Reliable storage a must in 'Toon Town

The characters may not be real, but the storage problems are. See how one animation studio drew up a new storage plan.

A storage failure at Klasky Csupo could erase the greatest performances of America's most popular television stars.

To keep this from happening, the Hollywood studio's IT director had to find a storage solution that wouldn't fail and wouldn't hog server space needed for other film production tasks.

You may not know Klasky Csupo, or even be able to pronounce it, but if you have kids you know what they do. 'Rugrats', 'Duckman', and 'The Simpsons' are some of the animated favorites produced by this 20-year-old animation studio. For those keeping track at home, it's "class-key chew-po".

Maybe it's a stretch to say that the reliability of the studio's storage could affect the happiness of children across America. But it certainly impacts the life of Jaime Diaz, manager of production technology for Hollywood, Calif.-based Klasky Csupo.

"Making an animated film is a production line and my job is to keep the line moving," said Diaz. "Reliable storage is critical to that."

To keep the line moving, Diaz has to make sure that his servers are working efficiently. "A good percentage of my job is research and development of the most cutting-edge technology," he said. His research revealed the legacy storage system, a SCSI RAID storage system attached to a Silicon Graphics production server, was not "cutting edge." Indeed, it was cluttering up the server and reducing efficiency.

Researching options for offloading storage from the production server, Diaz quickly decided that a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device was his best option. His research showed that NAS offers the reliability of hard disk storage. As a standalone entity with its own network address, however, NAS is not using processor resources needed for other tasks.

After looking at several NAS products, Diaz chose Irvine, Calif.-based Procom's NetFORCE NAS. NetFORCE's features, particularly reliability, were comparable to or better than those of other products, but its price point was much better. "We have enough budget in a movie to buy any storage, but I don't want to spend all my budget on storage," said Diaz.

Procom's Adaptive Network Storage Architecture (ANSA) allows both file and block-level data access in one storage system. ProMirror, a software option, offers real-time Safe Asynchronous Mirroring (SAM) architecture. This assures that data from the source filer is continuously reflected onto the target filer, eliminating any single point of failure.

Diaz first tested the NAS concept with a NetFORCE 2200. The product did the job, freeing up server space for database functions and remaining reliable 24X7. There were some installation and implementation glitches, however. "It took me a month to get stable with the 2200," he said.

With the concept proved, Diaz added two 17TB NetFORCE 3200s. Using a better JAVA interface and faster speeds, the 3200s were easier to install and manage than the 2200, he said. "I plugged them in eight months ago and haven't thought about them again," he noted. "I was happy before, but I'm much happier now."

Each of the three systems has a dual controller, making them redundant. "If I lose anything on any one of them, I can interchange," said Diaz. "If I lose a Procom head, I'm in trouble, but Procom with replace it within four hours."

The studio's 250 workstations are connected to the Procom system through a main router via a 100G Bit Ethernet connection.

The core users of the storage system work in Klasky Csupo's Features Department. In Features, hand-drawn 2-D animation is scanned and stored on the Procom system. The resulting digital images can then be manipulated using Montreal-based Toon Boom Technologies' USAnimation software. Background work is usually done using San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe Systems Inc. Photoshop software. When a scene is completed, it is archived to AIT-2 tape.

Diaz has been so impressed with the performance of the Procom solution that he recently purchased an 800 series unit for the company's new studio in Greece. Diaz has tested the new Procom on the studio's network to assure its stability before taking it to Greece. "We've been pounding it for weeks," said Diaz. "There have been no problems."

With a reliable storage solution in place, Klasky Csupo can concentrate on the serious business of making 'toons. The only storage problem the studio has now is finding space for all of its Emmy awards.

For additional information visit Klasky Csupo's Web site

For more on Procom's NetFORCE NAS take a look at Procom's Web site

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This was first published in May 2002

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