A Ruthless Approach to Updating Storage
Miller has about 500 animators working in various locations, although most of them reside in the Bay Area. The two DreamWorks campuses are located in the Presidio section of San Francisco overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and about a half-hour drive south in Redwood City.
When a movie is in production, various parts of the overall artwork- backgrounds, main characters, scenery, minor characters-are constantly streaming into the company's main data center to be processed, so that various assistant directors, producers and other studio staff are able to watch them and make comments.
"We have to store an awful lot of video. And we don't throw anything away," Miller said. "For example, there are 129,600 video frames in one 90-minute movie. Most scenes are 5 minutes or less in length. But there's so much more [artwork] created that goes into the process before it's finally cut down and melded together into a cohesive movie that tells the story. Basically, we're just doing file-based supercomputing every day at work."
Miller is not big on keeping older data center equipment around for very long.
"About every four years, there's a quantum leap up in computing power and I/O speed," he said. "We find that it's best to just throw everything away and buy new hardware, because they will pay for themselves in about one year."
Of course, most of those servers, workstations and laptops are actually recycled, not thrown away.
Miller said his 25,000-square-foot main data center in San Francisco hasn't needed to be expanded physically, nor does he expect to have to build it out anytime soon.
"Everything [all the hardware] just keeps condensing, getting smaller, denser and faster," he said. "I'm actually using much less physical space now than we were when we started nine years ago."
DreamWorks uses mostly products from NetApp, Ibrix and Hewlett-Packard for its data storage. Its extremely powerful dual-core Intel "Woodcrest"-powered workstations have been supplied by HP for the last seven years, Miller said.
DreamWorks may have lost count of how much storage it owns. Asked how often he needs to purchase new storage, Miller was quick to retort: "Storage isn't a buying decision anymore ... it's a way of life."