Animal Logic Chooses Its Own Datacenter Over Cloud

It turns out cloud isn’t a great choice for certain customers, and one of them is digital animation house Animal Logic, who partnered with Schneider Electric to keep their systems close to home.

Animal Logic is the animation and video effects company behind The LEGO Movie, Happy Feet, and parts of a variety of other movies you will have heard of. Once upon a time, Animal Logic housed its gear in a co-location facility, but its demands grew too substantial for a mere colo to support. A 40,000 CPU core render farm requires a lot of power—and generates a lot of heat—and Animal Logic were finding themselves squeezed off into a corner of the colo (to protect other customers) and were being charged a premium to boot. Instead, Animal Logic partnered with Schneider Electric to install a pre-fabricated data-center on its own site at Fox Studios in Sydney. While the company could have chosen to move to cloud hosted systems, it didn’t for two major reasons: data sovereignty and the physical reality of clouds.

“Most of the spare CPU cycles are in facilities overseas,” says Alex Timbs, Head of IT at Animal Logic, “but to use those cheap cycles meant getting the dataset over there, and that’s when international links come into play, and they are extremely expensive.”

“You can think of our render farm as a private cloud,” says Timbs. “There’s still a major gap between the price of a CPU-hour on our farms and what we could get on one of the major cloud providers.”

Timbs says the network has been a major limiting factor for him. He contrasts using ubiquitous Internet connectivity (which is fine for modest I/O) with the multiple 10 Gigabit links Animal Logic requires. “It’s quite complex and time consuming to set up,” he says. It’s the complete opposite of the highly flexible, on-demand, consumption story we’ve all heard about cloud.

The other major hurdle to cloud adoption is security. Animal Logic has to meet MPAA compliance requirements, against which they are regularly audited. These compliance requirements add overhead of ensuring that networking is correctly configured to ensure privacy and security, which again makes cloud look a lot more like any other data-center location.

“The architecture that we and our peers use is that original source assets used to generate the final image are kept on-site,” says Timbs. Getting data to and from the cloud for rendering therefore requires low-latency, high-bandwidth networks, which are very expensive.

The work flow used is highly parallel and agile. All shots are worked on simultaneously, and a director might decide to rework a scene many times. “The mission for IT is support efficient creative iterations,” says Timbs. It’s this extremely clear understanding of the purpose of the overall business and IT’s role within in that has driven Animal Logic’s decision to stick with its own data center.

Actually having a data center at its Fox Studios site was quite a challenge, however. The Fox Studios campus in Sydney has a lot of old buildings, many heritage listed, so removing them to make way for a data center wasn’t an option. Instead, Schneider Electric proposed a fully engineered, prefabricated, mobile “data center in a box” that could fit in the available space, and would be able to grow with Animal Logic’s needs.

“The entire thing is engineered to order in Barcelona and then shipped out to the site,” says Joe Craparotta, Vice President – Strategic Customers & Segments at Schneider Electric. “Then it’s simply dropped onto a concrete plinth and connected up. There’s very little to do with the power and cooling because it’s been pre-manufactured.”

The particulars of Animal Logic’s use-case are not those of most organizations, but it serves as a useful check on the over-exuberance of those who prescribe a single solution to all ailments. Cloud is not a panacea, nor should it be rejected as never appropriate. It’s just another choice in the ever expanding array of options that modern businesses must sift through to find the right combination for them, at that time, for where they are.

This article first appeared in here.

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