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Movie FX house puts 1.3PB on Nexenta Software Defined Storage

Antony Adshead

London-based film special effects house Framestore, which recently worked on the film Gravity, is moving to storage software on commodity hardware with a 1.3PB migration. It will replace its BlueArc clustered NAS with Nexenta Software Defined Storage using Dell servers as storage heads.

The move came as a result of Framestore’s existing BlueArc hardware becoming difficult to support. This was a result of acquisitions that meant the company ended up running a combination of rival suppliers’ products.

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Framestore initially bought BlueArc clustered NAS nearly three years ago and at that time it ran in front of Engenio chassis. Engenio was LSI’s external storage arm, but the company was bought by array maker NetApp in 2011.

That same year also saw BlueArc acquired by Hitachi Data Systems (HDS). This resulted in Framestore effectively running a combination of HDS and NetApp equipment and, according to Framestore CTO Steve McPherson, “this made it difficult for HDS to support.”

So, in the period after producing Gravity the effects company – which employs more than 600 artists, developers and engineers – looked at new options for its primary storage.

“We needed to figure out what to do, but knew we wanted to repurpose the BlueArc storage," says McPherson.

“We already knew we liked ZFS, but also knew we needed high availability (HA) clustering to make it work for us. That’s what led us to Nexenta, which puts copy-on-write snapshots, high availability clustering, RAID etc on top of ZFS.”

Nexenta’s storage software is based on the open-source ZFS, designed by Sun Microsystems. It is a fully featured storage file system and OS with synchronous and asynchronous replication, high availability, snapshots, cloning, thin provisioning and data deduplication.

The storage market is dominated by suppliers that sell hardware bundled with their own controller software and operating systems (OS). Software-only products, which have recently been included under the software-defined storage category, aim to break that link by offering storage software that can be deployed on commodity servers with standard disk drives, cutting costs in the process.

Late in 2013, Framestore embarked on migration of its primary storage to Nexenta. This fits into a wider storage environment that has Avere NAS acceleration for primary data, plus DotHill SANs behind open-source ZFS servers for nearline storage, and tape for long-term archiving.

Framestore has completed the roll-out Nexenta Software Defined Storage storage software in its commercial department, using pairs of Dell powerEdge R720 servers as dual storage controllers with 256GB of memory onboard each. Behind them are the BlueArc/LSI/Engenio chassis with a combination of SAS, nearline-SAS and 4TB SATA drives.

We work best with smaller companies at the beginning of the curve

Steve McPherson, Framestore

Meanwhile, the existing BlueArc heads now sit in front of new HDS chassis and drives. The next phase of the Nexenta/Dell deployment, to Framestore’s visual effects department, will take place over the next month

So, what were the benefits of moving from traditional hardware array products to storage software on commodity components?

“Nexenta gives us software features that sit on top of ZFS that allow us to be independent of storage vendors and bring new life to existing hardware but with new heads and very good performance," says McPherson.

“We work best with smaller companies at the beginning of the curve. Nexenta is one of those and also one that is built on open standards with developments being put back into the open source tree. And it allows us to mix LSI, Dell, HDS etc and if a new vendor comes along and we like the look of that we’ll be able to put Nexenta on top of that too.”


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