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Visual effects studio puts Panasas ActiveStor in the movies

Streaming media presents storage challenges for studios. After trying to build storage in-house, Whiskytree decided to implement Panasas ActiveStor scale-out NAS.

Media studios face a number of storage challenges that aren't easily solved with most networked storage products.

For one, data deduplication isn't practical for large unstructured media files, making disk preferable to faster flash storage. Another challenge is delivering parallel file storage for hundreds of users to access the same data simultaneously, without a decline in performance.

As part of its storage upgrade, visual effects company  Whiskytree recently implemented Panasas ActiveStor NAS to foster real-time collaboration and computer rendering for its data-intensive workflows.

 Whiskytree CEO Jonathan Harb said Panasas enables high-performance sharing of data by hundreds of servers simultaneously.

"It's one thing if you're just sharing some spreadsheets. It's another thing altogether when your business involves sharing terabytes of information for multiple artists to work on all at once," Harb said.

Panasas ActiveStor vs. custom-built storage

In addition to visual effects and content creation,  Whiskytree is a production company whose computer graphics are used in application development, gaming, media and entertainment. The San Rafael, Calif., company has contributed special effects to a number of major motion pictures, including Captain America, Elysium, The Last Jedi and The Revenant.

 Whiskytree tried several storage systems before Panasas. The video house used Apple Inc.'s Xsan SAN clustered file system to power its Mac environment, backed by Avere Systems' disk-based caching appliances. The Xsan storage had its own Fibre Channel client running behind 10 Gigabit Ethernet connectivity to the Avere servers.

Headshot of Jonathan HarbJonathan Harb

"We turned that into a system that worked flawlessly and gave us 100% uptime for very long periods of time. But as the equipment aged, we had an opportunity to start again with a new storage system," Harb said.

Still, Panasas ActiveStor was not the studio's first move after moving off the Xsan-Avere combination. Whiskytree instead built its own storage system in-house, using standard controllers and servers crammed with NVMe SSDs. Harb said it delivered fast storage, but the performance was offset by repeated disk failures.

"We found ourselves trapped in the same cycle of 'Why are we messing with this?' That steered us to look for storage that was very simple to manage and doesn't require a lot of input from us. That's when we went looking for Panasas," Harb said.

Panasas ActiveStor is powered by the vendor's PanFS parallel file system. The modular architecture increases storage performance as users add nodes to the cluster.

Harb said the scale-out design and simplified management were key attributes in  Whiskytree's decision to go with Panasas. "We wanted one system that one person could manage," he said. "As long as the performance was there, we knew that would be a huge win for us."

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