Published on 11 Oct 2005
Animal Logic is a digital production company at the forefront of the international visual effects industry, with offices in Sydney, Australia and Los Angeles, California, USA.. Since its formation in 1991, it has proven itself across a broad range of visual media.
Digital production company Animal Logic needed to build a massive computing capacity to produce a full-length animated feature. The system needed to be flexible enough to scale for future needs and easy to manage without an army of technicians.
Animal Logic bought 73 IBM eServer BladeCenters, each with 14 HS20 blade servers featuring two Intel Xeon processors, making a total of 2,044 processors. IBM also provided a mix of IBM, third-party and open-source software to manage the systems.
The combination of BladeCenter technology and management tools allows this large-scale computing capacity to be managed day-to-day by a single technician. The system can easily be scaled to meet future requirements.
“We’re not used to spending that much money on technology, most of our costs are people costs. There was intense pressure to get value for money for the greatest CPU power. IBM delivered on both fronts.”
House Of Flying Daggers. Directed by Zhang Yimou.
Visual Effects by Animal Logic. Elite Group (2003) Enterprises Inc.
Animal Logic is a digital production company at the forefront of the international visual effects industry. Since its formation in 1991, it has proven itself across a broad range of visual media.
With offices in Sydney, Australia, and Los Angeles, California, USA, the company is excited by the opportunities digital technology presents not only for production and distribution but for human interaction and communication. With a depth of experience and richness of content, Animal Logic’s goal is to illuminate ideas and inspire images for the entertainment industry.
When 2,044 Processors are Just Enough
Thanks to continuing advances in computing technology, finding enough processing power is rarely a problem for most businesses. In fact many companies use virtualisation to increase the efficiency of under-utilised systems. However, in specialised areas such as weather forecasting, scientific and financial research and digital media production, there can never be enough processing power.
Australian digital media company Animal Logic needed to ramp up its processing capacity in order to produce a full-length animated feature due out in November 2006. The company estimated it would need more than 2,000 CPUs in order to handle the immense and complex task of rendering approximately 90 minutes of animation frame by frame. But building this massive computing capacity presented a number of challenges.
“We’re a creative company by nature,” said Xavier Desdoigts, Director of Technical Operations at Animal Logic. “We have technology because we need it, but we don’t get excited about technology. It’s a tool that lets us put creative images on film.
”Of particular concern for Animal Logic was the ability to manage such a large number of systems without having an army of technicians to deploy software and manage the hardware.
“With this many systems, you need to have economies of scale in management. You don’t want to spend a linear amount on technical support to babysit those machines,” said Desdoigts.
Naturally for a deal extending into millions of dollars, there was no shortage of vendors keen to do business, but Animal Logic had to be very picky which partner it chose.
“We had never built such a massive computing capacity before,” said Desdoigts. “We wanted to make sure we could use someone that had already confronted some of those issues with other clients, and benefit from what they had learned along the way. We also had to feel confident that the vendor would be able to help if we needed flexibility because our needs were changing.”
IBM Offers Superior Blade Server Technology
Animal Logic evaluated proposals from a range of vendors and found IBM’s to be the most compelling. The company also spoke to Weta Digital, the New Zealand company that produced the special effects for the Lord of the Rings trilogy using systems built by IBM.
“One thing that made IBM’s proposal very attractive was the design of the BladeCenter, which fits 14 blades into a box seven rack units high,” said Desdoigts. “The product was well designed. It gave us everything we needed in terms of connectivity and networking, but we wouldn’t spend too much time putting everything together.
“We could see the level of attention that was put into the product and that gave us a lot of confidence.” The scale of the deal meant Animal Logic was price sensitive.
|“We’re not used to spending that much money on technology, most of our costs are people costs. There was intense pressure to get value for money for the greatest CPU power. IBM delivered on both fronts.”|
- Xavier Desdoigts, Director of Technical Operations at Animal Logic.
Building and Managing the Systems
In January 2005, Animal Logic bought 630 IBM eServer BladeCenter HS20 blade servers, each with two Intel Xeon processors. In July 2005 this was supplemented with 392 more blade servers making a total of just over 2,000 CPUs.
Constructing a datacentre to house this many systems presented unique challenges. Standard datacentres are designed to handle an average load of power consumption and heat generation for each rack of servers. However, the density of the IBM BladeCenters means significantly higher power and cooling requirements than the average rack.
IBM provided Animal Logic with accurate and detailed figures so the company could fine-tune its environmental requirements without over-engineering the datacentre, which contributed to lowering the cost of the installation.
IBM’s xCAT (Extreme Cluster Administration Toolkit) management software is used to manage the systems in the Animal Logic rendering cluster. xCAT is a toolkit that can be used for the deployment and management of Windows and linux clusters. After testing various options Animal Logic settled on xCAT following demonstrations and testing. The performance, reliability and scalability features of xCAT are the ideal solution for Animal Logic’s extreme requirements of a cluster systems management solution.
“The machines work as expected,” said Desdoigts. “Sometimes we forget that we have 2,000 CPUs doing their job every day. There’s one person who looks after all of them.”
“But that’s what we were aiming for. It was part of choosing a vendor that could provide that level of service and support so we could focus on creating movies. We didn’t want to get bogged down in technology issues; it just had to work every day.”
|“We’re in a business that changes a lot and our requirements are usually non-standard. We looked for a partner that was flexible and understood our business. IBM took the time to understand how we operated in order to adapt their offering to suit us.”|
- Xavier Desdoigts, Director of Technical Operations at Animal Logic.
With the system now running smoothly, Animal Logic has started production of the full-length animated feature. Desdoigts anticipates having to expand the capacity later in 2005 to keep up with demand as production moves into the final phases.
“Because we have made the investments we have, I’m confident we can add a few hundred more systems easily because we already have a system in place to manage such a large number of servers,” he said.
Overall, Desdoigts is extremely pleased with the performance of the systems and the support the company received from IBM both during and after the deal.
IBM products and services that were used in this case study.
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