Imagi Animation Studios has pledged to deliver a computer-generated imagery (CGI) animated film to movie audiences every eight months. Since that process typically takes 18 months now, the studio knew it would have to give its storage environment a proverbial shot in the arm if it was to have any chance of hitting the self-imposed deadline.

To shorten the production process so dramatically, Imagi’s IT managers knew they needed a technology that could alleviate storage bottlenecks and improve substandard system performance caused by the constant accessing of tens of thousands of files in the digital animation rendering process.

Imagi expects that Ibrix’s Fusion file-serving software, now being installed, will improve its file-serving efficiency by 50 percent and thus slice the time needed to produce two Japanese superhero-themed films — Gatchaman in 2008 and Astro Boy in 2009 — said Peter Pang, MIS manager at the studio, a subsidiary of Imagi International Holdings Ltd. in Hong Kong.

“In the past, storage was too often the bottleneck of the rendering process,” said Pang, who noted that a 90-minute CGI film features around 10 million frames. “With the vast amount of data involved in the 3-D rendering process, even the slightest hitch in the storage system will be amplified exponentially to an uncontrollable situation.”

Pang said that animators and render farms — computer clusters that render CGI — are constantly battling for resources on a storage system. Very often, the same file is simultaneously accessed by hundreds of rendering nodes and dozens of animators, he said.

Animation rendering requires systems to add processors and cache at will to pump more memory into an array while also improving performance and reducing latency, Pang said.

By parallelizing I/O from the compute nodes to the data storage, Ibrix’s file-serving technology creates a very large software “pipe” between the compute elements and the storage system in order to free resources for massive file-access demands, he said.

Imagi Studios currently runs a Hewlett-Packard StorageWorks Enterprise Virtual Array 5000 and a Network Appliance F940C filer, both of which are Linux-based.

Imagi now uses the NetApp device for rendering applications, a job that’s becoming more difficult as the massive I/O demands increase. Pang said that the Ibrix technology should fix that problem.

Imagi Studios is installing 16 Dell servers to run the Fusion technology and an EMC Corp. Clariion CX3-80 array for Tier1 storage. The older HP and NetApp systems will form the Tier 2 storage system.

Imagi’s current environment supports 40TB of storage. Pang projected that the EMC array and Ibrix tool will increase that capacity to 100TB.

“[Ibrix’s] efficient 4GB/1GB read/write throughput alone is a big improvement over our previous 1GB/300MB system, plus the functionality of separating read/write requests into individual segments,” Pang said.