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Weta Digital And Netapp Bring Avatar To Life

Weta Digital And Netapp Bring Avatar To Life

NetApp reduces Weta’s data management overhead by 95% and increases storage price/performance ratio by 40%

Wellington, NEW ZEALAND — 28 January 2010 — NetApp announced today it has partnered with Weta Digital, a world leader in digital effects and animation, to provide data storage for the production of the record-breaking film, Avatar.

Avatar was filmed with revolutionary new motion-capture techniques, which generated more data than any other movie in history (more than the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy combined), creating a new set of challenges never before faced by the digital effects industry.

The key data storage challenge for Weta Digital during the production of Avatar was the question of how to manage efficiently the huge amounts of data being generated by the renderwall, and how to provide the artists with fast access to that data when changes were made to the master texture files (a texture file is a picture of an object used in Avatar, such as a leaf or a thread of hair, which is wrapped around a 3D model during the rendering process).

Weta used its NetApp storage arrays to hold all of the high-value artist-generated data, therefore reliability and management of this data was of paramount importance.

The process of managing data generated in such a technology-intensive CGI environment presents a unique set of performance and capacity-intensive storage challenges. Weta had to deal with a large number of unique data hosts, a read-heavy workload and very high numbers of medium-sized files. Weta worked with NetApp and Fujitsu New Zealand to develop a scalable storage solution which:

1. Reduced the amount of manual data management required in the process of rendering files, and
3. Maximised the price-to-performance ratio for its storage environment.
Together, NetApp, Fujitsu and Weta created a system that allowed Weta to automatically balance the throughput requirements of the renderwall to provide more than 35,000 rendering cores with the fastest possible access to commonly used texture files. This solution was based on NetApp’s FlexCache storage devices to maintain high-speed data access, while ensuring synchronisation so all users could access the updated texture files simultaneously. The implementation of the NetApp FlexCache systems saved Weta Digital 95 percent of the manual intervention required for data movement and management that would have been needed otherwise.

The NetApp FlexCache tier also allowed Weta to automate the process of having one master version with multiple copies that could be accessed quickly. This meant manual intervention to manage data was no longer required for:

• Publishing changed data – the old storage model required manual intervention to update the master texture file once an artist made changes

• Data management – the previous storage model required manual intervention to keep multiple identical texture files in multiple places at the same time

• Data synchronisation – previously, manual intervention was required to synchronise a master version with multiple read-only renderwall-facing copies.

Paul Ryan, CTO of Weta Digital, said, “A traditional storage approach would have made it very difficult to manage the workload required for Avatar, Having partnered with NetApp successfully for 10 years, we were delighted they delivered an innovative, efficient storage environment that was tailored to our needs.

“The NetApp solution reduced our data management overhead costs by 95 percent and increased our storage price-to-performance ratio by over 40 percent.

“It has also drastically reduced the CPU load on storage, which translated to lower latency, faster rendering times and increased artist productivity. We were looking for a cost-effective and efficient answer to our data management problem, and NetApp really delivered with its FlexCache solution.”

Technical overview

• 4 x high availability NetApp SA600 FlexCache storage devices running NetApp Data ONTAP, each with two shelves of 450GB 15K fibre-channel drives. Based on the NetApp FAS6000 storage environment at the backend, the FlexCache devices act as a highly scalable caching layer between the renderwall and a single NetApp storage array, which holds the master copy of the texture file.

• Two 16GB PAM (first generation solid-state storage accelerator) cards in each system to maximise read performance without the requirement for large numbers of disk spindles. This reduced cost, power consumption and cooling required.

• Two 10GbE Ethernet links to the renderwall with TCP/IP Offload Engine (TOE) functionality enabled to ensure maximum aggregate link performances are reached.

Peter O’Connor, Area Vice President for NetApp Australia and New Zealand said, “NetApp has demonstrated how our innovative storage and data management solutions have enabled Weta to achieve greater storage efficiencies and to reduce their cost of ownership. Our partnership with Weta is an example of how NetApp continues to meet the market’s demand for solutions that address real business challenges and enable business breakthroughs.”


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