Auckland, NEW ZEALAND – 15 June, 2010 - Moving its core network infrastructure to a Brocade backbone has given Weta Digital the reliability, scalability and data capacity needed to tackle the exceptionally high data demands of creating digital 3D effects for top-rank films such as James Cameron’s multi-award winning epic, Avatar.
This was essential to reducing the stress on the network during the crunch time of the production work on Avatar, while ensuring enough backup capacity. After all, a network failure could cost Weta days of work.
“We often have ‘renders’ or video outputs from data that run for days,” says Weta Digital Systems Administrator Matt Provost. “If there is a network failure we can lose those and have to start them over again. And because of the way that artists work on a daily schedule, if the network goes down, we generally lose an entire day's worth of progress on the film.”
While many firms generally have to choose between having either a high availability or high-performance network, Weta needed both – and Brocade has delivered just that.
“Brocade technology has enabled us to have a network that is both resilient and high performing,” says Provost.
10G Ethernet Ramps up Production
In reaching these new heights and revolutionizing film production, Weta needed to upgrade its high-performance 10-gigabit-per-second (10 Gbps) Ethernet visual effects production network. It did so by deploying Brocade BigIron RX Series of Layer 2/3 Ethernet switches.
The switch from 2D to 3D production represented both the greatest technical opportunities and challenges in Weta Digital’s history. The multiple BigIron RX Series of backbone switches and FastIron family of compact Layer 2/3 switches that form Weta’s 10GbE production network core has given the company the networking power to remain at the cutting edge of digital effects production.
“Moving to 3D production was the biggest change in how we work. It was a huge amount of work and our data demands more than doubled,” said Provost. “With 3D, the bandwidth requirements increased dramatically. We upgraded our network from having a few 10 Gbps links in the core to having trunked 80 Gbps links in the core, and pushed 10 Gbps all the way from the storage to the blade chassis.”
“The 10 Gbps capabilities of the RX platform deployed by Weta in the core of its network dramatically increased the amount of bandwidth. This was necessary as Weta had to expand the number of servers used for storage and digital animation rendering,” adds Provost.
“As the number of workstations and render wall servers increased we were able to move from a largely flat, switched network to a tiered, routed network without taking a performance hit. It made the network much more resilient and easier to manage.”
In addition, the infrastructure has provided Weta with a single hardware platform from its data centre to users across its network of sister companies located in Wellington’s suburb, Miramar – the centre of film production in New Zealand.
“We use Brocade RX switches in our data centres and we run dual-loop 10Gbps fiber to each of the buildings for our sister companies. Most of the other companies connect to the fiber ring with Brocade FLS-648 switches,” says Provost.
The RX platform also proved to be flexible enough to meet Weta’s ever-growing demands for more data capacity, particularly as 3D production intensified in the final stages of producing Avatar.
“As we expanded we could add capacity to the network specifically for certain groups of end-users. Once we had the chassis in place, we could just add expansion cards,” explains Provost.
“Having a flexible platform was important, as we did not know exactly what our needs would be from the start. It has given us the ability to change.”
Brocade was very supportive in meeting these demands rapidly to ensure there were no delays during the height of this multi-million dollar project, says Provost.
“They were very helpful in getting us the equipment we needed, when we needed it.”
In addition, Weta was able to take advantage of all of its available connections using equal-cost multi-path routing (ECMP) which greatly increased the active bandwidth on the network.
“This has enabled us to have more bandwidth without having more hardware,” adds Provost.
With such high stakes, Weta decided to turn to long-standing technology partner Foundry Networks, now owned by Brocade, to deliver the BigIron RX-16 backbone. Selecting a trusted partner and technology was vital, says Provost.
"We had to go through a big round of planning – we needed a new data centre and a new and upgraded network. Brocade was our preferred data centre platform and the team at Brocade was really helpful in helping us select the right technology.”
As a result of the cyclical nature of film production Weta also had a limited timeframe between major films to deploy and test its new infrastructure. “Once everything is in place and the movie is in full production we try not to change too much until it's finished.”
Weta places exceptionally high demands on its hardware and typically expects a relatively short lifecycle out of most of its equipment. With shorter horizons between network upgrades, it is able to choose more closely what it needs at the moment than what it would grow into, says Provost.
“Technology is always changing – what we will be getting for the next generation of our network infrastructure probably does not exist yet.”
Therefore, having access to Brocade product road maps, and being able to provide feedback on future product development has been a great advantage, says Provost.
“We know what is coming up to see if there is something coming along that we need."
“Brocade has also been very responsive to our feedback and been quite open in helping us plan and allowing us to help in their planning.”
Weta is currently using the Brocade infrastructure to produce its next major 3D release – Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg’s “Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn”.
Brocade® (Nasdaq: BRCD) develops extraordinary networking solutions that enable today’s complex, data-intensive businesses to optimize information connectivity and maximize the business value of their data. For more information, visit www.brocade.com.
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