Film maker storage strategy lead roles for BlueArc, Avere and DotHill

Framestore revamps storage strategy for Gravity project and chooses BlueArc clustered NAS, Avere and DotHill in lead roles

London-based video production agency Framestore has undergone a 1.5PB storage strategy revamp to enable work on the forthcoming special effects-laden movie Gravity, out later this year.

Framestore – which has worked on movies including Lincoln, Sherlock Holmes, Wrath of the Titans, War Horse and the Skyfall – reworked its storage strategy for the three-year project to include Hitachi Data Systems’ BlueArc clustered NAS plus Avere NAS acceleration devices for production operations, with DotHill SANs behind open source ZFS servers for nearline storage and tape for long-term archiving.

Previously Framestore – which employs more than 600 artists, developers and engineers – had used budget Infortrend storage arrays to support the open source Lustre high performance computing file system on HP and Dell servers to deliver movie files to its render farm. But this was not able to support the work required on Gravity.

Chief technology officer (CTO), Steve MacPherson said: “It was a highly parallel system and worked for the economies of the projects we used it for, but Lustre was buggy and the hardware was susceptible to heat and we needed to guarantee reliability for Gravity.”

MacPherson’s team embarked on a thorough evaluation of the key elements of the new storage strategy.

The core was to be clustered or scale-out NAS for production data. This would require more than a Petabyte of capacity with the ability to simultaneously deliver very large movie files with tens of Gigabytes per frame and smaller sets of data without performance degradation.

After evaluating all the key names in clustered NAS, Framestore opted for BlueArc.

MacPherson said: “We fell in love with some other suppliers, but we got some BlueArc in, hammered it and it did what we wanted with great simplicity.”

Framestore has deployed 1.1PB of BlueArc capacity in six nodes, using SAS and SATA drives at Telecity’s collocation facility in London’s Old Street.

It has supplemented production NAS capacity with three Avere FXT 4500 NAS acceleration devices. These cache NAS traffic to speed access to hot data. The main movie files are initially accessed via Avere and held there while staff work on them. Meanwhile, other staff can work on smaller sub-projects with no disruption of performance either way.

Backup copies of data are made to nearline storage comprising two DotHill AssuredSAN 3730 arrays with 288TB of capacity in 3TB SATA drives at the company’s London Soho sites. Files are deleted from the BlueArc production systems once they are no longer in regular use, but quick access is often required.

The DotHill arrays sit behind a Sun ZFS file system front end running on Solaris.

MacPherson said the existing tape-based nearline repository was: “Very large but very deep and so needed a lot of time to access. With the new set-up we could aggressively push less-used data back to nearline and retain it for quick access. It also means data is no longer distributed in chunks according to when it was worked on but can be grouped logically.”

Tape is still used by Framestore for archiving, with copies going to two locations.

Summing up the project overall, MacPherson said: “It has given us performance and stability. If you don’t have those two things you don’t get the work through the door. What we’ve got helps people work faster and do more and with greater complexity.”

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