render farm

Assessing cloud computing for digital media shops

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One of my recent IT consulting clients is a digital media shop that operates a local 60-node rendering farm. Based on their available bandwidth, scale, and, most importantly, established workflows and style, this client is not interested in exploring an external cloud solution at this time. Fast and stable access to rendering farm resources from desktop workstations is absolutely critical for their ongoing projects, and the trade-offs involved with a cloud provider are not favorable. Most likely, comparable new media and effects studios of this size will come to a similar conclusion.

However, larger studios such as DreamWorks are already beginning to assign additional work to specialized compute clouds, in this case developed by the state of New Mexico. As graphics and rendering-specialized clouds emerge onto the commercial market, a key question is once again determining the relative strategic value of IT infrastructure to the business. Certainly, in the case of a digital/3D studio, the primary source of competitive value resides in the creative capabilities of designers, upon whose completed projects the studio builds it reputation upon. Tangible assets from graphics software to Mac workstations, network switches and SAN’s are generic and easily replaced. But the utilization of the technical infrastructure, encompassing a workflow from importing raw media to editing and rendering files, and managing IT resources such as render node availability, storage space, security, and backups, are also critical components of this business and therefore not likely candidates to be fully sourced externally.

As the cloud computing market matures and delivers more customized solutions, the 3D/render space should get very interesting. New and specialized processor offerings from vendors such as AMD and Intel will also make the choice between local and cloud-based render farms more challenging.

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