The case for scale-out network-attached storage

The emergence of new content formats in the media and entertainment sector—think 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD), Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)—has created a deluge of data that needs to be managed, accessed and processed in record time to feed the insatiable appetite of today’s entertainment consumer.

According to Tom Coughlin’s ‘2017 Digital Storage for Media and Entertainment Report’, digital storage capacity used in the entertainment industry will increase by 3.5x between 2016 and 2022. To battle the rapid turnaround times and increasing data volumes that follow as a result of this fast-growing industry, an up-to-date and ever-expanding storage system is not just a recommendation—it is a necessity. Is your storage infrastructure ready for the technology challenges of the modern media workflow? Let’s take a look.

STATE OF THE M&E INDUSTRY

Looking at behavior models in the media and entertainment industry, and specifically the VFX space, we can see that today’s media industry is characterized by spikes, as production requirements and schedules are notoriously fickle. Media studio operations must accommodate for huge data workload spikes caused by unplanned job changes that occur in the middle of planned production schedules. Moreover, tight budgets and high expectations are a main concern. As a result, companies are facing unprecedented cost pressure to support new production and distribution technologies that drive differentiation and enhance productivity.

Inevitably, responding to this imperative requires investing in storage and other infrastructure components, but all too often, the need for investment clashes with an ultra-tight budget which can lead to saving in the wrong places. It’s important not to forget that an inadequate storage infrastructure can not only have an adverse effect on business outcome but may also take a human toll by requiring labor-intensive administration, which not only impacts the bottom-line but also shifts the focus from where it needs to be: on the craft and creativity of your production facility. That’s why it’s important to find storage that offers the right combination of performance, price, flexibility, and manageability.

WHAT ARE WE UP AGAINST?

Data-intensive media rendering and animation jobs in the visual effects (VFX) industry demand powerful processing of complex assets with higher resolution, denser colors and faster frame rates. Also, increased pressure on media production teams to deliver higher quality content faster requires an infrastructure that can support 24/7 activity with unparalleled reliability and the confidence that files are available when needed.

If storage is static, lacking, or outdated, wall-clock time increases and deadlines suffer. You need storage that supports parallel creative activities handles high resource demands from multiple sources and delivers the raw speed and management simplicity required for everyone in the creative value chain to work faster and smarter. As a possible solution, studios are moving to or expanding their network-attached storage (NAS) storage solution.

EVALUATING YOUR STORAGE OPTIONS

Putting an agile and easily manageable storage backbone behind both media production and development is essential. As you evaluate your next storage purchase, ask yourself the following questions: Can investment in new storage technology improve our system architecture in terms of greater flexibility, better scalability, improved reliability, and easier management? How will new storage technology improve my creative workflow? How does my team access and share data? How much data growth do we expect from the increased use of 4K formats, 3-D animation, virtual reality, creative collaboration, and new channels for distribution?

In essence, you want a solution that is affordable, delivers high-performance and is still easy to manage. At the same time, performance for all users must be maintained to keep creatives happy as they perform their valuable tasks to push content through the production pipeline.

THE CASE FOR SCALE-OUT NAS IN VFX

Scale-out NAS, when delivered with parallel processing, packs the punch you need to address the data-intensive media rendering and animation productions in VFX environments. When you need shared-access storage that scales easily and delivers faster rendering times, supports highest data availability, and handles dozens of editorial sessions and high resource demands from multiple creatives, scale-out NAS is the way to go. A scale-out storage infrastructure reduces congestion across multiple “vectors,” including bandwidth and capacity, by supporting small-file I/O requirements across multiple flash-based components, while parallel access to larger files such as IMF containers for DPX or EXR elements improves responsiveness to artists seeking to load and process shots rapidly. Here are a few more points to be made for the advantages of scale-out NAS in VFX production:

Ability to adapt to dynamic business needs: Scale-out storage is well suited to media studio operations looking to expand storage capacity and bandwidth vertically. It’s easy to “turn more on” at the source to expand the scope of the data pipe serving the studio operation. Today’s on-premise scale-out storage solutions are proven effective at delivering the right capacity at the point of need, with the flexibility to grow easily without downtime. Your budget also scales predictably because you pay for what you need when you need it, not for what you think you’ll need tomorrow, making you work faster and more efficiently.

Consistent access to vast amounts of data: A flexible and agile scale-out NAS solution is capable of supporting the highest data transfer requirements in your computing infrastructure while maintaining the highest data availability on a 24/7 basis. Consistent access to vast amounts of data, while also providing reassurances to manage a consistent repository of data that can be deduped, backed up, protected and kept secure, is the cornerstone of a modern storage infrastructure.

Driving a collaborative and connected business operation: Maintaining maximum creativity for artists, streamlining workflows, and delivering projects on time and budget is what it’s all about, and the right scale-out NAS solution makes a difference. Artists being able to focus on their craft instead of wrestling with a complicated storage environment can deliver a higher-quality product. Teams being able to work on media files at full resolution rather than editing a lower resolution and rebuilding are saving valuable time and costs.

THE FUTURE OF STORAGE

Media organizations that embrace technological advances in computing infrastructures can realize incredible benefits. Visual media studios are harnessing the use of scale-out storage technologies to work in new ways that allow them to function as a different kind of collaborative, connected and altogether experimental business operation. There is an extraordinary number of choices when it comes to delivering and consuming media and entertainment production content, and audiences expect a high-quality experience across the board, no matter the channel of delivery.

At the heart of this infrastructure is data storage, and the ability to rationalize and optimize this layer to serve different operational needs is of paramount importance in running an efficient studio.

RW Hawkins is a Storage Systems Engineer at Panasas, a performance scale-out network-attached storage company based in Sunnyvale, Calif.