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There's nothing quite as fun, charming, or family-friendly as an animated feature film. But when Walt Disney Feature Animation needed to turn around the animated processing of the upcoming film Meet the Robinsons, there was no room for cute.

"We were working on a movie with significant creative changes and we needed to meet a release date," says Jon Geibel, manager of systems at Disney. Late last summer, he and Disney VP of technology Jack Brooks had just four to five weeks to revamp the system they were using, which couldn't quite meet their performance requirements.

Their system included primarily NetApp SAN gear and clustered storage from Panasas. Trouble was, there was only one tier of storage. This made it tough to run the enormous amount of processing the project and its changes required.

"Digitally animated films have texture files with incredibly high access requirements," Geibel says. All characters and surrounding scenery require specific shading, lighting, textures, and rules of motion. Throughout a scene, each frame must be digitally set up to "call" these specifications. That means intense I/O. "It's not uncommon for a movie to have 25 million individual files," Brooks says.

The Disney team decided to split the animation data into difference types and place each type on its own storage tier. The idea was to set up three tiers of incrementally lower performance and cost.

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