Animal Logic changes two storage platforms: Isilon and DataDirect Networks in, NetApp's role reduced

Australian film studio Animal Logic has changed two of its storage platforms, with the combination of performance and support leading it to adopt DataDirect Networks for applications previously performed by Bright and replace its primary production storage from NetApp with Isilon kit.

Australian film studio Animal Logic, which has won fame for films like Happy Feet and special effects it created for The Matrix trilogy, has replaced two of its core storage platforms.

Isilon has replaced NetApp for the core storage systems the company uses to produce its films, while Data Direct Networks (DDN) has supplanted Bright systems used in its viewing theatres.

NetApp has retained much of the storage used for the company’s day-to-day operations, but the storage farm used during final production pushes is now supplied by Isilon.

Alex Timbs, the company’s head of IT, told SearchStorage ANZ the move happened at the beginning of 2009.

“Very early on, Isilon had a truly clustered FS,” Timbs said. “It can scale up or out, which makes it cost effective for expansion because we do not need to buy blocks of disks in advance.”

“The nature of our industry is that we have projects that ramp up and down, so it is very attractive to us to have storage that scales up and down and out.”

Isilon impressed the company thanks to its “ ... proven ability to deliver features we want. Combined with the toolset they provide, that gave a lot of confidence in their roadmap.”

“We went through six months of testing and any issues that were specific to our environment or the architecture were addressed very quickly. They even sent engineers to gain a better understanding of our needs.”

Data Direct for theatres

Similar considerations have seen Animal Logic adopt DataDirect Networks (DDN) storage for its viewing theatres. Staff use these theatres – the company has three – to literally look at films one frame at a time in order to check minute details. Each therefore has a very large screen and requires display high-resolution images. Slow or inaccurate delivery of each frame not only wastes time, but can lead to staff becoming confused about whether they are seeing the right frame, or if the frame has defects built in or as a result of faulty transmission.

“The applications and the hardware we used in the theatres made some very significant jumps and we needed much, much faster throughput,” Timbs said. “We can have multiple simultaneous reads and writes and the time requirements per node for grading of films is anywhere from about 300 megs to 600 or 700 sustained for one seat.”

For 3D animation, those requirements can double, as it requires simultaneous transmission of two “2k” (a digital video format 2048 pixels wide) video streams.

Animal Logic previously used storage products from Bright Systems, but those systems struggled to cope with the company’s new requirements.

“In the early stages of our evaluation of Data Direct we fragmented the filesystem as much as we could, to 50 or 60% and filled it to 95% and were still getting good performance,” Timbs said.

“We call the DDN kit ‘the sledgehammer’: it has brute strength. No matter how many obstacles we put in front of it, it worked. But on our previous SANs could never imagine fragmentation of 15 or 20% before we got dropped frames.”

Timbs said he found the choice of the new storage system challenging.

“We had a bigger budget than usual because we wanted something that would work,” he said. “We had a very specific requirement and felt that a lot of existing vendors we had relationships with had products that may be used for this app did not really fit the bill. When it comes time to assess a storage vendor there are about 50 you can choose from and you really need to rapidly chisel it down to two or three and then really start going through the detail.”

When Timbs and his team applied this process to the systems for its theatres, it found that Data Direct was widely used in its industry and formed part of the solution offered by a provider of turnkey solutions he had considered for the job.

“We started looking at DDN but they did not have [a high local] profile and the support base, which concerned us a bit. Once we called around to some of our peers and found out what they were using and the reference sites, we saw it was a very, very capable company producing a premium product at an attractive price point, and very accepted in our industry.”

The clincher for Animal Logic was the company’s relationship with IBM, which resells and supports DDN products in Australia.

“Their backing from IBM meant we wanted to give them a lot of time to see what they had to offer,” Timbs told SearchStorage ANZ. “After the presales meetings we were blown away by thoroughness of technical and pre-sales team, including the local IBM people.”

The product’s performance also swayed Animal Logic’s choice.

“During testing we used the SA6620 - their brick all in one. We were blown away by the filesystem performance for that many spindles and the density of the shelves – 4RUwith 60 disks mixed SATA and SAS.”

“We’ve done a few technology assessments where five or six senior engineers look at storage and I have never seen a team as strongly in favour of a solution as I have with the DDN products.”

The company has now run the products for six months and Timbs says “we’ve never had a glitch. We used to run into problems every three months and need to rebuild filesystem every three months with the previous solutions for this application.”

Animal Logic’s theatre systems are now connected to a 8Gbps fiber channel network and QLogic HBAs/

“Throughput is 32Gbps max throughput,” Timbs said. “IOPS are around 30,000 and our SAS volumes are capable of supporting six 2K streams, while the SATA volume supports two 2K streams.”

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