Tag Archives: EMC

VFX Storage: The Molecule

Evolving to a virtual private local cloud?

By Beth Marchant

VFX artists, supervisors and technologists have long been on the cutting-edge of evolving post workflows. The networks built to move, manage, iterate, render and put every pixel into one breathtaking final place are the real super heroes here, and as New York’s The Molecule expands to meet the rising demand for prime-time visual effects, it pulls even more power from its evolving storage pipeline in and out of the cloud.

The Molecule CEO/CTO Chris Healer has a fondness for unusual workarounds. While studying film in college, he built a 16mm projector out of Legos and wrote a 3D graphics library for DOS. In his professional life, he swiftly transitioned from Web design to motion capture and 3D animation. He still wears many hats at his now bicoastal VFX and VR facility, The Molecule —which he founded in New York in 2005 — including CEO, CTO, VFX supervisor, designer, software developer and scientist. In those intersecting capacities, Healer has created the company’s renderfarm, developed and automated its workflow, linking and preview tools and designed and built out its cloud-based compositing pipeline.

When the original New York office went into growth mode, Healer (pictured at his new, under-construction facility) turned to GPL Technologies, a VFX and post-focused digital media pipeline and data infrastructure developer, to help him build an entirely new network foundation for the new location the company will move to later this summer. “Up to this point, we’ve had the same system and we’ve asked GPL to come in and help us create a new one from scratch,” he says. “But any time you hire anyone to help with this kind of thing, you’ve really got to do your own research and figure out what makes sense for your artists, your workflows and, ultimately, your bottom line.”

The new facility will start with 65 seats and expand to more than 100 within the next year to 18 months. Current clients include the major networks, Showtime, HBO, AMC, Netflix and director/producer Doug Limon.

UKS-beforesmall      UKS-aftersmall
Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is just one of the shows The Molecule works on.

Healer’s experience as an artist, developer, supervisor and business owner has given him a seasoned perspective on how to develop VFX pipeline work. “There’s a huge disparity between what the conventional user wants to do, i.e. share data, and the much longer dialog you need to have to build a network. Connecting and sharing data is really just the beginning of a very long story that involves so many other factors: how many things are you connecting to? What type of connection do you have? How far away are you from what you’re connecting to? How much data are you moving, and it is all at once or a continuous stream? Users are so different, too.”

Complicating these questions, he says, are a facility’s willingness to embrace new technology before it’s been vetted in the market. “I generally resist the newest technologies,” he says. “My instinct is that I would prefer an older system that’s been tested for years upon years. You go to NAB and see all kinds of cool stuff that appears to be working the way it should. But it hasn’t been tried in different kinds of circumstances or its being pitched to the broadcast industry and may not work well for VFX.”

Making a Choice
He was convinced by EMC’s Isilon system, based on customer feedback and the hardware has already been delivered to the new office. “We won’t install it until construction is complete, but all the documentation is pointing in the right direction,” he says. “Still, it’s a bit of a risk until we get it up and running.”

Last October, Dell announced it would acquire EMC in a deal that is set to close in mid-July. That should suit The Molecule just fine —most of its artists computers are either Dell or HP running Nvidia graphics.

A traditional mass configuration on a single GigE line can only do up to 100MB per second. “A 10GigE connection running in NFS can, theoretically, do 10 times that,” says Healer. “But 10GigE works slightly differently, like an LA freeway, where you don’t change the speed limit but you change the number of lanes and the on and off ramp lights to keep the traffic flowing. It’s not just a bigger gun for a bigger job, but more complexity in the whole system. Isilon seems to do that very well and it’s why we chose them.”

His company’s fast growth, Healer says, has “presented a lot of philosophical questions about disk and RAID redundancy, for example. If you lose a disk in RAID-5 you’re OK, but if two fail, you’re screwed. Clustered file systems like GlusterFS and OneFS, which Isilon uses, have a lot more redundancy built in so you could lose quite a lot of disks and still be fine. If your number is up and on that unlucky day you lost six disks, then you would have backup. But that still doesn’t answer what happens if you have a fire in your office or, more likely, there’s a fire elsewhere in the building and it causes the sprinklers to go off. Suddenly, the need for off-site storage is very important for us, so that’s where we are pushing into next.”

Healer honed in on several metrics to help him determine the right path. “The solutions we looked at had to have the following: DR, or disaster recovery, replication, scalability, off-site storage, undelete and versioning snapshots. And they don’t exactly overlap. I talked to a guy just the other day at Rsync.net, which does cloud storage of off-site backups (not to be confused with the Unix command, though they are related). That’s the direction we’re headed. But VFX is just such a hard fit for any of these new data centers because they don’t want to accept and sync 10TB of data per day.”

A rendering of The Molecule NYC's new location.His current goal is simply to sync material between the two offices. “The holy grail of that scenario is that neither office has the definitive master copy of the material and there is a floating cloud copy somewhere out there that both offices are drawing from,” he says. “There’s a process out there called ‘sharding,’ as in a shard of glass, that MongoDB and Scality and other systems use that says that the data is out there everywhere but is physically diverse. It’s local but local against synchronization of its partners. This makes sense, but not if you’re moving terabytes.”

The model Healer is hoping to implement is to “basically offshore the whole company,” he says. “We’ve been working for the past few months with a New York metro startup called Packet which has a really unique concept of a virtual private local cloud. It’s a mouthful but it’s where we need to be.” If The Molecule is doing work in New York City, Healer points out, Packet is close enough that network transmissions are fast enough and “it’s as if the machines were on our local network, which is amazing. It’s huge. It the Amazon cloud data center is 500 miles away from your office, that drastically changes how well you can treat those machines as if they are local. I really like this movement of virtual private local that says, ‘We’re close by, we’re very secure and we have more capacity than individual facilities could ever want.’ But they are off-site and the multiple other companies that use them are in their own discrete containers that never crosses. Plus, you pay per use — basically per hour and per resource. In my ideal future world, we would have some rendering capacity in our office, some other rendering capacity at Packet and off-site storage at Rsync.net. If that works out, we could potentially virtualize the whole workflow and join our New York and LA office and any other satellite office we want to set up in the future.”

The VFX market, especially in New York, has certainly come into its own in recent years. “It’s great to be in an era when nearly every single frame of every single shot of both television and film is touched in some way by visual effects, and budgets are climbing back and the tax credits have brought a lot more VFX artists, companies and projects to town,” Healer says. “But we’re also heading toward a time when the actual brick-and-mortar space of an office may not be as critical as it is now, and that would be a huge boon for the visual effects industry and the resources we provide.”

The cloud and production storage

By Tom Coughlin

The network of connected data centers known as “the cloud” is playing a greater role in many media and entertainment applications. This includes collaborative workflows and proxy viewing, rendering, content distribution and archiving. Cloud services can include processing power as well as various types of digital storage.

In the figure below, you will see Coughlin Associates’ projections (2015 Digital Storage in Media and Entertainment Report), for the growth of professional media and entertainment cloud storage out to 2020. Note that archiving is the biggest projected market for media and entertainment cloud storage.

Media and Entertainment Cloud Storage Capacity Projections

At the 2016 NAB show, there were many companies offering cloud storage and online services for the media and entertainment industry. Some of these were cloud-only offerings and some are hybrid cloud services with some on-premises storage.

In this piece, we will review some of these cloud storage offerings and take a look at how to move content around the cloud, as well as to and from the cloud and on-premise storage. There were also some interesting object storage infrastructure implementations that were of interest at the NAB show.

Archiving in the Cloud
Archive is the biggest application for cloud storage in media and entertainment and several companies have products geared toward these applications, some of them with magnetic tape storage in the cloud. Oracle’s DIVA content storage management software allows the integration of on-premises storage and the Oracle cloud. The recently announced DIVAnet 2.0 allows a converged infrastructure for rich media using single namespace access to DIVArchive on-premises sites and Oracle DIVA Cloud storage as a service.
The Oracle Archive Cloud using DIVA content management offers archive storage for about $0.01/GB/month. This equates to storing 1 petabyte (PB) of content for just $12,000 per year. That is less than the on-premises costs for many content archives. At this price, rich media content companies are considering trusting their long-term content archives to the cloud.

Fujifilm’s Dternity tape-based archive, which offers online access to your data and integrates with applications already in your workflow, had an exhibit at NAB again this year. IBM also offers tape storage in the cloud. In addition to archiving on tape there are HDD cloud storage offerings as well. Major cloud companies such as Google, Azure and AWS offer tape and HDD- based cloud storage.

Quantum showcased its new Q-Cloud Vault long-term cloud storage service. This is fully integrated within workflows powered by StorNext 5.3, Q-Cloud Vault will provide low-cost, Quantum-managed “cold storage” in the public cloud. Because StorNext 5.3 enables end-to-end encryption, users can leverage the cloud as a part of their storage infrastructure to facilitate secure, cost-effective storage of their media content, both on-site and off-site.

In addition to supporting Q-Cloud Vault (pictured above), StorNext 5.3 gives users greater control and flexibility in optimizing their collaborative media workflows for maximum efficiency and productivity.

Cloud-Assisted Media Workflows
In addition to archive-focused cloud storage, some companies at NAB were talking about cloud and hybrid storage focused on non-archive applications.

Fast-paced growth and strong demand for scale-out storage clouds have propelled DDN’s WOS to one of the industry’s top solutions based on the number of objects in production and have fortified DDN’s position as a strong market leader in object storage. Continuing to fuel the pace of its object storage momentum, DDN also announced the availability of its latest WOS platform release. WOS is also an important component in the company’s MediaScaler Converged Media Workflow Storage Platform.

WOS possesses a combination of high-performance, flexible protection, multi-site capabilities and storage efficiencies that make it the perfect solution for a wide range of use cases, including active archive repositories, OpenStack Swift, data management, disaster recovery, content distribution, distributed collaboration workflows, enterprise content repositories, file sync and share, geospatial images, video surveillance, scale-out web and cloud services, and video post-production.

EMC, Pixspan, Aspera and Nvidia are bringing uncompressed 4K workflows to IT infrastructures, advancing digital media workflows with full resolution content over standard 10GbE networks. Customers can now achieve savings and performance increases of 50-80 percent in storage and bandwidth throughout the entire workflow — from on-set through post to final assets. Artists and facilities using creative applications for compositing, visual effects, DI and more can now work faster with camera raw, DPX, EXR, TIFF and Cineon files. Content can be safely stored on EMC’s Isilon scale-out NAS for shared collaborative access to project data in the data center, around the world, or to the cloud.

NetApp Webscale

NetApp StorageGrid Webscale

At NAB, NetApp promoted new features in its StorageGrid Webscale (appliance or software-defined) object storage. The object store has been widely adopted by media sites and media cloud providers who are managing tens of billions of media objects. Now, a majority of the key MAM, file-delivery and archive systems have integrated to StorageGrid Webscale’s Amazon S3 object interface. 

StorageGrid Webscale is a next-generation solution for multi-petabyte distributed content repositories. It provides erasure coding or, alternatively, automatic file copies to remote locations depending on the value of the media and the needs of the workflow.

Scality Ring storage scales linearly across multiple active sites and thousands of servers and can host an unlimited number of objects, providing high performance across a variety of workloads with file or object storage access. The company says the product enables organizations to build Exabyte-scale active archives and scalable content distribution systems, including network DVR/PVR. The product can be used to make a private storage cloud with file and object access and to provide customized web services.

Avere FlashCloud is a hybrid cloud and on-premise storage offering advertised as providing unlimited capacity scaling in the Cloud with unlimited performance scaling to the edge with up to 480 TB of data on FXT Series Edge filers. The dynamic tiering of active data to the edge hides the latency of cloud storage while NFS and SMB access provide file-based storage with a global namespace including public objects, private objects and NAS.

Avere’s FlashMove software transparently moves live online data to the cloud and between cloud providers. FlashMiror replicates data to the cloud for disaster recovery. AES-256 encryption with FIPS 140-2 compliance provides data security with on premise encryption key management. It should be noted that Avere worked with Google to provide the storage cluster used to stream the video showed at NAB during the Lytro Cinema demonstration.

Moving and delivering in the cloud

Moving and delivering in the cloud

SAN Solutions SAN Metro Media ultra-low-latency cloud for media extends a customer’s studio to the cloud with its SMM Ultra-Connect dedicated, secure direct connect, low-latency circuit from the customer’s site to one of SAN Metro Media’s data centers in a metropolitan area. The SMM Ultra-Connect circuit can operate completely off the Internet and transport media at the bandwidth and latencies that large studio applications and workflows require.

Moving and Delivering Content in the Cloud
There are several companies offering data transport services to and from cloud services as well as from on-premise storage to the cloud and back.

At NAB show Aspera (a division of IBM) introduced FASPStream, a turnkey application-software line designed to enable live streaming of broadcast-quality video globally over commodity Internet networks with glitch-free playout and negligible startup time, reducing the need for expensive and limited satellite-based backhaul, transport and distribution.

The FASPStream software uses the FASP bulk data protocol to transport live multicast, unicast UDP, PCP or other file source video, providing timely arrival of live video and data independent of network round-trip delay and packet loss. The company says that less than five seconds of startup delay is required for 50Mbps video streams transported with 250ms round-trip latency and three percent packet loss. These properties are sufficient for 4K streaming between continents.

Aspera is part of a broader group of IBM acquisitions with a strong focus on the media and entertainment industry, including object storage provider Cleversafe.

Signiant announced the integration of its Manager+Agents product with the Avid Interplay | MAM system. Customers can now initiate accelerated file transfers from within Interplay | MAM, making it easier than ever to use the power of Signiant technology in support of global creative processes. Users can now initiate and monitor Signiant file transfers via the Export capability within Avid Interplay|MAM.

FileCatalyst had some media and entertainment case studies, including involvement with NBC’s 2016 Rio Olympics preparation.

Snowball is a PB-scale data transport solution that uses secure appliances to transfer large amounts of data into and out of the AWS cloud. With Snowball, you don’t need to write any code or purchase any hardware to transfer your data. Simply create a job in the AWS Management Console and a Snowball appliance will be automatically shipped to you. Once it arrives, attach the appliance to your local network, download and run the Snowball client to establish a connection, then use the client to select the file directories that you want to transfer to the appliance.

The client will then encrypt and transfer the files to the appliance at high speed. Once the transfer is complete and the appliance is ready to be returned, the E Ink shipping label will automatically update and you can track the job status via Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS), text messages or directly in the Console.

EMC and Imagine Communications provide live channel playout with the Versio solution in an offering with EMC’s converged VCE Vblock system and EMC’s Isilon scale-out NAS storage system. EMC’s technology and Versio, Imagine’s cloud-capable channel playout solution, help to enable broadcasters to securely fulfill channel playout across geographically dispersed network to help engage customers with content tailored to their respective operations. EMC also talked about Cloud DVR solutions with Anevia.

Object Storage Infrastructure
A start-up company named Fixstars Solutions provides an innovative storage server (called Olive) with dual core-CPU, FPGA, 512MB RAM, gigabit Ethernet and up to 13TB of non-volatile flash memory storage in a 2.5-inch form factor. The company announced Ceph running on Olive, building high-performance, scalable storage systems at low cost that it feels can provide solutions for broadcasters, studios, cable providers and Internet delivery networks.

Dr. Tom Coughlin, president of Coughlin Associates, is a storage analyst and consultant with over 30 years in the data storage industry. He is the founder and organizer of the Annual Storage Visions Conference as well as the Creative Storage Conference. The 2016 Creative Storage Conference is June 23 in Culver City. It features conferences and exhibits focused on the growing storage demands of HD, UltraHD, 4K and HDR film production and how it is affecting every stage of the production.