DreamWorks Goes Extreme with Scale-Out Storage System

Famed animation studio DreamWorks Animation in April 2009 added Hewlett-Packard's fanciest new storage system, StorageWorks 9100 Extreme Data Storage, to its shops. The scale-out ExDS9100 system acts as an online reference library for DreamWorks Animation's popular 3D films, and the studio has big plans for the system.

Digital video quality is getting richer all the time, as are some lucky producers who hit the jackpot with movies that are box-office smashes.
As video continues to be rendered with more multiple images and as more bits per second are jammed onto disks, storage and accurate recall of all that data becomes an increasingly strategic part of the overall production picture-especially when it comes to stereoscopic 3D movies, which are having a rebirth right now.
Stereoscopic three-dimensional movies that required two analog projectors and red-and-blue glasses to view them were a fad in the 1950s that eventually petered out due to lack of standards, quality controls and other factors.
But now 3D movies are back in digital form, and they come with a much higher quality quotient. They're also taking up much more capacity in studio data centers; studio IT administrators are well aware of the insatiable nature of the content monster.
DreamWorks Animation, one of the busiest and most successful studios of its kind in the world, is continually buying new storage. "Storage isn't a buying decision anymore," DreamWorks Animation Senior Technologist Skottie Miller told eWEEK in 2008. "It's a way of life."
Here's a stark example of this dilemma: When DreamWorks' first "Shrek" movie debuted in May 2001, it required about 6TB of capacity in DreamWorks' data centers. Eight years later, the studio's most recent release, "Monsters vs. Aliens," requires a bit more elbow room-as in 93TB of capacity.
Both movies took more than four years to create and produce. Both have about the same running time: "Shrek" is 90 minutes, "Monsters vs. Aliens" is 94 minutes. There's simply a lot more depth of field, colors, action and special effects as the movies get increasingly sophisticated.
The bottom line: If you're going to have a quality product, you have to make a home for it. With all the new content pouring into its coffers on a 24/7 basis from its artists, DreamWorks Animation had to figure out how to classify and store all those terabytes of video-and in an easily accessible archiving system.
DreamWorks Animation's storage systems, located in data centers in Northern and Southern California and in Bangalore, India, use products from Hewlett-Packard, NetApp and Ibrix for different duties. Extremely powerful dual-core Intel "Woodcrest"-powered workstations have been supplied by HP for the last eight years.
In April 2009, the studio-which has a longstanding relationship with HP-added the company's newest package, the HP StorageWorks 9100 Extreme Data Storage System. This scale-out system acts as an online reference library for "Monsters vs. Aliens" and previous films, such as "Madagascar," "Bee Movie" and "Kung Fu Panda."
"Scale-out" is a relatively recent data center industry buzzword referring to architectures for systems running thousands of servers that are required to scale nearly ad infinitum in order to comfortably handle massive workloads.
Production isn't going to be slowing down any time soon, with all the potential profits to be made. As of June 15, "Monsters vs. Aliens" had banked $195,246,609, according to industry researcher Box Office Mojo.
"Not only are we making more 3D-type movies, but we're ramping up our production schedule from four movies every two years to five movies in two years," Derek Chan, head of digital operations for DreamWorks Animation, told eWEEK.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...