M & E Journal — Winter 2016
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Accelerating Media Production Workflows With Intelligent Scale-Out Storage
Mike Bott


Intelligent systems can help meet escalating capacity demands, heighten visibility and drive innovation

Abstract: Here, we’ll take a look at three media & entertainment organizations that have successfully made the transition to smarter storage systems. The adoption of intelligent scale-out storage increased the business value of their media assets while ensuring scale, uncompromised protection, and high performance. The end result was an increase in productivity, reduction in costs, and several other benefits we’ll explore in detail below.

M&E organizations are continually seeking ways to increase the business value of their media assets and stay ahead of the curve by merging creative talent with technological breakthroughs. Storage infrastructure plays a crucial role in M&E companies’ ability to store, manage and curate their vast and rapidly growing libraries of content. In order to meet these demands, intelligent scale-out storage systems have become essential for providing real-time visibility into the data footprint, storage, usage patterns and other factors impacting performance and capacity.

Breaking down intelligent scale-out storage

The newest scale-out storage systems have been deemed “intelligent” because they have real-time analytics built directly into the file system. They are designed to drive productivity throughout a vast range of workflows, from M&E environments to automotive, life sciences, oil and gas, and more. These technologies have the ability to easily and non-disruptively scale a single file system to manage and curate enormous numbers of digital assets, making them a particularly useful tool within the M&E space. Storage administrators now have the capability to scale storage infrastructure on-demand, grow their working archival storage, and scratch environments based on business and client needs. Intelligent scale-out storage systems provide real-time visibility into a company’s data and storage, helping to solve the plethora of data management problems often left over from first generation technologies.

Meeting rapidly escalating I/O and capacity demands

After an award-winning visual effects studio began using more powerful I/O-intensive VFX software, it found that it was growing too quickly for its old storage solution. It primarily leveraged its storage for work-in-progress projects and rendering, using such programs as Autodesk’s Maya digital 3D modeling and animation software, The Foundry’s NUKE (a compositing and finishing tool) and most recently, The Foundry’s Katana lighting and look development software.

The company had recently more than doubled in size and began taking on increasingly demanding projects and using I/O intensive applications. Knowing that the continued use of its existing storage system would result in major performance problems, it chose to implement an intelligent and scalable storage solution with real-time analytics providing actionable intelligence on data and storage usage. Built-in analytics gave the team real-time performance visibility, allowing them to immediately recognize hot files and directories as well as misbehaving clients in order to ensure that the artists’ workflow was not impeded. The company found the availability of real-time information regarding capacity and usage, and the ability to easily share that information with users, to be huge benefits of the built-in analytics.

Gaining visibility to handle peak rendering

Leading up to a large industry convention, a creative content agency saw its existing storage system slowing to a crawl. Continually facing crushing peak design and rendering workloads leading up to major events, the company turned to an intelligent storage solution for operational visibility and the integrated analytics needed to keep storage performing at scale. The company specializes in award-winning campaigns and content for major motion picture studios, television networks, video game publishers, and consumer brands. The staff relies on a Windows-based compute cluster for rendering, often for large format projects that span massive video canvases, sometimes using 4K or higher resolution.

During peak season, the company doubles the size of its rendering farm and nearly triples its workforce. Finding that its existing storage system was continually experiencing performance issues and falling behind, the company knew it was time to make a change. It made the move to an intelligent scale-out storage solution with analytics that improved productivity by proactively identifying potential bottlenecks before systems became impacted. Perhaps most importantly, the switch greatly increased the company’s scalability and elasticity to handle peak performance loads like those it experienced before large industry events.

Driving innovation through data visibility

Another media company that made the transition to intelligent scale-out storage is known for offering a broad range of rich sports entertainment and analysis products that rely on vast amounts of video and metadata. It recently began placing a heightened emphasis onn the data services aspect of its business. This entailed storing a vast catalog of proprietary sports statistics and video, and later selling the information for use in sports broadcasts, web-based content and consumer mobile apps. After experiencing substantial business growth, the organization started struggling with storage capacity and data management at scale. IT had difficulties keeping assets online and available for developers, and the company relied heavily on tape-based storage to try to cost-effectively handle the sheer volume of data being ingested. The existing storage system also didn’t provide insight into its data, leaving little room for actionable insights and innovation.

The company made the switch to an intelligent storage solution that empowered its team with real-time visibility into data and usage at the file level, in addition to insights regarding performance consumption, to ensure adequate IOPS. This enhanced visibility resulted in immediate and tangible business benefits. The company gained the ability to quickly determine what data to save or archive, what data and directories were hot, and what hadn’t been touched in six months or a year. Lastly, analytics further facilitated workflow for the organization’s by giving ready access to key insights through metadata.

Intelligent storage for visibility and success

As technological advances continue to create new demands for M&E organizations, the ability to efficiently store, manage, and curate data will be of paramount importance. The newest generation of intelligent storage systems are key to gaining real-time visibility into the data footprint, usage patterns and much more. These real-time analytics drive innovation and ensure that business processes are carried out smoothly and reliably.

Mike Bott has worked with high-performance large-scale storage in media and HPC-focused environments since the mid-1990s. He has worked with manufacturers and systems integrators including Isilon Systems, DataDirect Networks, and FusionStorm. Mike has also built and managed systems and software engineering organizations in data transport and gaming businesses. He enjoys developing hacks, people, tools, teams, software and companies.
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