Tim Standing, VP Software Engineering at OWC,
understands every creative’s nightmare.
OWC RADiO Host, Cirina Catania, interviews the man who’s made it his career-long passion to protect your work. We sleep better knowing Tim Standing and his team have our back. After listening to this interview, we think you’ll feel better too.
- Peek under the hood and learn how SoftRAID is designed to protect your work and make you more productive.
- The best combination of on-site and off-site storage to keep your work safe.
- How to choose between RAID 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or even 6+.
- What is the secret to creating the perfect pizza dough?
Tim Standing has been writing drivers and storage utilities for Mac OS since 1986. He is the creator of SoftRAID for macOS and is currently VP of Software Development at Other World Computing, Inc.
In the past year, Tim has added APFS support to SoftRAID as well as two additional RAID levels: RAID 6 and 6+. He has also patented a write acceleration technique, which enables the write speed RAID volumes to be as fast as the read speed. Tim’s team is responsible for SoftRAID, OWC Dock Ejector, and all the Mac drivers and utilities, which make OWC products so exceptional
And, he’s recently installed a dedicated pizza oven in his house and has already made about 500 pies for himself, friends, and family. In short, when it comes to storage and pizza, this man knows what he’s talking about!
So get comfortable. Grab a slice. And let’s dig into the details of how to keep our nightmares at bay so you can stay focused on dreaming up our next big idea.
For more information on Standing’s recent talks at MacSysAdmin:
SOFTRAID: HIGH-PERFORMANCE STORAGE
WHAT HAPPENED TO MY FILE?
For more information about OWC RADiO’s host, Cirina Catania:
Write to us at OWCProducer@catania.us with suggestions, questions, etc.
If you enjoy our podcast, please subscribe and tell all your friends about us! We love our listeners. And, if you have ideas for segments, write to OWCRadio@catania.us.
We are always up for new ideas!
In This Episode
- 00:08 – Cirina introduces Tim Standing, VP Software Engineering, at OWC.
- 05:30 – Tim talks about the comparison between RAID 4 and RAID 5’s distributed parity information distribution.
- 11:10 – Tim explains the three ways SoftRAID can protect your data.
- 15:32 – Tim shares one of SoftRAID’s features inspired by one of Google’s studies in 2007.
- 22:33 – What is an APFS, and how does it function with SoftRAID?
- 29:29 – Tim points out how SoftRAID can predict if an SSD is failing.
- 35:53 – How does Apple’s T2 chip function?
- 39:41 – Tim shares a smart way of backing up his data with his iMac Pro.
- 44:40 – Tim shares one of his weekend hobbies; making fresh pizzas and inviting friends to spend time talking about anything but computers.
- 52:26 – Visit SoftRAID’s website, www.softraid.com, to check out a powerful and intuitive software RAID utility for macOS and Windows
This is Cirina Catania with OWC Radio. I have Tim Standing on the other side of the world for me, well actually, not literally, he’s just in Northern California today. But he’s been writing drivers and storage utilities for Mac OS since 1986, and Tim, you look a lot younger than that.
Currently, you’re the creator of SoftRAID for Mac OS X, and you are the VP of Software Development and Other World Computing. We met a few years ago, and I’ve been tracking you, you’re doing some amazing things. So what I want to do today, Tim, for people who don’t know what SoftRAID is, I’d like to explain that to them. And then I really want to spend some time for our listeners going under the hood and getting really geeky with this. So are you ready?
I am totally.
Alright, so let’s start out by telling people what SoftRAID is.
There’s a technology called RAID, which stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks, and the idea is that you can string together two or more disks, and have them be one volume. So you can either have all your data duplicated, so each disk has all the data from the volume, and then when the disk disappears, then you still have one or more disk, sort of backing up within the independent copies of your files so you can still keep using that data. That’s called mirroring because the data is literally mirrored on each step. There’s an identical image of it, and it’s also called RAID 1. And there’s also RAID 0 where you take all the data, and you spread it out among all the disks in equal parts. And then, when you read, you can read like you’re reading a file, where you read some from the first disk and some of the second disk or third disk. And just like when you’re on the freeway, you can get many more cars down the freeway at 55 miles an hour, then you can demo a little country road with one part of time going 55 miles an hour. But the same way with RAID with what’s called striping, you can have much more data going into your computer at once, then you can promote a single disk drive. The problem with that, of course, is just one of those disk drives fails, say you have a four drive stripe, so you’ve got your data spread across four disks. If one of those drives fails, you’re going to lose one-quarter of all your data. So you’re going to end up with things like pictures where the top quarter is a band of like black, which is obviously not very useful. It turns out that striping gives you the highest performance, but it does have this vulnerability. So after the software engineers in Berkeley, who came up with this whole idea of RAID, after they came up with these first two mechanisms, people started saying, Okay, how can we give people speed and reliability. And it turns out there are several advanced RAID levels called RAID 4 and RAID 5 that allow you to lose one disk drive. And still, through a little bit of math, we create the data that was on that disk drive, but they also give you most of the advantages of the stripes of faster RAID level. SoftRAID 5, which we’ve been shipping since 2014, supports RAID 5, there’s also a level called RAID 6 where you can lose to disk drives. And that’s what we will be shipping in the first part of next year the SoftRAID version 6 that will support RAID 6.
That’s awesome. So what do you recommend to media producers, is the best version of RAID for them, what would you say?
I actually like RAID 4. For people using SSDs, there’s a slightly esoteric reason for that: RAID 4 and RAID 5. The right performance is identical in SoftRAID because of the way it was implemented, I’ve always been in favor of choosing the simplest way to implement. And I find if I write simple software, there are pure chances of there being a bug. So I try to create a mental model when I’m coding that simplifies things that make a model that I can think about in the physical world that represents what’s going on in the code. So the RAID 4 and the RAID 5 code inside software is literally so close to identical for all practical purposes, it is identical. What happens with RAID 4 is the parity data. So the way we recreate the data that’s missing on a missing desk is sort of like a simple addition is called parity calculation, but it’s basically addition without carrying anything. So if you can imagine when you’re first learning addition, you’ve learned how to add a column and carry the 10s units over to the next column. Well, imagine you do your position without doing that carry, and that’s basically what a parity calculation is. And just like with math with simple addition, if you’re missing one of the things on one of the terms on one side of the equal sign, you can get it back by subtracting all those terms from the sum, and you get the missing term. Well, that’s basically what happens in a RAID 1. With RAID 4, all the parity data is all on one particular drive, on RAID 5, it’s spread across all the drives. And the reason this gets to be important is that when you’re reading from a RAID 5 volume and the RAID 5 volume has all the disk working, which is what is the case 99.99% of the time, you’re reading the data and the parity information, and then as soon as it gets into the Mac memory, you’re throwing out the parity information. So you’re reading, you’re incurring the overhead of reading the extra data that you’re going to throw away. In many cases, systems really make any difference, but as your drives get faster and faster, so you’re using inequities, you’re using blades inside some sort of solid-state devices speed up those blades gets to be so fast, that extra data is actually going to slow you down, that extra parity information is going to slow you down. So what RAID 4 does is it has a dedicated parity disk, and you can then readjust the data and ignore the parity disk, and you see a 20% speed improvement from reading for most disks. So again, the right performance between RAID 4 and RAID 5 is the same, but a really fast volume on the read performance on RAID 4 is faster. Likewise, with RAID 6, RAID 6 has two parity disks, which are two parity blocks that are spread among all the disks, and RAID 6 plus has dedicated this so you can avoid reading those dedicated parity disks when you’re doing a read, and you get that extra speed boost.RAID 4 has a dedicated parity disk. When you readjust the data and ignore the parity disk, you see a 20% speed improvement for most disks. Click To Tweet
We say as producers that you need two to three copies of everything if we’re working on RAIDs.
What do you recommend to people in order to protect their data? And I want to talk in a moment about how SoftRAID protects our data because it has saved my life on more than one occasion. But let’s go back to just the simple question of as a media producer, how many copies should I make, and what’s your recommendation for that?
Well, I’m a really big fan of having your working copy on a RAID 4 or RAID 5 volume and having two backup copies one local and one off-site. When it comes off the camera, and at points during the editing process, I would back up everything to another drive. A lot of people I’ve talked to, they have a ThunderBay 4 setup to RAID 5, and they have a second one that is used for their backups, and they have some other device that is their off-site backup. I was a volunteer firefighter for three years, and I saw a lot of people have really bad things happen to them when they least expect it, including fires. And I saw several computers that looked like a beer can that has been in the campfire for too long. And when I think about backup, both for my personal computers and for the work of computers here at the Macintosh software division of OWC, I always imagined that the building would disappear. So I run a thought experiment, and I say, the building disappears, okay, nothing in that building I can touch ever again, how quickly can I get back up and running? Here at the building, we do backups of all source code to the server. We also have an image of every computer in the building, that’s a production computer. We have an off-site image we update every month, and it’s a rotating update so that there are two copies off-site, and all this one gets brought in every month and updated. So I can go back one month or go back for two months if there was ransomware. So my pain point is I’m willing to lose 30 days of work for the convenience of only having to do it once a month. The source code gets updated for every single build goes up to storage. For media editors, video, or film editors, I recommend the same sort of thing. If you’re on production and time is really tight, I would backup every night. I would say okay, what do I need to make sure that I have backed up so that something catastrophic happens, I’m okay because awful things happen to people at the worst time.
Oh, tell me about it. I’ve been to the offices of drive savers.
Yes, that’s how we met, isn’t it?
That’s how we got to know each other very well during that awful hack that I had. So there’s ransomware, there’s also fake ransomware going around right now, but that’s a whole other conversation. So you think that maybe what we should do is actually mirror what we have locally, just mirror it, and then swap that out once a week. If you’re in production, I would say once a week. And then if you’re not in production, and you’re in post, I would say once a month. Because you can recreate your work using your Final Cut Pro projects or whatever NLE you’re using, you can take those files. And using those files, you can relink to the original media if you keep that safely somewhere, right? So I would say definitely mirror on a regular basis so that you have two copies locally, as you’re saying, and then at least one or two in remote areas to guarantee against theft against hacking against malware against fires against flood is another one, water. So that’s awesome. There are other ways of protecting your data that SoftRAID does on a moment by moment basis. I feel comfortable knowing that I have SoftRAID running on every computer that I have there is SoftRAID running. And once in a while, and I thank you every time Tim, I will get this little notice where SoftRAID will tell me, “You have a 65% chance that this particular drive will fail within 60 days or 30 days or whatever it is,” and I go, “Okay, thank you,” so explain that.
So I like to say that software protects your data in three ways, the way you’re describing is the second way. The first way is that we know with electronics there’s a certain percentage of devices that fail just within the first day or two of use, and then things are pretty good for a pretty long time, and then when things get older, they start to fail. So what we find with this drive is in the first like 40 hours of use, there’s a pretty higher than you’d expect failure rate. And then they’re good for a year, two years, three years, and then they start failing more frequently. We want to make sure that those few drives that are going to fail early, you don’t actually start using. And we have a process built in the SoftRAID called SoftRAID Certified, where we write out to every sector, write a random pattern out to every sector on the disk, and then read it back, and we make sure it’s identical. And we recommend you do three passes to the three times. If you think about it, that’s hard disk manufacturers, and this takes 40 hours or so per disk. Disk drive manufacturers decide manufacturers can’t afford to have rows and rows and rows of disk drives, writing to every sector and reading back from every sector. It’s much cheaper for them just to say, oh, we’ll ship them all to customers, and if there’s some problem that comes from it, we’ll ship it back, and they will have done our testing for us. And once they’ve shipped them out, you replace the drives, but it’s cheaper for us to have these drives consuming power consuming warehouse space. So you’re actually the tester for your disk drive when you first go buy it, you just don’t know yet.
Which is really frightening. It’s very frightening for us because our entire life is on those disks when you’re working in any business, not just production.
So what we recommend is you certify your disk. It actually turns out that the speed of doing four disks is exactly the same with SoftRAID, it’s exactly the same as doing one disk. You can set your desktop on Friday afternoon before you leave for the weekend, come back Monday morning, they’re probably done, then you can start using them. And you know that all those disk drives are reliable, and they’re going to give you good service. It’s really interesting what we find every once in a while there’s a new type of disk drive that comes out like the first helium drives, the first shingled magnetic recording drives from Seagate, and we’ll get customers who email us at email marketing support and say “Hey, I think SoftRAID Certify is really broken because I have eight drives, and six of them failed to certify.” And what we find out is that no, it’s not that, it’s just that the manufacturers haven’t quite figured out how to do this new technology, and they’re using you to test it and figure out whether it’s working reliably or not. What I recommend to people, is you don’t buy the first generation of drives that come out, you wait six months. By six months, they figured out the bugs, and then they’re more reliable. I think 16 terabyte drives are coming out now. I would wait until Q2 of next year before I buy one.
And if you do buy one, I would say definitely certify it before you use it. So that sort of gets rid of those strides that fail really early on. The second way that SoftRAID helps prevent you from losing data is we actually monitor the drives. And this is really interesting, I started my career as a biochemist, and I really love research, and I love looking at the way you can use data to predict future behavior and use it as an indicator to help you protect yourself. And Google in 2007 came out with a study where they looked at 100,000 disk drives that they had in Google server pods all over the country, and they analyzed the smart data. Smart is a technology that allows the drives to test themselves, and it also allows them to report back statistics. How many times have they been turned on? How many hours of a run? How many terabytes have they moved? How many errors do they have? What temperature are they? So Google looked at all hundred thousand disk drives every 24 hours. And whenever a disk drive would disappear from one of their server pods, they would email the technician wherever it was in the country who was responsible for that sort of pod and say, Hey, what happened to that drive? Did you pull a server pod because the motherboard went, or did the drive fail? And if the drive failed, they looked back in this data, remember they’re collecting every 24 hours, so they look back, and they see, is there one of these smart parameters that changed before that tried to disappear? And what they found, you think, well, maybe they’re too hot, or maybe the ones that got charged or whatever, what they found was there were only three indicators that were predictive of drive failure. And they wrote this article in 2007, and I read it in 2008. And I thought, Oh, this would be wonderful, I can add this as a feature to SoftRAID, and we’ll use it to predict drive failure. And it’s been part of SoftRAID ever since 2010, we changed the user interface in version 5 to make it more believable. Because people would say, “My drive says it’s going to fail, but why do you say that? We don’t believe you,” and so what we did was we uncovered the actual reason.
So before we just say it’s predicted to fail, now we’ll say it’s got this many reallocated sectors, it’s got this many uncorrectable errors, it’s got this many unreliable sectors, those three parameters fields. And by exposing this to the user, now the user can see like we have a drive to house, that like a hundred reallocated sectors, every hour of use. So it’s got 20,000 reallocated sectors now, and if you’re going to look at it and start using it, you would never put anything on there. But without SoftRAID, its ability to actually show what’s happening in that drive, you would just think it was normal and keep using it. This notification happens even when you’re not running the SoftRAID application. It’s just a little agent running in the background all the time it talks to the driver knows what’s going on, just will put up this dialog saying, hey, if this drive is going to fail, you should think about replacing it. It’s also tied into our logging system, and you can open up the SoftRAID log and see exactly when these errors are happening when we first notice it. It’s also tied into our email modification system, so you can set up SoftRAID to send you an email. So you’re sending a computer for your editor or your color grader, you can have it so that when either if they’re not that technical person they’re really creative, you can have it so that when there’s a drive that’s predicted to fail, you’re the one who receives the email. But email notification systems also allow you to set up, as we all know, sometimes your emails don’t go through. So we allow you two outgoing email accounts. If the first one fails, that sends on to the second one.
Oh, that’s wonderful.
The last way that SoftRAID protects data, the same way that all RAID systems do. It allows you to recover even if a drive fails. So if a single drive fails, with a RAID 4 or RAID 5, you can still read your data, replace the drive and rebuild, and then back to protected status.
Well, I have to tell you, one of the reasons I became so enamored of OWC, aside from the fact that I’ve been using their drives for many years, is that when SoftRAID has predicted a potential fail, I have contacted customer service at OWC. I get a person on the line, and they say, oh, send that disc back, and we’ll replace it right away. And I have a new disk, within a couple of days sitting on my desk that I could put into the RAID system and keep working. It’s pretty awesome. Let’s talk about Catalina, and there was a bug that you discovered. So you went from version 5.1 to 5.8, I believe, tell me about that.
We’ve been shipping version 5.75 since March of last of this year, seven months. And we discovered there was a problem with Catalina software and there was actually a problem that was introduced. We got access to Catalina right after the Developers Conference. We were constantly checking to make sure that there were no problems, and then very late in the beta process, Apple introduced the bug, which kept the SoftRAID driver from getting installed correctly. So we reported it to Apple, it didn’t get figured before the release of Catalina. So the day after Catalina got released, we released version 5.8 of SoftRAID. We figured out there was a workaround where if you turn off Integrity Protection, System Integrity Protection is the facility in Mac OS that hardens your startup volume so that it can’t be tampered with by malware. So you have to disable what I think is a very desirable feature in order to install the SoftRAID drives. So we have a feature put into SoftRAID 5.8 where we would alert the user that they had to go and disable SIP, System Integrity Protection in order to update the driver, and then how to turn it back on and send them to a PDF that had that full description screenshots. And then to Apple’s credit, a week after Catalina shipped, you know how sometimes you go into a software update, and it says, there’s a supplemental update, and you really have no idea. It’s not like you’re going from 1015 to 1015.1, though, it’s just like a supplemental update. It turns out that the supplemental update they came out with a week ago, we asked literally seven days after Catalina shipped, fixed this problem. So because we’re a small, very nimble organization being the Macintosh Development Group inside Other World Computing, we’re now going to spin a new version of SoftRAID. It should be out in the next day or two that disables that removes this. This check-in this protection that we put in for Catalina, and it adds support for a few more new OWC enclosures for eight disk enclosures that are coming out soon. And basically, it makes the whole installation process on Catalina that much easier.
Now that’s wonderful because we’re all upgrading now. We’re all upgrading to Catalina now.
Yes, I took the MacTech Conference last week in Los Angeles, and people were complaining about Catalina, and I got up and said, “Look, I’m really in favor of it. Apple is hardening the operating system that you read about ransomware. You read about malware, read about how much ransomware is costing people, and how much these hacks are costing people. I think anything that Apple is doing, and I think they’re doing a good job protecting us against malware, is worth supporting. And so even though it’s harder for us to do our job, I’m all in favor of the changes that Apple is making.I think anything that Apple is doing is worth supporting. They're doing a good job protecting us against malware. Click To Tweet
I agree with you, Tim, I think you’re right on with that. Talk to me about APFS and the support for APFS and encrypted APFS. Explain to people who don’t know what it is, if you don’t mind, and then talk about how you’ve integrated that into SoftRAID.
APFS is sort of a mixed bag. For people who want to really deep dive on APFS, I gave a talk in 2018 at the MacSysAdmin Conference in Sweden, that really goes into the nitty-gritty of how blocks are stored on the disk and the true reason why some things are like, how do snapshots work I describe on the low-level detail, how snapshots work. Well, how does copy and write work, all these things I described at a pretty low-level detail. So I’m actually a huge fan of APFS with one caveat. So I think APFS, it’s a really thoroughly thought up file system. It supports encryption not as a shim, as we have with core storage and an HFS. HFS’ encryption is done as a separate driver, there’s sort of multiple layers in there, and I think it was done because the HFS code was so complicated that the storage group couldn’t actually add encryption to it without breaking things. So what they did was they made the HFS volume sit on top of another layer, a core storage driver, which is the sub-top of the disk. So what APFS is: APFS has encryption as a fundamental inherent feature of the file system. And their encryption implementation, I think, is really good. The problem is that on a rotating media disk from a hard disk, there’s a feature of APFS that can cause massive fragmentation. From the last year 2018, there’s a really good section of my talk about exactly what’s going on. Basically what happens is anytime you duplicate a file in the Finder, or take a time machine snapshot, or use Carbon Copy Cloner to make a backup, you create a situation where anytime you write to a file, you’re going to fragment the file. So the worst possible case is you’ve got a few running VMware or parallels, you’ve got a virtual machine, you run the virtual machine, and every single write to that virtual machine volume creates a fragment. The result is a volume like a four drive volume that will normally do 500 megabytes per second will flow down to about 60 megabytes per second. And at first, I thought, oh, this is only a function of a really huge file. So I repeated the test for the 10 megabytes file, a 10-megabyte file, if you put 1000 non-continuous writes since that 10-megabyte file, the read performance goes from 500 megabytes a second down to three megabytes a second. Three megabytes a second is the speed of one of those cheap USB flash drives that you get handed in conferences or at the trade shows, which are just basically giveaway garbage.
SoftRAID is ideal for anyone who needs to safely store and backup massive amounts of data including videographers, editors, audio producers, photographers, database and media managers, advertisers, archivers, and more.
It’s ridiculous, this is bringing me back to the 80s. Remember when we used to have to defrag our disks all the time?
Yes. So if you’re using APFS, and you’re on rotating media at this point, you do need to defrag the disk. Because there’s no way around it and you’re going to need to keep your eye out for it because you’re going to run into this. I’ve been trying to get Apple to address this problem for three years. Finally, got them to admit that it was a problem, but they basically said the only way it’s going to change is if customers start complaining. So we have been stalling on adding APFS support to SoftRAID for a couple of years in the hopes that Apple would fix this because I don’t want our customers to come to us and blame us for why their RAID volumes are slow when it’s just the file system. We’re going to go ahead and implement this in the hopes that people, when they have a problem, will contact Apple and give them the emphasis, and hopefully, a year from now, we’ll actually have a good solution. It’s a very simple solution, all they need to do is make it so that if you’re on a rotating media disk, they don’t enable this feature called copy on write, which is the root cause of what’s happening. Just as an aside, it’s not just RAID volumes that have this problem. I talked to someone last week, which is a tech for a lot of executives at Lionsgate and many of the other studios, and he has a customer who has a 5K iMac with a fusion volume. He just upgraded like six months ago to Mojave, and he has found that the performance is just awful, it’s so slow. Well, the reason it’s so slow is because fusion volume is a mixture of an SSD and a hard disk. So anything that’s sitting on a hard disk is going to be fragmented. And as soon as he starts writing to it because he’s probably got a time machine turned on and because of that, all these files that normally get read and written very quickly. Mail databases, spreadsheets, all these other things are now going to be massively fragmented and really, really slow. And he said his customer was ready to throw the computer out because it was so slow.
This is crazy. I remember the old days defragging Windows machines. I don’t even know how to defrag a Mac, I’m gonna have to look into that. How do you defrag a Mac and your data? That’s crazy.
The easiest way to do it is you copy all the data off onto another disk, and then you copy it back.
Alright, so 250 TB of data, you’re just gonna go ahead and copy that? That’s crazy. Oh, my goodness.
It’s basically working clouds. If you’re working on a project and it starts getting really slow, and you’ve got 500 gigs, then you just plug in a 500 gig drive and copy everything over and then copy everything back, and your speed will be back to where it was. So this is why as much as I love APFS, I think APFS is much more resilient than HFS. We have testing protocols here where we can trash an HFS volume and make it non-mountable just doing normal things that a user might inadvertently do. We can make it non-mountable in like three or four minutes, and we can do those same steps with APFS, and the volume is still mountable. So APFS has some huge, huge advantages, it just has this one thing. If you’re using SSDs, APFS is the way to go because it’s fabulous, the encryption is great, the performance is good. It’s for streaming small numbers of files simultaneously. It has the same performance as HFS, there’s no speed decrease, it handles TRIM correctly, and it’s just really great. But on a rotating media that the caveat is, you have to know that there’s some potential for your performance to go down dramatically. And you have to be looking out for it and know how to handle it.
This is a little bit off the subject, but I’m thinking about the fact that-or maybe it’s not a fact, maybe I’m wrong-but the spinners, the rotating disks, if you lose data on a rotating disk for whatever reason, you can most of the time recover most of the data. It’s expensive, and there are different ways of doing it. But an SSD, when an SSD fails, my experience with the SSDs is if they fail, they’re gone. Goodbye. You can’t get that data back. Am I right about that?
Yeah. As far as I know that people drive savers would be the real sort of people to answer that question. I believe what you’re saying is correct, the other thing is that we have not yet figured out how to predict that an SSD is going to fail. Of all the hard disks, the rotating media that’s roughly 75% of the drive that is going to fail SoftRAID will predict that they’re going to fail. So one in four, we can’t predict, but three in four, we predict they’re going to fail. We don’t have the same visibility into SSD spinning, so we can’t predict those quite as well.
That’s another reason to be careful, the quality of the SSD is really important, then we don’t know what we’re buying. It’s kind of scary. I mean, yeah, you might save money by buying a cheaper SSD, heaven knows where it’s made, but I tend to be afraid of that. I don’t want to sound like a commercial for OWC, and yes, they are our sponsor, and I work with those disks for many, many years. It’s true, you guys that are listening in, I’m not getting paid to say this, I buy OWC because I trust them. And that’s actually how I ended up working with them so much. You’ve got a version six coming up. So you’re adding more support for APFS, there’s going to be two levels of functionality like SoftRAID and SoftRAID Pro. What’s the difference between the two?
I think what we decided two weeks ago is that we’re going to do one version, and then you could buy a license to unlock the Pro features. So the Pro features are going to be the email notification, they’re going to be advanced RAID level. So the fundamental version will just do RAID 0 and 1, the striping and mirroring that I talked about at the very beginning. The Pro version will do all the RAID 4, RAID 5, RAID 6, RAID 6 Plus, and a level we haven’t talked about called RAID 1 + 0. So it’ll do all those, it’ll do the email notification, it’ll also have a command-line interface so that you can type in terminal type and SoftRAID commands. Pretty much anything you can do and operate from the user interface from the application, you can also do it on the command line. If you’re someone who does scripting or you want to do some sort of monitoring or anything that can all be done from the command line. So if you’re the type of person who’s responsible for a large number of Macs, and you’re used to using the command line in getting remote access to a machine, that is very doable.
What are the features of version 6 that you think of you’d like to tell people about now?
The other thing that’s gonna happen with SoftRAID 6, we just found this company, Mark, my support person found this company two years ago that has a really cool product on windows that allows you to plug in Mac-formatted disk into a Windows machine and read and write it, and the products called MacDrive, it’s cool. And the reason that came upon Mark’s radar was they had reverse-engineered the SoftRAID driver so they could take a SoftRAID volume and plug it into a Windows machine and read and write it. So I persuaded Larry, the owner of OWC, to purchase this company, and they’re now working on SoftRAID for Windows. So just about the time that SoftRAID 6 comes out for Mac, SoftRAID version one for Windows comes out. And the really, really cool thing about this, it’s a feature that people have been asking for as long as I’ve been with OWC, which is five years. In the first year, I went to NAB, people said, Yeah, I have my editor, the other on a Mac, and then my editors on Windows, and my colorist is on a Mac, and my LTO backup is on a Mac. And so they wanted to be able to make an enclosure with four eight or six drives and just literally carry it down the hall and give it to the next phase of the workflow. These projects are so large that setting up a 20 ethernet network and the fan solution is tens of thousands of dollars, and for a small workgroup, it’s really cost-prohibitive. That money would be much better spent on cameras and lenses, lighting equipment, and that they can just literally hand carry this thing down the hall, that’s what they want to do. But they wanted to be able to do it and have it read and write from both platforms. So now, here it is, several years later, we’re actually gonna deliver on that whole idea of being able to edit on one machine on one platform Windows and then move it onto another platform and do another operation on Mac. So it’s really going to be completely transparent. The MacDrive team that’s now doing this, they’re using all our source code, they’re using our programming, the Mac driver model, and we’re really sharing information. They even found a couple of bugs on SoftRAID drivers, but it’s great that we have more eyes on the code, we have more eyes on the technology, we have more brains thinking about what we’re doing. And we’re really dedicated now to provide a cross-platform solution.
That’s really good news. Talk to me about the T2 chip.
The T2 chip, I was always sort of nervous about because it’s sort of another level of complexity in the storage architecture. So here’s this chip, it sits inside a Mac, it acts as sort of a gatekeeper to the internal storage, it’s in charge of reading and writing. I sort of tried to figure out what was going on, and the last part of my talk in 2018, at MacSysAdmin, was what I thought lasted 10 or 15 minutes, what I thought was going on with the T2 chip. A lot of these conferences show that people are incredibly smart, and thank God; they are also incredibly generous. So the week after I gave that talk, the head of research at Oxford University, contacted me and said, “Hey, mate, I think you got this wrong. Apple just published a white paper, and you might want to look at it.” So I spent two or three days digesting this incredibly complex white paper, and I knew I had a talk coming up at the MacTech Conference in LA a couple of weeks later. And so the last part of my talk for 2018 for MacTech is the correct description of what’s actually going on in the T2 chip. I’m pretty sure I got it right, I’m very impressed with their architecture and what they’re doing. It really is designed so that if you open up iMac Pro, for instance, and take the storage out of it, you can’t take that storage somewhere else and clone it and then stick it back in the original machine. It really locks that storage down to that particular computer. And the cryptography that it’s much harder to decrypt that. I’m going to dive a little bit into how encryption works. When you decrypt something, you enter your password, and you generate it in the computer in the main memory of the computer and the encryption key. And this key is what allows the computer to decrypt what’s on your volume. So if you read about some of the malware, I hear people talking about such and such malware that allows people to get encryption keys. You probably heard that I think the specter and meltdown, people are saying yes, it will make the keys vulnerable. What that means is that there is software that allows someone a bad actor to go and snoop on the memory in your computer and find these keys. And with those keys and your volume, they then have access to everything on your volume. The cool thing about the T2 chip is this key never makes it into the main memory, and it’s always only on the T2 chip. So it’s not susceptible to snooping by a piece of malware that’s sitting on the Mac. Again, going back to my statement about being in favor of what Apple’s doing to harden the platforms, make it harder for all this malware, ransomware all these other bad pieces of software to access our data or to lock us so that we have to pay them a ransom to get back our data that we have on our desktop. Anything Apple’s doing to make this harder to do to make it to harden the platform. I’m totally in favor of the T2 chip, that’s one of those things.
How reliable is the T2 chip going to be another with some talk about it being potentially vulnerable or becoming inoperable at one point, and then your data becomes inaccessible? Do you see that as a potential problem, or have they solved that?
I am not aware of that. So anything I say is gonna be speculation. From a design perspective, it does introduce a single point of failure. If you look inside iMac Pro, it has two SFP modules in it, and your data gets spread across those modules. So either one of those modules fails, you’re going to lose all your data. So it’s the same as a stripe, that’s not ideal, again, you want to backup your data. What I often do is I have my operating system on one volume. In fact, what I always do now, I have my operating system on one volume, and then on a separate volume, I have all my data files. This gives me the advantage of if something happens to my system file, I can reinstall my system and still have all my data there. Apple with Catalina is sort of doing the same thing in that they now have a write-protected system volume and an irregular data volume, and they sort of merged them magically together. So you see only one volume, it’s actually two volumes behind the scenes. The problem with their implementation is you don’t really have a clear separation, which you can look at, and you can say I just want to update this one volume, we’re gonna leave everything else here. So what I do now even on my laptop is I create two APFS volumes. One’s my startup volume, the other is all my data files, my work files, everything my projects, the graphics card, everything is there. And what I can do then is like I’m in the process of moving to Catalina, so I just create a new APFS volume, I installed Catalina on it. Then I boot up into Catalina, and I see whether I can actually do all the things I have to do day to day on my separate data volume.If you're using APFS and you're on rotating media at this point, you do need to defrag the disk. Click To Tweet
That’s really smart. So have I forgotten to ask you anything about SoftRAID? Because there’s something else, I want to ask you about that’s nothing to do with SoftRAID.
The one thing I want to say about SoftRAID, and this is where we really differ from, certainly from the Apple-sized organizations, but even from many of the medium-sized organizations. I sit next to the person who does support, and every morning at ten o’clock, he and I, we actually have a team meeting, and he brings up anything that’s support related that he can’t figure out if he thinks that’s anomalous, that’s not working right. We often spend an hour every day going over these things. I’m convinced that this is the reason that we have such a high-quality piece of software and why we’re so responsive to customers, and I’m committed to keeping that whole structure going forward into the future.
That’s awesome. Well, you’re a very caring person, Tim. You really are. You have a big heart, which also brings me to the next. I’m excited. We have a few minutes left, and I do want to ask you about people who may not know that you make awesome chocolate, and you make awesome pizza. Let’s talk about food, and let’s talk about your pizzas. The holidays are coming, and we’re people too, and we have to eat, and we have to make merry. So, tell me about your pizza.
Yeah, I started the whole trip down the pizza road the same way I start any new software project, which is I start by doing a lot of research. So I had tried making pizza in my oven, I have a pizza stone if the results are just not there. They were not that really thin crisp crust with a sort of cereal dough inside, and they’re a really thin layer of toppings, on a slightly brown crust edge. It just was like it was a cooked piece of toast with crumbs on. I realized that the pieces I really liked came from woodfired pizza ovens. And I started researching woodfired pizza ovens, and I have all these fears like oh, I won’t be able to start to fire. I’m going to put a pizza and then it’s going to roll over and be mush. I’m not going to get the flavor I want. And so I started what everyone does, which is seeing videos online and videos online are great, but it’s sort of like online dating. You don’t really know what’s going to happen, you don’t really know what’s there, and so you see it in front of you. And I found a wood oven vendor who was willing to let me come up with my three daughters one Saturday afternoon while she is teaching a cooking class and just watch her start a fire and watch her make a pizza. She let me feel what the pizza dough was like, and I watched it, and it sort of became this magical thing. And so from that point on, I started down this path. I designed a pizza out in the backyard, I found the same vendor imports, these pizza ovens. Her name is Andrea McGee. And so she’s been importing pizza ovens, I think since the 80s. She finds these cheap pizza ovens that have been made in Italy since the 40s. And it’s such a great design, and she gave me the construction plans to build my pizza oven. And I think I probably made pizza for four and a half years. I think I’ve made more than 500 pizzas in that amount of time. We did it yesterday, Sunday morning, we invited a whole bunch of friends over for Sunday afternoon. I started prepping ingredients, I started making the dough Friday afternoon, so it’s ready for Sunday. The week I spend, you wake up in the morning the first thought comes through my head is oh my god this is the call I have to be on it. It’s like, oh let’s see fig season, I wonder if I could do a pizza with figs. I came up a couple of months ago with anchovies and thin slices of that fresh lemon on a tomato base, with a little tiny bit of mozzarella, and the saltiness and the sourness just really worked together. So every once in a while, I come across a combination like that, but I just totally love it. You spend literally six hours prepping ingredients, roasting the vegetables that you’re gonna put on the pizza, getting the oven hot enough, and then it takes two minutes to cook and probably another two minutes to eat. It’s really funny, but it just gets me out of my head, and I love the warmth, and I love having people around sharing an afternoon talking about children or politics or art or anything but computers. It’s really wonderful.
We’re foodies. I mean we need food to live, but food is so enjoyable. Can you put somewhere your pizza dough recipe? Is it anywhere where we can see it?
Yeah, sure. The book that started me on the process. I actually started on bread before it started on pizza. And I made bread-I lived in a group house in college and again in graduate school in Boston-and in both places I made bread three times a week. I made three loaves of bread three times a week, so I was making nine loaves of bread a week. And it was the old kneaded, it’s supposed to be a low rectangular pan, and it was a lot of work. It just was. And I knew when I started making bread again, and I did not want to do that. And then there was this sort of article in The New York Times the no-knead bread dough recipe. It’s a very wet dough, and it goes into a cast iron dust-up and had 500 degrees. And the cast iron in the oven becomes like a steamy environment, so you get this wonderful crust. And I was a little skeptical. And then I ran into a man named c, who I believe was also a software engineer, decided to go off and learn how to do bread. And he traveled the world for a couple of years and then started a bakery in Portland, Oregon. And he has a great cookbook called Flour Water Salt Yeast. And he describes many things, including making pizza. And I make a pizza and go through following his recipe, and he has a very high amount of water. I use slightly less water, I use the sourdough, and he uses regular yeast, but aside from that, it’s pretty much his recipe. And that book is really wonderful because it really goes into the look and feel of dough in different stages. And he has a playfulness with it that is much less regimented than most recipes.
So you’re in San Francisco, what part of the world is he in? Because that makes a difference in how much water you use too, right?
He’s in Portland, Oregon. I think what makes a bigger difference is the actual brand of flour.
Different brands of flour take up different amounts of water. So I noticed that King Arthur Flour, which I don’t use, takes up a very different amount of water than the stuff I get from Whole Foods. And now you think flour from another high tech entrepreneur who decided he wanted to go off and learn how to mill flour. In my understanding, he bought a flour mill in Utah of all places, and he since created a retail establishment in Petaluma, which is about an hour north of San Francisco. And I get my flour in 50-pound bags from him or from this company called Central Milling. And I love the results from their flour, and so I just use their flour now for bread, for baking cookies and cakes, and I also use it for pizza.
Now that I’m totally famished because it’s lunchtime and I haven’t even had breakfast yet.
Oh, I’m making pizza this weekend. I would love to have you.
I’ll fly up there to have pizza. Before we go take a minute, though, and let us leave with a very romantic story of how you met your wife.
I had been married for 13 years. And my ex-wife decided that she wanted to change, and I had always imagined that I would be one of those people walking down the street, that we would be in our 70s or 80s, holding hands and helping each other. And her view was different, so I was sort of pretty distraught, pretty destroyed by this. And after six weeks of feeling like life was really hard and dark, I decided that I would do something for other people to make myself feel better. I decided to make truffles for everyone I knew, and I’ve been making truffles at this point for about ten years. I buy 20 kilograms of chocolate, that’s 45 pounds of chocolate a year in large blocks. The blocks are about the size of the top of a Styrofoam freezer chest, they’re a pretty substantial inch and a half thick, probably 12 by 20 inches. And so what I usually do when I buy chocolate as I go and I canvass all my friends will say, Hey, I’m buying chocolate, do you want any and I was living in Sebastopol at the time. I had three people in the Bay Area who wanted chocolate, and I was driving around dropping off chocolate. So I had some, some person in Oakland, some person in San Francisco, the last person was in Mill Valley just crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, and I was dropping off my chocolate with them. And they were sitting there talking about how the divorce was going to happen, what was going to happen with child custody, all this stuff, and I just started talking, and they said, “Well, are you ready to start dating?” and I said, “No, I’m not ready to start dating. But when I am, these are the qualities I’m looking for.” And I listed like three or four, I sort of thought about it. And I thought this is what’s really important to me and has to be someone who’s a really good role model for my daughter. So it has to be someone who’s professional but also has the human side. That has to be someone who reads a lot, has to be someone who takes education as a priority, and someone who’s into food and all these things. I had a glass of wine, and she has a funny smirk on her face. And I thought to myself, and she’s thinking this poor guy, he is just really a lost case. And I thought, “Oh my god, they’re gonna send me on a date.” And sure enough, three or four days later, Rick called me up and said, “There’s someone we really want you to meet. We think you’d be a really good match” So I called her, I called Rene, and I told her that I was going to make chocolate truffles and she said, “What do I have to do to get some of these chocolates?” and I said, “You have to meet me and go hike with me,” and that was our first date.
Oh, that’s really sweet. So to everyone listening, enjoy the holidays, enjoy the food in your life, eat chocolate, and then you can worry about SoftRAID, computers, and data. But it’s about people, and it’s about family, it’s about people like Tim Standing, whose dear friend. This is wonderful. I thank you so much for spending time, we’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot. You’ve given me some food for thought on all levels. Tim, I hope you have a wonderful, wonderful day, and thanks for doing this.
Thank you so much. It’s always a pleasure to talk with you.
This is Cirina Catania with OWC Radio. I’ve been speaking with Tim Sanding, he’s the VP of software development and Other World Computing, and the creator of SoftRAID for Mac OS X, and somebody that has been a friend for a long time. Remember what I tell you guys, get up off your chairs and go do something wonderful today, and when you get a minute, go to macsales.com and help our sponsor realize how much we really appreciate them. Thank you so much. Have a great day.
- Tim Standing
- 5K iMac
- Carbon Copy Cloner
- Central Milling
- Developers Conference
- Final Cut Pro
- Flour Water Salt Yeast
- iMac Pro
- Ken Forkish
- King Arthur Flour
- Larry O’Connor
- Mac OS
- MacSysAdmin Conference
- MacTech Conference
- Other World Computing
- Oxford University
- RAID 0
- RAID 1
- RAID 4
- RAID 5
- RAID 6
- SoftRAID Certified
- System Integrity Protection
- T2 chip
- The New York Times the no-knead bread dough recipe
- ThunderBay 4
- Practice extra measures to protect your data. Don’t take this for granted as anyone can be a victim of a data breach, damage, or loss.
- When working on a big project make sure you backup your files at least two or three times. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
- Backup daily if necessary so you’re sure that your files are up to date and that your latest work is kept safe.
- Do data mirroring on a regular basis. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. When saving multiple copies of the same file, make sure they are stored in different places in case one of your storages is compromised.
- Protect your machine from malware. Think twice before clicking on links or downloading files online. Don’t trust everything you see online.
- Keep your machine far from liquids such as water glasses, coffee mugs, etc. to avoid accidents. Purchase anti-spill mugs or tumblers for extra safety.
- Invest in robust hard drives. Make sure that they’re the type of hard drive that can withstand heavy file transfers without damaging themselves in the process.
- Investing in tech gadgets can be pricey and the work involved especially in the production sector can be quite thorough. Only rely on trusted brands with responsive customer service.
- Make sure you certify your disks before you try them. Check out SoftRAID Certified for more information.
- Check out Softraid’s site to learn more about their products, read their latest updates, and contact their amazing support team.
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