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Testing Strawberry by Flavoursys

January 3, 2013 by Steve Modica

Steve ModicaI did some testing with Strawberry from Flavoursys last week. Flavoursys provides software for project sharing and project management for video post-production. I’m happy to report that this is one of the most exciting new products I’ve had a chance to work with in a long time.

What is it? 

Strawberry gives you the ability to share Avid projects and media from shared storage without the usual indexing issues or potential corruption problems. It provides for user and group access, metadata based search and safe read only access to projects and media that others are working on.

How does it do it?

It’s pretty ingenious.  Strawberry is a client system that sits on your network. You permanently mount your shared storage to the Strawberry system so it has full administrative access.  It will work all its magic on your server via this mount.

It will create project and media sub directories for your workstations.  In my very simple setup, they were edit_1 for media and edit_1p for projects. There were also directories for edit_2, edit_3 and so on.

Users will access the Strawberry server via a web browser or built in app.  They login with a name the administrator provides and are then able to create and open projects.  When a project is created and opened, the appropriate project files and resources are created on the “main” storage and links are then generated in the users workstation project and media directories. Those links remain as long as the project remains open in Strawberry.  When the project is closed, those links are removed.

Here’s a screen snap of the blank Strawberry startup window:

Strawberry Start Up

And here’s another shot of what it looks like to create a new project (it allows you to enter a rudimentary amount of metadata which is used for project naming):

Strawberry New Project

What’s great about this setup is that this same user can open other users’ projects and “add” them to his own (read only) so that he can share timelines and media that might be important.   All of this is managed via these dynamic links in the edit_1p and edit_1 subdirectories.

Is it simple to use?

Absolutely.  As a user, I would simply login, click “create,” fill in some basic information – like my name – and select “open.”

Once this was done, I simply opened Avid Media Composer on my client and selected the External Project type and pointed to the edit_1p directory. I could see my new (empty) project and begin to work.  My media would be stored in my edit_1 media directory, safely sequestered from other users so there would be no
re-indexing issues.  I was able to create a number of projects and open them all read-only as add-ons to my new project.

Is it easy to setup?

This was probably the most difficult part about using Strawberry. There were several setup issues, but  I know Flavoursys is currently addressing those and will have them fixed shortly.  I think the product is very useful and worth the money now. However,  I’ll caution potential buyers that there is the possibility they will have to have someone in to help with configuration early on.

To use Strawberry, you have to install a 1U Supermicro chassis onto your network. It boots into Red Hat, but there’s really no other instruction.  I had to email Flavoursys to figure out what to do next.

The documentation is very new and pretty raw. So even when following the instructions step by step, I hit a number of puzzle points where I was unsure what to do next. This didn’t stop me from getting it set up, but it could be frustrating for editors who are expecting a plug-and-play solution.

While the system is very elegant in how it works, they brought it to market quickly by using some Windows compatibility tricks.  This means there are extra layers that could potentially confuse and complicate the setup.

For example, the actual software is running on a Virtualbox virtual machine under Red Hat Linux.  So the server is a Windows 2008 server running under Linux. Your users won’t be connecting to one of the Linux addresses you setup when you connected the machine.  They will be connecting to a Windows Virtual address.

Additionally, the client software runs under Microsoft’s Silverlight, so all of your clients will need the Silverlight plugin to get to the Strawberry user interface. I didn’t find this to be a problem – I already had it installed on my laptop- but I had some difficulty getting Firefox to see the plugin on my test iMac (Safari worked fine).

As I understand it, Flavoursys is working on a native version of all of this to improve the performance and simplify the product.

My recommendation:

This is a great and innovative product. It will allow for existing Avid stations to exist in broader, heterogeneous environments and reduce significantly the amount of money small shops have to pay for Avid compatible shared storage.  Small Tree is now offering Strawberry with its products for this very reason.

Strawberry also offers a great upgrade path for those that are not using Avid today, but believe they will need to in the future.  These shops can go out and purchase NAS based storage now, knowing that down the road they can add Avid sharing capabilities without doing a forklift upgrade.

About the only caveat I would put in place on a Strawberry purchase would be that you’ll need someone with strong sysadmin skills for the setup.  There are a number technical steps and concepts (like virtual machines and NFS vs Samba mounts) that you’ll want configured by a Pro.  Once that work is completed, it should be smooth sailing.

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