Movie FX shop adds Avere NAS acceleration to BlueArc scale-out NAS

Video effects specialist Image Engine adds Avere NAS acceleration to provide high-performance cache while retaining BlueArc clustered NAS arrays as bulk storage

Video effects production shop Image Engine has boosted its BlueArc (now HDS) Titan clustered NAS infrastructure with Avere NAS acceleration hardware that allowed it to gain the performance it needed while retaining its core arrays as bulk storage.

The Vancouver-based company – which has worked on movies including Zero Dark Thirty, Fast & Furious and the forthcoming Elysium – employs up to 250 movie effects specialists and was facing huge growth in the size of files worked on.

An apparent solution was to expand its existing BlueArc/HDS clustered NAS estate – comprising 1.2PB on SAS and SATA drives – or deploy more dense storage media on it. But such an approach would have boosted capacity at the cost of the increased performance in IOPS terms that Image Engine required.

After evaluating alternatives in the market, Image Engine implemented 10 Avere FXT 3500 NAS acceleration devices. These have the ability to cache around 100TB of working data, with each having 144GB of DRAM and 2GB of NVRAM capacity, plus 9TB on SAS spinning disk drives. Connectivity is via 10Gbps and 1Gbps Ethernet ports.

Image Engine’s workload profile consists of 70% read and 30% writes and is overwhelmingly sequential rather than random. The Avere units provide 2Gbps throughput with 200,000 IOPS and carry out all production work, with the Titans operating as bulk storage.

Image Engine head of technology Gino Del Rosario said the Avere devices had allowed effects work that would not have been possible under the existing infrastructure.

“When you have effects like dust, smoke or fire, these can multiply file sizes by 25 times. We used to have to throttle back throughput to cope, but now the compositors can work on sequences in real time," he said.

“The Averes also make it easy to migrate data, which is important in the video sector when you need to move big files around,” he added.

When evaluating solutions Image Engine also looked at hardware from Alacritech. This is also a NAS acceleration product, but did not cache writes so proved unsuitable for the company’s needs, said Del Rosario.

He said the key benefit of Avere was that it allowed Image Engine to build a storage infrastructure to cope with much-expanded effects workloads without having to build its arrays from fast disk drives. Instead, performance-heavy work is offloaded to the Avere NAS acceleration hardware.

“The alternatives are between building a storage cluster with all fast disk or with dense disk. We’ve been able to stick to cheaper disk and offload performance onto Avere, which acts as a first-in-first-out cache. The compositors take the image from BlueArc storage and it’s pulled into Avere memory and stays there,” said Del Rosario.

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