The California Academy of Sciences' Morrison Planetarium often spends a year creating productions that explore dense topics such as the mysterious dark matter that holds galaxies together and light that comes from cosmic background radiation, a nearly 14-billion-year-old relic of the Big Bang.
Images for these productions are shown on a digital dome with a 75-foot diameter projection screen. The process places a great deal of I/O demand on the planetarium's six servers and core file servers. The non-profit San Francisco planetarium improved its rendering process times by installing Avere Systems Inc.'s FXT Edge 3200 filers to accelerate server performance.
"Each production we have done is significantly more complex than the last," said Michael Garza, planetarium and production engineering manager at the California Academy of Sciences. "We try to involve more detail and depth to each show. Our content is like a modern digital theater. But it's a dome, so there's much more area to project. It's four to six times larger than the typical movie screen."
When the team reaches the final stages of production, they often have 30 to 40 images, with each image creating a file approximately 10 MB in size.
"That stage of the process requires a significant amount of data for each image and there are 30 images for every second of the show's content," Garza said. "The file server hit its level of bandwidth capability and we [had] to reduce the demands of our rendering farm to stay within the limits of the file server. Our rendering farm generates thousands of requests. The issue is that as I/O demand increases, each individual file server wasn't able to handle the demands of the rendering farm."
Garza said he explored several options, including purchasing NetApp or EMC Isilon scale-out storage systems.
"With those solutions, I would have had to replace everything plus duplicate the 200 TB of capacity," he said. "The solution would have needed to match our storage capacity plus bandwidth, and that would mean completely replacing our current system. The cost for that was clearly well outside our budget."
He also considered using open source software to build a storage product, but that would have created significant demands on the engineering team.
The planetarium installed the Avere Systems FXT Series Edge filers about a year ago. The Edge filers' single namespace and simple directory structure provided a 10-fold increase in performance, Garza said. That reduced the turnaround time for a single shot from one week to one day.
"We got faster rendering process times, and we didn't have to change our workflow to accommodate the Avere system," Garza said.