Interview: Page (1) of 1 - 06/28/14

Q&A With Larry O'Connor - Founder/CEO of Other World Computing

Larry O'Connor
Founder and CEO of OWC
Other World Computing

Is it a fair assessment that a lot of OWC's focus today is on computer-based game play and video filmmaking/production?

That's an interesting question and the answer is yes and no.

A large portion of the design/development work we do is in the area of internal/external storage. The users in your two categories happen to be the ones who push their systems to the maximum as far as speed, performance are concerned along with long term reliability and use life/cost. Their systems - desktop and portable - aren't simply used for document and spreadsheet production but for intense periods of game play and for projects that are processor intensive (such as today's 4K videos) that need to be done right the first time. Whether you're an independent filmmaker or part of a major production crew the work has to be done on a very tight time and financial budget.  

In the past two years we have seen a dramatic drop in the cost of high quality 4K video cameras such as those introduced at NAB by AJA, Panasonic and of course Blackmagic, the first to break the $5,000 price barrier. Those introductions literally blew the doors open for indie filmmakers and expanded the market for film/video production in general businesses, employee relations, healthcare, training, education as well as governmental agencies at every level.

4K image courtesy XDMAN-User (

HD and now 4K UHD creation/production is now everywhere including social media.  

Add to that equation that a whole arena of feature-rich, economic production/post production tools are now available from industry leaders like Adobe and Autodesk. Use that software on a power system like the Mac Pro, a beefed up Windows PC and you've got a complete M&E system that costs less than $10,000.

Many filmmakers are even using their MacBooks or other notebooks out in the field to do as much as 60 percent of their post production work before they return to the lab.  

The only missing ingredient is high-speed, high-performance, rugged solid state and HD storage which are our area of expertise/attention.  

We have been working with Blackmagic for over two years producing a line of SSDs that meet their camera users' needs for storage that is both economical but can also stand up to really tough usage and environments.

Right now we are in the process of delivering new solutions that will be certified by the company that filmmakers can use to capture beautiful RAW content even it the worst possible conditions, quickly copy that uncompressed content to their bonding/archive HD storage and keep the action going with a minimum of downtime.  

You need to move that content quickly from the SSD to a high-capacity HD or even better to a 12-20TB portable solution with USB 3.0 and/or Thunderbolt 2 that includes software RAID for absolute redundancy. Transfer is done quickly and reliably. Then slip the SSD back into the camera and keep shooting.

While we aggressively price our SSDs we need to make certain that the fit smoothly and tightly into the newest cameras as well as content transfer devices. We want to ensure the storage isn't a point of hardware failure and that there is no loss of pixels, frames, scenes. Reshoots are too expensive and sometimes impossible to recreate.

That's on the capture side, what about the basic production system because a lot of systems from Apple and others don't seem to be "upgrade friendly"?

That is probably a fair assessment of the majority of Apple's Mac systems but then with the exception of cinematographers most people never upgrade their Mac or PC. However to meet these performance-driven users we have worked closely with Apple resources - as an example - to develop memory, storage, and other upgrades that these Mac Pro users absolutely need  to enhance the performance and throughput of the systems and give them a much longer use life.

There is always a common question should I upgrade RAM, switch from hard drive to SSD or focus on bigger/faster SSD?  

SSD gives you an overall performance boost in everything you do on the computer. High performance applications such as graphics, special effects and post work will always benefit because you have more memory.  

The OS (operating system) pages to the drive for virtual memory so you get a significant improvement in I/O rates with an SSD compared to HDD. Memory also delivers added benefits for any application that can take advantage of the available memory.

Applications like Photoshop, Final Cut, Aperture, Parallels (virtual OS/Windows), Premiere can really deliver their full potential when you have higher capacity memory. The maximum amount of memory available will be put to work for you.

The best solution is the maximum about of memory your work/applications need plus SSD. SSD completely transforms your computing experience especially if you upgrade from a HDD. The system not only powers up faster, workloads are retrieved faster, batteries last longer and the system is lighter to carry with you.

Of course if you're work processing, editing or conducting similar tasks so the best solution is ...both.

Beyond Speed what are the benefits of upgrading RAM?

More memory allows applications to process heavier loads at the full capability of the systems processors as opposed to having to wait for slower virtual memory paging swaps off your drive. It's like a painter having all the colors of the palate immediately available right there instead of having to keep going back and forth to get different colors.

It's not a perfect analogy - but the point is that more memory allows the application to better use the capabilities of your system vs. being bottlenecked waiting for the information to process.

What are the top three most significant developments in memory technology today? Why?

Memory technology has changed very little when we speak of DRAM (dynamic random-access memory) as it is used in computers.  

It has been a steady series of minor refinements when it comes to speed/performance. However that has come at the expense of added wait states (the response time delay experienced by the system's processor when accessing the memory). There have been improvements in theoretical performance but that never seems to be translated into real-world, day-to-day performance enhancements.

More memory is really the key for applications that have heavy processor workloads such as larger post video production files (especially in video where we have moved up the very large, very deep/rich 4K RAW and edited files), CGI (computer generated imagery) and large volume data analytics.

For example if you are using a Mac Pro 2013 (or comparable system) you may be able to carry out functions more efficiently with 96-128GB of memory running at 1066MHz. While if you're operating at 1855 MHz you may be limited to only 64GB to smoothly perform paging tasks  even if the systems is equipped with high performance PCIe Apple SSD.

As a general rule having more memory on-board with the GPU and CPU so the total system can deliver optimum throughput.  

As we saw recently at E3 firms demonstrating their new more feature rich, powerful games were able to deliver more frames per second by overclocking their memory. However when you're working in a production environment it is more important to have all the components working in unison because reliability and stability are needed to deliver a smooth, high quality video product.  

What we have seen this past year is that it is more important to match the performance characteristics of the flash memory to that of the processing power of the GPU/CPU rather than overstressing the system.  

Can you explain the differences (if any) in developments for desktop, portable and mobile? (Portable being notebooks, mobile being phone and tablet)

While there was historically a big difference between desktop and portable/mobile storage developments they have again converged with greater attention to power efficiency and battery life. For the desktop system keep in mind that you will normally have a more powerful GPU so there is greater system overhead available. However there is less differentiation when it comes to comparing the requirements and issues between the mobile and desktop systems.  

There is a lot of difference though when you are using mobile and/or desktop systems in video production. The focus in designing, developing and matching the  flash and SSD products to the complete mobile  and desktop systems rather than one feature such as high throughput.  

But you also have to keep in mind - especially in the portable video production/post systems, the basic solid state storage costs are clearly visible and the work load volume have a decided impact on the drives that efficiently and quickly enable the system to process the workflow.

The focus with memory for mobile/tablet/laptop is driven by power efficiency and battery life.

Interestingly we are seeing desktop storage specifications   moving to the same direction, but are typically enabled with substantially more powerful GPUs.

The processor side is a little closer depending on what comparing in terms of standard CPU versions - but there is a hit on the video side today when looking at mobile vs. desktop chipsets. Everyone is focusing on developing/delivering efficiency and obviously the price/capacity is much more visible especially in portable solutions. 

Memory speed - when is it important, when is it not?

It is important when you have specific applications that can work the processor in a way to fully utilize all available memory bandwidth. Even then, the difference is less than 4% at most for typical heavy processing applications when you are comparing 1066MHz vs. 1866MHz memory. The key is to enable the application to use the installed memory efficiently without a lot of active paging. If you have paging that is more than the memory can support the benefits are greatly reduced.

System memory vs. GPU memory? How, why and when is it important?

Anything involving video/graphics data manipulation and other complex math where the workload can be offloaded to the GPU will see a significant improvement when onboard memory.  

Data is handled much more efficiently and effectively in these situations. However, the benefits of GPU memory will decline rapidly if the system memory isn't sufficient to handle such routing tasks as paging. In other words it isn't an either/or situation but a meaningful balance of memory for both CPU and GPU.  

Based on current trends, what changes do you see in a year? 5 years?

I really wish my crystal ball was good enough to see five years out and in fact it is pretty foggy for a year. We will continue to see a dramatic, perhaps overwhelming flow of information and content creation/production/distribution.  

I just read a report that said the World Cup will generate more than4.3EB of data. An Exabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 Bytes. When the World Cup ends - easily the most widely viewed event around the globe the volume of data generated will be roughly equal to all of the words spoken by humans...ever!
In just four years we will be creating (and having to store) 1.5ZB annually according to IDC. That's roughly IB DVDs a day that 7+ billion people and companies will have to store. And thanks to the lower cost cameras, production HW/SW and our work to deliver bigger, better, faster SSD the people in the content creating/production industry are going to be major contributors to that content.
Fortunately OWC also is on a path to develop/deliver higher capacity more economic personal and family/home storage systems so we plan to be ready for the content flood.

How is OWC's focus different then it was 5 years ago? Where do you see it in 5 years?

Our focus has remained relatively unchanged for the past five years. We are focusing on producing upgrades that will speed system processes.  

Today we have added to that charter to define, develop, and deliver some innovative SSD solutions that initially meet the needs of the power user - gamer/content creation.

At the same time we are broadening our external storage solution offerings with products that deliver speed, capacity, and reliability for individuals, families and SMB (small-medium businesses).

We have been quietly, methodically gaining enterprise storage experience and our goal is to translate that experience into products for the prosumer.  

The M&E and game development professionals are exciting task managers and what we achieve for them enables us to confidently and economically meet the needs of the enterprise and more importantly the critical needs of the individual and family.

In five years I would expect us to look much more like we did nearly 20 years ago with storage solutions representing the lion's share of our revenues. The difference is we'll be more than 40 times larger with a family product offering that is 10-20 times broader.

Related Keywords:OWC, Other World Computing Broadcast Video, 4K video, UHD, Game Development, Portable Media Devices

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