UT Dallas Grows HPC Storage Footprint for Animation and Game Development

By Staff report

October 28, 2020

Computer-generated animation and video game development are extraordinarily computationally intensive fields, with studios often requiring large server farms with hundreds of terabytes – or even petabytes – of storage. At the University of Texas at Dallas, the School of Arts, Technology and Emerging Communication (ATEC) prepares students to become professionals in these fields – and now, it’s boasting a massive 490 TB Panasas storage solution to support these compute- and storage-intensive programs.

ATEC bills itself as one of the first universities to formally blend computer science and creative arts programs, a combination that reinforces the deep connections between creation tools like geometry, texture, lighting and shading and the computational tools that enable them. ATEC’s dedicated render farm – uncommon for a university program – began with a 250-terabyte Panasas ActiveStor data storage system. 

That 250 TB installation, in service since 2015, was due for an upgrade. File sizes had continuously grown over those five years, and while the system had never hit its hard storage limits, strain on the system was growing in the context of a fast-moving sector.

“It seems that render practices and technologies change every six to 12 months, causing an increase in our file sizes,” said Todd Fechter, area head for the animation and games program at ATEC. “We render each image with about 100 layers of information and each layer is adjustable in a composite, which demands more resources to facilitate the sheer size of these files. We chose Panasas ActiveStor because we needed an HPC storage infrastructure that can easily adapt to these changing requirements.”

Now, ATEC has deployed an additional 240 TB of storage, bringing its total to 490 TB, leveraging Panasas PanFS parallel system to support ATEC’s server farm’s two dozen Red Hat Enterprise Linux blades. At ATEC, even an image is often encoded with hundreds of layers of information, and this storage capacity allows the students to store and share massive renderings: not just images, but animations and short films, as well. (One example of such a film is the award-winning short film Stargazer.)

“Panasas ActiveStor storage helps ATEC students create amazing things,” said Peter McCord, assistant professor of instruction at ATEC. “Having a render farm supported by high-performance storage gives students the freedom and creative license to execute projects they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. An additional plus is ActiveStor’s ease of use; once we assign students to their storage resources, the system is pretty much hands off.”

Header image: a still from ATEC-produced short film Stargazer.

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