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February 24, 2011

Studio Execs Discuss Render Farms in the Cloud

Nicole Hemsoth

Although Variety Magazine is not exactly the first place one might expect to find an article on challenges for high-performance computing in the cloud, this week Karen Idelson produced a rich piece exploring how film production companies are thinking about cloud computing—and what limitations some of them see as deal-killers.

Render farms for visual effects and animation studios are working with seriously large datasets–and their HPC infrastructure reflects it. As Idelson stated, “during the making of Avatar, Weta Digital’s render farm was considered the fastest supercomputer in the southern hemisphere.” While one couldn’t expect a deep discussion about LINPACK benchmarks to follow, Idelson’s point is well-taken—production companies invest an extraordinary amount of money in their infrastructure.

But with great computational power comes great cost. Many of the largest effects and animation render farms face power and security bills that are easily in the million dollar range annually.
 
As a result of the high overhead, some of these production companies are looking to cloud computing to solve their challenges—but there is not necessarily a mass migration. Latency and security issues are paramount to these studios and slowing down their workflow or risking data privacy or protection are not worth the possibility of lessened expense or hassle.

While companies like Warner Bros. have been using the cloud because of the scalability, others see tax, cost and other incentives, including Dreamworks, who outsources their rendering to a New Mexico-based company, Cerelink. Others, like Sony remain unconvinced of the power of the cloud for their core production business due to the latency and security issues.

Full story at Variety