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Starz Animation Beefs Up Storage Performance For Heavy Production Schedule

As a name-brand movie channel on cable and satellite television outlets, Starz Animation in Toronto staffs 300 employees in a 45,000 foot production facility and houses 1,200 servers in its film rendering farm. No one would believe that Starz Animation was supporting and growing its robust production business in a "mix and match" environment of systems and storage resources  it had accumulated  over the years, but that was exactly what was going on--until recently. "We had been operating as a largely homegrown operation with a blend of Sun and IBM servers, HP and Foundry networking and 450 terabytes of total storage that used heavy compression in old storage  arrays, with a 90 terabyte storage  pool for rear-line storage," said Terry  Dale, vice president of operations  for Starz Animation.

Dale said that Starz Animation was beginning to experience performance issues in video production as it grew. "Every time the video render farms request data, the data files are huge," he said. "We realized that we needed the storage that could support those kinds of requests. We were experiencing slowdowns in production, and were constantly battling to make sure files were up."

Starz Animation wanted a solution to the storage logjam, but it also wanted to achieve several other objectives for its IT infrastructure:

  • Superior performance of IT assets for movie rendering
  • System reliability and quality of service
  • Scalability
  • Ease of system management.

"We first designed our storage system in concept," said Dale. "After that, we reviewed the architectural design with the vendor. Prior to purchase, we got a test unit of the product in and did everything we could to try and overload it."

All of these steps checked out, and Starz Animation then made a final decision to purchase three clustered Titan III heads from BlueArc.  "We set up the BlueArc storage heads based upon our production needs," said Dale. "Each head had 450 terabytes of data on it that was configured into a number of different clusters. In this way, data could flow through the files as it went to the production line--and also be clustered for failover protection. The disk media that we incorporated into this storage architecture included six to eight trays of 10,000 RPM (revolutions per minute) fiber channel disks for our production data at 14 disks per tray.

These media had to be rapidly accessed from the production floor. The remaining data, which required less aggressive access, was placed on serial advanced technology attachment (SATA) disks that ran at 7,200 RPM. We carried nine trays of SATA at 48 disks per tray."  Dale acknowledged that the new storage solution was a little more expensive than several other alternatives that Starz Animation had considered, but that Starz animation felt more confident with it. "We literally threw everything at the equipment to see if we could make it break," said Dale. "But the equipment continued to meet benchmarks and in the end, we felt that we could sleep at night."

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