Build a VM Avid Interplay. Practice and Master it without worry

This carries on my my earlier post about scheduling time to run checks on the health of your Interplay system...

Avid AS3000's now EOL and now not needed with VM machines!
Interplay systems sit at the heart of your production environment and once installed they are very difficult to experiment with without impacting the production system itself; try taking a database offline and see how long till the phone rings!
Like most things, you only really get good at things by using it and exposing yourself to some of the more thorny issues that can occur with such a system. To get this type of experience you need a system you can tinker with and not have to worry to much about the consequences of your curiosity. So how can you build your experience safely with such a complex system?

Enter a VMWare instance of Interplay for your own 'SandPit' for engineering tinkering, testing upgrade paths and getting that greater understanding of the system. 

Why a Virtual System?
Virtualisation has been with us for some time now and offers many great features such as condensing multiple physical servers into virtual systems running on a small number of servers and helping to reduce running costs. One of it many attraction is also the ability to offer redundancy, system monitoring and fail-over functions between virtual machines. However from this Blogs point of view, the ability to snap shot a system at a given point in time and then roll it backwards and forwards is the biggest interest and use of the environment.

What do I need?
Every Interplay has a number of key components in order to function. 

  • Interplay server
  • Avid ISIS (or NEXIS)
  • Media Composer

We can virtualise Interplay happily, but the likes of Media Composer and ISIS we may well struggle with. That said I have seen a virtual ISIS running on a laptop at an Avid demo, so it must be possible!? For most of us this means you will need access to Avid ISIS workspace(s) that will need to be unique to your system and have a Media Composer system for your 'Interplay Workgroup.' If you already have an Interplay then you can make a couple of workspaces from the ISIS and just ensure the master Production system doesn't index them and you should be good to go.

INFO: A system can be built without ISIS storage but items will reported as being offline when using Access and the likes.

NOTE: When planning your test environment Interplay pay attention to the IP address ranges you operate in so as not to effect the Production environment!

Putting all that to one side for a moment, what do you need to build a virtual system and build some interplay engines? Well, not very much. 

First off you'll need a physical server and a copy of VMWares vSphere 6.0 (sorry no Hyper V support as of yet). The VMWare software is available for free (there are limits to its performance etc) and is downloaded as an ISO image (about 400MB) to boot your server from. This then has a client component (also downloaded) that is usually installed onto a workstation that then remotes into the VMWare server to allow you to create and manage the servers running in the virtual environment.

There are a raft of get started guides on the VMWare web site and to be honest the system is ridiculously simple to set up when you think of the complexity of what it actually does. Google and have a play.

This now brings me back to the other component, the physical server to install the vSphere on to. In its documentation Avid have done there tests with the likes of the DELL R730, running dual Hex core Procs and 128GB or RAM, but this is for a high performance system running a real Production Interplay. A little over kill for what were looking for and perhaps a little to rich as well.

To help keep costs down you could install VMWare onto a workstation, rather than a server. My first try with VMWare was running it on a HP XW4600, but with only 4GB or RAM it was a little clunky! I have now moved on to a cheap old DELL R200 with a Quad Core Proc, 1TB SATA HDD and 8GB RAM. Picked up for NZ$200 (£100)! This is obviously not to the same spec of the Avid system (by a long chalk) but does what I need it to do, after all it's only a test environment, function is over speed here! If, like most places now, you have a pile of older servers of workstations in the corner of the room, you may well be able to cobble a system together for free! 

As well as the ability to build virtual systems you'll also need the Interplay installers. These are downloadable from your Avid Download Centre and at the time of writing 3.6.1 is a latest on offer.

Avid have produced a guideline for building Interplay in a Virtual Environment which is a detailed, if somewhat confusing, guide to building a system for actual production use. This means that the specifications for the servers and the hardware needed is very high, which I have already mentioned is not applicable to our needs. 

A simple test interplay can be done for next to no money but time and effort can be high!
Test Environment Check List
  • Physical server/workstation with min spec of...
    • Quad Core Processor
    • 8GB RAM (Min) 16GB (Ideal)
    • 2 x 1GbE NICs
  • Free installer of xSPHERE 6.0
  • Media Composer workstation (trial version works just as well)
  • Avid ISIS Workspaces (ideally 2 - Projects and Media Drive) 
  • Set of Interplay Installers (3.3 and above)
  • Windows 2012 R2 SP1* (enterprise needed if making clusters!)
* I currently run 2008 R2 SP1 Standard on my machine have have had no apparent issues, but then its NEVER under heavy use.
INFO: Interplay needs a license to run but if non is provided then a single client can attache to the system and it will still function, which is more than enough for a test environment!

What should I build?
Simple is best here. If you have a low spec server such as my R200 then restrict this down to an Interplay that is completely self contained like the Interplay Production Bundle. Simply put this means that a single server runs all the core components of Avid Interplay. Interplay Engine, Media Indexer and LookupService. You can also run the DNS (essential for Interplay and the LUS on Interplay) on the same unit, or better still build another VM instance for controlling the DNS?

The Avid Guide suggested the specification for the various servers types you can build, but for the set up described above the following is recommended.
  • 2 x vCPU
  • 12GB RAM
  • C:drive 80GB and D:500GB
The Avid guide walks you through the build process of the VM systems and makes suggestions for configurations and manipulations. It also talks about working with "SnapShots" and suggests a number of links to become more familiar with.

I'm not going into the detail of building the Servers as their is lots of detail and the process can be learnt in the Interplay Setup Guide. 

This process can be somewhat of a large undertaking but is well worth the effort especially if you have not built a system before or you need to master your Interplay. It's also a great opportunity to play with Virtual systems if you've never had the chance before.

In the mean time I'll look back over my system and perhaps write an update based on my systems config and performance?

Go forth, build and tinker!