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Sony Pictures virtualises filers

Avere gets a big one

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Sony Pictures Imageworks, the special effects company behind Alice in Wonderland 3D, is virtualising its filers behind Avere appliances.

SPI has been in the computer-generated imagery (CGI) field since 1992 and worked on movies such as Die Hard With A Vengeance and Anger Management. It has a digital animation studio in Culver City, California, another in Vancouver and one in Albuquerque. The company has been using generations of Isilon scale-out NAS filers to hold animation files.

It's now decided to front-end the filers with Avere's FXT filer accelerator appliance. This holds different sorts of data flowing to and from the filers in four tiers of storage: DRAM, NVRAM, NAND flash and fast SAS hard drives. Data is assigned to the tiers based on things like its I/O characteristics such as being random or sequential, and whether it's read or write data. The aim is to optimise access speed for each I/O type. Data that is not new enough or being accessed repetitively enough to reside on the FXT's internal storage tiers is assigned to bulk filer storage on what Avere calls a traditional filer, typically one using bulk capacity SATA drives.

The scale-out aspect of this comes from the FXT appliances being clusterable.

SPI's Stephen Kowalski, its systems and storage operations director, said SPI chose Avere "to support our digital animation studio in Albuquerque because not only does its FXT Series deliver the IOPs the group needs without driving up operational costs, its two-stage NAS architecture allows us the flexibility to work with a multitude of mass storage systems. Now we can choose whichever solution best suits our changing needs without worrying about being limited by a single vendor's architecture."

This appears to harm Isilon because it has just announced STEC flash-enhanced controllers for its S- and X-series IQ product. Flash technology can deliver eight times lower latency and up twice the IOPS of non-flash Isilon product. The Isilon gear can scale out to 10PB so SPI couldn't have had scale-out limitation problems with Isilon.

Isilon is well-entrenched in Sony - Sony Music Network, Sony Online Entertainment, Sony Pictures Digital Authoring Center, and Sony Pictures Imageworks are just a few of the Sony business units that have deployed its clustered storage systems. Bill Villarreal, technology VP at SPI said in 2007, at which time SPI had three Isilon clusters: "Isilon IQ provides the high data performance, scalability and ease of use we require to power specific areas of our data-intensive visual effects pipeline."

It was intriguing that when these new Isilon products were announced its marketing VP Sam Grocott said: "Avere is doing some really cool things, very intelligent caching. It's complementary to Isilon's scale-out NAS. Frankly it can run with us." Well yes, and so it is at SPI. The thing that grabs your attention here is that Avere is being used to accelerate some of the best scale-out NAS on the planet, not bog standard filers with limited scalability.

Avere sits in front of the Islion IQ clustered kit and enables SPI, if it wishes, to buy cheaper filers and still have blistering performance courtesy of the FXT tiering. If Avere can persuade operators of clustered Isilon NAS that its box is worth having then that sets a high bar for companies like IBM (SONAS) and NetApp with its scalable Data Ontap 8 product, to sell against.

The competitive situation for NetApp might be cherished by Avere as NetApp's CEO Tom Georgens has said tiering is dying. It's all the more ironic given that the FXT is basically a highly intelligent NAS controller in the NetApp PAM (DRAM or flash Performance Acceleration Module) mode but with additional NVRAM and SAS drive tiers.

Avere emphasises the dollar benefits of using its kit instead of adding more filers to an existing set up. It claims "decoupling storage network performance from the disk capacity available enables Avere to deliver enterprise-class application performance while slashing CAPEX acquisition costs by almost 70 per cent and ongoing OPEX expenditures by a 5:1 ratio on average."

It seems to us here at The Register with our scientific back-of-an-envelope analysis service, that Avere is a distinctly purchasable company. If its technology can fit seamlessly in front of servers accessing existing NAS filers, then it could sit equally well inside a NAS filer company's product range as an accelerating controller with virtually no upfront integration required at all. Then it would help them gain entry into Isilon and other filer vendors' accounts, and virtualise the customer's legacy NAS estate as well.

Wow! Surely the same thought must be occurring to every NAS supplier? ®

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