Growing Animation Company Switches To A RAID Provider That Can Meet Its Unique Configuration Needs
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If not, you may be familiar with the dancing California Raisins or the M&M Candies that find themselves in may interesting predicaments in television commercials. Somewhere, unless you've never seen television, you've seen the work of Will Vinton Studios.
Computer Graphics Aid Animation
Dimensional animation has been greatly aided by the evolution of digital graphics technology. Computer graphics brings with it some requirements that never existed when Vinton began sculpting his clay characters 20 years ago. One of those requirements is digital storage capacity for large graphics files. The studio's dimensional animation techniques take advantage of recent advances in digital technology and therefore demand high performance from every component of its computer systems.
Animation's Storage Requirements
Television-quality animation usually totals 1MB of data per frame at 24 frames per second. As a result, a 30-second commercial comprises some 720MB of animation information. Any given job could actually involve up to four to five GB of data depending upon how much of the time the animated figures are on screen.
Multiply that number by multiple projects in work at any given time. In addition, one must consider the fact that any given rendering will go through multiple iterations before it is complete, as well as normal nearline storage. So, the need for a high-performance RAID system looms large.
Increased Business=Increased Storage
"When I started at Vinton in May 1997," says Mark Swayne, computer department technical assistant, "everything was being saved to a stack of independent hard drives, which were being ordered constantly and overnighted to the studio." The company had been growing at a tremendous rate, having increased its business by 50% over the previous year.
At the time Vinton had 26 animation personnel and, within the next six months, another 10 were added as the growth continued. Swayne comments, "It was definitely time to look seriously at storage alternatives"
Building A Storage Solution
At the time, however, the studio had commissioned one of its regular technology suppliers to build a RAID system for it. From another vendor, Vinton was buying a tape backup system. Soon afterward, the local ANDATACO representative called on the company. Swayne was familiar with ANDATACO products, having used them at a previous job. But, since the RAID and tape orders were already in place, Swayne told the ANADACTO representative that he was too late.
ANDATACO visited Will Vinton Studios anyway, not to push product (though a demo was done), but to develop a relationship for the future. According to Swayne, studio representatives were impressed with the technology (Digital video is one of the data structures that ANDATACO's unique Application-Specific Architec-ture is designed to support.) Swayne adds that representatives were also impressed with the fact that the salesman brought a systems engineer along to answer questions.
Switching RAID Providers
Later, the original RAID deal fell through. According to Swayne, the company that had offered to build it discovered they didn't have the expertise to build a RAID system from off-the-shelf components as promised. Swayne called ANDATACO, who returned with a quote. Vinton purchased the ANDATACO GigaRAID/SA, a 90GB RAID system with single controller.
At the same time, the ANDATACO salesman sent Swayne a sizing worksheet to help the reseller through the purchase of tape backup from another vendor. But within a few weeks, the tape deal with that vendor fell through. ANDATACO then agreed to supply a tape library which arrived within a week of order placement.
Storage Requirements Expand Again
Vinton Studios runs the GigaRAID/SA from an SGI Challenge server. The new RAID system gave Vinton the opportunity to redesign its file system to get everything into the .XSF format. With the RAID and a tape library, Vinton still didn't have enough storage capacity. The studio began looking around for a larger RAID unit to add to the system.
"We looked at other systems," says Swayne. "But, when we started calling reference customers, we learned that another ANDATACO differentiator was service. Judging by our own experience with ANDATACO service, we could believe the good comments heard from others."
All Commercial Work Stored On RAID
So Vinton bought another GigaRAID subsystem, a 270GB dual-controller unit, which the studio is running off an SGI Origin2000. Now the 90GB system is home to all of Vinton's commercial work, and the larger system is used for special projects with high demands like film resolution and 3D.
"The system is doing everything we need," concludes Swayne. "However, this doesn't mean we won't require more RAID in the future."