The Cost of Keeping Up: Overcoming Entertainment’s Technology Catch-22

Our Interconnected Planet

The late 1990’s represented a tipping point for the entertainment industry. The emergence of high-definition television and the standardization on DVDs set into motion exponential growth in video file sizes — a cycle that continues to this day. Now, with the emergence of Ultra High Definition (UHD) and native 4K video, the amount of data being created, edited, rendered, and stored in the entertainment industry is exploding. It’s tripling or even quadrupling in volume according to Filmlance, an award-winning indie film production company based in Sweden with over 100 titles under its belt. A television show produced by the studio, which might have run at around 10 terabytes of raw source material to use in post-production a few years ago, now weighs in at around 40 terabytes of video — not including additional visual effects (VFX) and intermediate and delivery files, which have also grown at the same rate to stay consistent with resolution quality.

With the shoot and production time for a normal movie pegged at 12 to 18 months, this has created the entertainment industry’s own proverbial technology catch-22. Do you select and deploy infrastructure that will enable you to deliver entertaining content only today, or anticipate and prepare for the future?  Faced with this dilemma, Filmlance went to Mellanox-partner DDN Storage to find a solution that could both enable its network to support today’s production needs while also support rapidly changing and growing data demands, without breaking the bank.

Working with massive uncompressed files ranging from 1080p to UHD and native 4K can be a drain on network performance and result in extended wait times for editing and rendering videos along with other post-production processes. These issues add up to an outdated data network becoming a major bottleneck and liability at the center of a studio’s work, ultimately resulting in headaches, additional costs, and delays.

The Old Fibre Channel vs. New Ethernet

When deciding between investing in an update or complete overhaul of network infrastructure for a film studio, as with any industry, it comes down to weighing the value of short-term and long-term needs and finding the most cost-effective solution to deliver on today’s demands while setting them up for tomorrow’s as well. For Filmlance, the options were to continue with its Fibre Channel-based StorNext® platform or transition to a new system, including an infrastructure overhaul, capable of scaling for future demands. The studio decided to go with an option somewhere in the middle, choosing MEDIAScaler™ from DDN Storage, which would allow it to continue using most of its existing fiber cabling while breaking away from licensing costs associated with their old platform and integrating next-generation network technologies to support data-heavy activities.

The new system enables Filmlance to utilize an IBM Spectrum Scale parallel file system client and 40/56GbE Mellanox Ethernet network with 4x56GbE redundant switches for high-performance activities, with the goal of eventually moving all functions over to the new architecture as needed. Across its current architecture, Filmlance can now tap into clients with connectivity ranging in speeds from 1Gb/s to 56Gb/s without any permission issues and begin transitioning to a more scalable architecture for all its systems at a speed that fits its budget without compromising on performance where it needs it most.

Filmlance CTO Henrik Cednert explained to DDN Storage in the company’s case study with Mellanox on the project, “It would have been cheaper to continue with StorNext because we already had the supporting infrastructure in place. However, we knew it was time to make the move into something new if we were to meet the constantly growing demand for active storage capacity. Not something we took lightly but we decided that we had to entirely replace the old solution.”

Cednert goes further to discuss the value of Ethernet for performance and cost savings:

“If needed, we can connect with any computer in our IT infrastructure using regular Gigabit Ethernet. This is far more versatile than other solutions where some require additional servers, licenses and a more complicated setup. As a result, the DDN solution is much more cost effective for us. We have everything in one system with less management and much less headache.”

With plans to completely transition its infrastructure to the MEDIAScaler platform for end-to-end workflows, Filmlance sees the future of its industry relying on high-speed network solutions that offer greater interoperability and scalability, which will positively impact a studio’s overall performance and bottom line. To meet rapid developments in how entertainment is delivered, from VR games to increasingly high-definition, large format videos, data networks play one of the most essential roles in facilitating an entertainment company’s success. For companies like Filmlance, the demands they’re seeing are rendering previous-generation solutions archaic, as today’s requirements are now for network technologies that were developed with scaling and growth at their heart.

That being said, in the end, all that really matters is being able to create content that grabs the consumer’s imagination and allows them to be enveloped by the story and experience — something that takes a lot more than it used to!

Supporting Resources

About John F. Kim

John Kim is Director of Storage Marketing at Mellanox Technologies, where he helps storage customers and vendors benefit from high performance interconnects and RDMA (Remote Direct Memory Access). After starting his high tech career in an IT helpdesk, John worked in enterprise software and networked storage, with many years of solution marketing, product management, and alliances at enterprise software companies, followed by 12 years working at NetApp and EMC. Follow him on Twitter: @Tier1Storage

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