a disk image of the config files before an upgrade and one after.
Lastly, copies of all config files before and after all updates and migrations.
I have restored my Xsan from a bad macOS upgrade using Time Machine. Yes, it works. Believe it. The Mac Mini clone is also ready to take over (hat tip to Alex Narvey for this methodology). Lastly the config files by themselves can help restore the Xsan when all the files appear to be gone because the Xsan has lost its mind. Save them, and save yourself. Use this opportunity to update your documentation.
List all the Time Machine backups:
sudo tmutil listbackups
You can also list all your LUNs (fibre channel RAID building blocks of the SAN volumes) and keep this updated in your documentation. Helps troubleshooting why a SAN volume won’t mount.
sudo cvlabel -l > ~/Desktop/cvlabel-xsan.txt
Check check all the backups
Before the actual upgrades backup your data (and test your restores), backup your Xsan controllers (and double check) then download the macOS installers. I use installinstallmacos.py to download my installers). In my recent Xsan controller upgrade from 10.13 in preparation I downloaded the latest 10.14.6 and 10.15.6. I also downloaded the actual Server.app installers from various macOS installs to be ready (in case of network difficulties on site during an upgrade).
Finally! Upgrade the Xsan and macOS
An overview of the upgrade steps as outlined by my esteemed Xsan colleague Bob Kite:
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
Install the new Server app then really start your Xsan upgrade adventure.
Restore your previous Xsan setup.
If everything goes well then you have Xsan setup and working on macOS 10.15.6 Catalina
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog, but nobody wants to read no stinkin’ reports so let me just sum it all up: Xsan, Munki, Thunderbolt, Archives. Or is that all one word? Thunderbolt Xsan Munki Archives! That’s better.
Here’s an excerpt from the report that no one will read:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 20,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
Surprisingly, or not, that opera would be about Xsan. Yes, Apple’s Xsan is still alive, and Apple even added new features with OS X 10.11 El Capitan. I’m still building Xsan shared storage SANs and upgrading old ones to new versions. That was one of the good news stories of 2015 for me.
You can build an Xsan with one or two Mac Minis and add your storage of choice. That used to mean more often than not the fibre channel storage from Promise. A great choice for larger deployments, the x30 Vtraks are solid.
But the real shocker for me in 2015 was stumbling upon the Accusys Thunderbolt SAN RAID, the A16T2-Share. For more than half off the price of a similar fibre channel storage RAID here’s a magical box powered by unicorns that has four (4) Thunderbolt connections. Plug one Thunderbolt cable into that Mac Mini, format the raid, setup Apple’s Xsan, and then plug the other three (3) Thunderbolt cables into iMacs, Mac Pro, MacBook Pros or any Xsan clients. Wow. Awesome.
Suddenly we have a game changer. An affordable SAN storage RAID for real block-level storage. Now more than ever we can afford to have true collaborative workflows for video editors and anyone in the creative. If you need to work together with fast connections to a shared pool then building an Xsan got much more attractive.
Disclaimer: I got a chance to test the Accusys A16T2-Share. And I would be crazy to recommend something without testing it thoroughly. This was used for several weeks by video editors in production. It was much faster than our 4GB fibre channel storage, of course, but it was also faster than our 8GB FC storage. Speed tests showed we got close to 1GB/sec, and even when it was 97% full we got 700MB/sec. Sa-weet.
I look forward to seeing what Accusys bring to NAB in 2016. What new box will they show up with? I hope for more than 4 client ports and faster Thunderbolt 3. Only 82 more sleeps till we all find out.
Apple’s Xsan and Accusys Thunderbolt storage A16T2-Share were big stars of 2015, but what else stood out? The two other bright shiny lights were Archiware’s new P5 Archive app, and Vidispine’s VidiXplore cloud based MAM. More on those in posts to follow. Both of these products have transformed workflows for editors. Stay tuned!
Big thanks to Ross at Ping Identity for organizing and Jamf for sponsoring the Mac Admin meetup on September 9, 2015.
We filled the tiny meeting room and we will have to expand to the larger conference room (or theatre) next time. It was a well attended meetup with much discussion of the earlier day’s Apple announcements, new OS X “El Capitan” and iOS 9 changes and how this affects management products like Casper which have had to move the binary because of the new SIP implementation in OS X.
The goal of my presentation was to give a quick overview of SAN technology as I’ve seen it change over the last 10 years: from Fibre Channel, to iSCSI to PCIe and Thunderbolt based. The last change to Thunderbolt based SANs is the most interesting for small video production workgroups or anyone that likes working on small scale shared projects but needs a decent bandwidth at an affordable price. Block level storage (SANs) is straight forward storage tech for users and applications to interact with without having to negotiate network protocols (AFP, SMB, or NFS). It’s never been quite that affordable until now.
Having built a lot of Fibre Channel based SANs for media and entertainment companies and post-production editors in corporate environments I know how awesome and fast and solid these SANs are. Lots of editors and clients can hit a large SAN and it won’t blink. Thirty or Sixty users is not unusual. But not everyone believes in fibre channel or the idea of pulling fibre cables. It is surprisingly a large stumbling block to building large SANs, “no, we don’t want fiber cables”. True, sometimes clients have objected to gigabit Ethernet too, but that’s another story.
I found that iSCSI, especially with the DDP units I’ve set up, has been a great alternative to fibre channel. Not fiber cables to pull. Just use the CAT6 cables already in place. Great Ethernet based SANs using 1 x or 2 x CAT6 cables per client, or even 10G. Works well. Very well indeed. It’s been great for smaller (and larger) clients who want a great Ethernet iSCSI SAN solution without needing fibre channel cables, switches, HBAs, Thunderbolt adapters, etc.
That’s why when I stumbled across the Accusys Thunderbolt storage I was kinda really excited. No fibre channel to Thunderbolt adapters. Just use Thunderbolt cables. Brilliant! Finally a solution for small workgroups. And there’s so many video groups sprouting out of every corporate office, or boutique VFX or post-production shops that have been struggling with small NAS solutions that were not meant for video production. Now you can get that SAN that you’ve wanted, you can really get that block-level storage at an affordable price. Instead of working locally and copying raw footage and finished products back and forth across slow network links they can work in a small video group with high speed storage. Sa-weet. (Can you tell I’m excited?).
I’ll include the presentation PDF here as a link if anyone is interested. I’ve added a link at the end from Accusys on how to build an Xsan with the A16T2-Share. Yes, Xsan from Apple still exists and is bundled with the OS for free. Building a SAN is pretty easy and everyone can do it. Don’t forget your backups though.
Lastly, anyone interested in attending any meetings for the upcoming MacDevOps:YVR (June 16-17, 2016) drop me a note. I added the email in the presentation document.
With all this talk about El Capitan, Apple’s as of yet unreleased version 10.11 of OS X, and its wondrous new features in Xsan, I think it might be time to upgrade to last year’s breakthrough version of OS X, Yosemite. Sure, you might be excited by the press releases for the built-in DLC in El Capitan but seriously sane folks stay 1-year behind the bleeding nose upgrades provided by Apple. So if OS X 10.11 is all the rage before its released it must be time to seriously consider upgrading that working Xsan running OS X 10.8 or OS X 10.9.
In my case, I upgraded a working Xsan running on Mac Minis and OS X 10.8.5. Here are some screenshots from the process. As always think worked better than I could have expected, and it is a much easier process that one expects. But stay sharp kids, danger lurks when you wake the dreamer…. Upgrading a SAN is serious business and doing anything like this without proper backups is taking your life in your own hands. In my case, full disk backups on Promise Pegasus RAIDs and full tape backups using Archiware P5.
Download the Yosemite installer form the App Store. Install. Download the new Server.app from the App Store. Install. Now upgrade your Xsan. That’s it. You’re done. No surprises, aren’t you happy? Ha ha. I’m kidding. The fun is just getting started.
If you’re actually following along, this isn’t a step by step recipe. Go to Apple’s site and read this Kbase and check out the migration guide.
Step 1 is to launch the new Server.app, find Xsan Admin. Just kidding, it isn’t there. Enable Xsan, and choose to Restore a previous SAN configuration. That wasn’t hard. High five! Actually, we’re not done yet. Set up OD now. Go!
Step 2. Set up your Xsan controller as an Open Directory (OD) master. Does’t matter if it’s joined to another domain, Xsan keeps itself organized in OD, so you need it.
Set up OD
Step 3. Admire your upgraded SAN, “how lovely the flowers do smell…. life is good.”
Step 4. Where did my Xsan admin go? Where do I add clients? Where are my clients? Huh? What? Why did I upgrade a perfectly working SAN to this version? Ha ha.
Take it all in, take a good look at what you’ve done to your Xsan. What? Just so the editors could have the latest version of Final Cut Pro (v.10.2.1) which is only compatible with OS X 10.10.4. I see what you’ve done Apple, very clever indeed. Hmm…
Click on the “Save configuration profile” button and download the profile somewhere. Use this to set up the SAN on your clients. Distribute via Profile Manager or install it manually. Up to you. I haven’t gotten it to work with Munki quite yet. Installing it requires the admin password for the Xsan controller. How convenient.
When you client is configured you’ll see a Profile in System Preferences. Remove it and your client is un-configured. No more Xsan.prefpane to list volumes and mount or unmount them. Nope. That would be too easy. Learn to love “xsanctl”, as in “xsanctl mount Xsan”. Read some xsanctl tips in this Kbase
Step 5. Set up a backup Xsan controller. You have one of those, right? In my case, I had a client which I wanted to promote to be a controller. But first what to do about its status a client of the Xsan?
backup cannot be client
Open Server.app, enable Xsan, join current Xsan as a backup controller and set up a replica OD. Confirm, confirm, confirm. Think about what you’re doing, then do it!
Apple wizards are the best wizards, uh, i mean Setup Assistants. No wizards here…. So, you’ve setup a backup Xsan controller, and OD replica, and now look in Server.app. How amazing is that… wait, what? Where’d my Xsan volumes go? Huh? Where are the controllers? Weird. Very strange. Not comforting at all.
The Xsan window eventually shows the volumes and controllers, bur geez, almost gave me a heart attack. It’s not like I never seen Xsan go bad before. Xsan 1 nightmare still haunt me. They do. Backups. Need more backups. Archiware P5 Backups, do it now!
OK, you’ve survived the uncertainty of Xsan upgrades…. But wait more minute… cat the fsnameservers (no, it’s not the name of a band, it’s a command). Check it out. Holy smokes, batman. Xsan 4 by default will set your metatadata network to the public LAN, something that’d would be laughed at years ago, but they do it now by default. Of course, upgrading our SAN kept out metadata network the same. But strangely the Xsan backup controller is set to use the public for metadata when the primary controller is not. WTF.
I’ve mentioned the Accusys A16T2-Share Thunderbolt SAN storage before. I first encountered it at NAB 2015 back in April. It was truly a magical find. A 16-drive RAID unit with 64TB raw storage and ready to be part of your Apple Xsan using Thunderbolt connectors. No Thunderbolt to fibre channel adapters necessary, nor is a fibre channel switch required. Just plugin a Mac Mini as your Xsan controller, and there’s room for 3 other clients to plugin with Thunderbolt. Pretty neat.
It’s not for everyone. There’s a limit to the length of Thunderbolt optical cables. And there’s only 3 clients possible using one last Thunderbolt connection for an Xsan controller. But this could work well for small work groups. The magical 4-seat SAN setup is finally here. Bob Kite, master SAN builder, would be happy.
I’ve just gotten word that this unit is available for sale now, as it was recently certified by both Apple and Intel. I believe the street price is approximately $9900 USD, but don’t quote me on that. Information is still emerging on this new product. I do hope to get my hands on one to do some real world application testing. Including testing resilience to failure (drive removals, raid rebuilds, etc).
If the reliability of the Accusys hardware is good, and backed up with solid support then this could be a great product.
Of course, it kinda goes without saying that all storage, including Shared SAN storage, needs solid backups. My preference where possible is a second tier disk (NAS/SAN/DAS) and tape. My preferred vendor is Archiware which makes the very excellent product P5.
With over 10 years of experience with Xsan and setting up storage systems I have learned to always setup excellent backups. Restoring files when a RAID or SAN fails is crucial. Using an a RAID, such as the Accusys Thunderbolt A16T2-Share, as a SAN would be come with a recommendation from me to all my clients to have a secondary Thunderbolt RAID unit of the same size to sync it daily and to use P5 Backup with LTO 6 tape drives (preferably in a tape library). You never can be too paranoid with a client’s data. That’s what my clients pay me for. To plan for failure. I love setting them with excellent SAN storage, but I must counsel them to build also an excellent backups system. Better safe than sorry.
The price point on this A16T2-Share Thunderbolt RAID is attractive, and when it is released many clients in small shops may very well consider it. At approximately $10K US for 64TB of shared storage with free Xsan 4 it is a pretty sweet deal. Add another $5-10K for a large backup RAID drive, and another $5K for a tape library and $2K for Archiware P5 Backup and the cost adds up. But having an affordable price for the main SAN storage makes this a very real possibility for some clients who have been struggling with editing video on NAS like QNAP, Synology or Drobo.