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Hammerspace connects virtual studio of Jellyfish Pictures

The Hammerspace Global Data Environment enables collaboration and savings for Jellyfish Pictures, a U.K.-based animation studio with artists working across the world.

Jellyfish Pictures, an animation and visual effects studio based in London, adopted Hammerspace's Global Data Environment for remote work collaboration among its teams, reducing data center overhead and saving on high-performance computing costs.

The Global Data Environment, Hammerspace's flagship product, enables Jellyfish's IT team to move rendering workloads to less costly data centers as needed and simplifies the collaborative process for a team that has worked remotely since 2015, said Jeremy Smith, CTO of Jellyfish Pictures.

"The technology in the cloud stack has matured a lot in the past seven years," he said. "A lot of our application stack that we use wasn't designed to be cloud-friendly."

Hammerspace's software-defined data management service for storage using metadata enables Jellyfish Pictures to continue modernizing its application stack for Microsoft Azure and hire global talent, all while better utilizing both cloud and on-premises hardware, Smith said.

"Data centers are not going to go away," he said. "That's going to be with us for quite some time. The idea is that we're able to take the public cloud and shift our data centers whenever we want. Hammerspace allows us to glue that together."

Distributed drawings

Jellyfish Pictures employs more than 300 artists globally to work on projects such as special effects for the Star Wars franchise, Netflix originals and other animated series such as How to Train Your Dragon.

The team uses on-premises data centers in London, where the studio is headquartered, to handle much of the rendering work. But the business costs in London alone quickly became expensive, especially the costs to maintain and power the hardware.

Jeremy Smith, CTO, Jellyvision PicturesJeremy Smith

"If you take a look at a city like Montreal, there's less cooling costs because, frankly, it's a lot colder," Smith said. "The cost of electricity is a lot lower. All of a sudden, depending on what hardware you're running, you can dramatically cut your costs considerably for that same kit in the data center. You can have a lot more bang for your buck running those high-performance computing [HPC] workloads in cheaper geographical locations."

Global Data Environment creates a single, global file namespace, combining Jellyfish Pictures' on-premises storage with its cloud object storage from Microsoft Azure. Studio artists can view and access their files as though they were available locally, but Hammerspace enables Smith and his team to move the data around as needed.

"When it comes to sharing files from region to region, they have a good, policy-driven way of doing that," Smith said. "We can present that file halfway across the world now."

Smith also appreciated Hammerspace's integrations with ShotGrid, project management software for special effects work from Autodesk.

We were one of the first studios to run in a virtual way, as we saw the writing on the wall a while ago.
Jeremy SmithCTO, Jellyfish Pictures

Beyond lowering computing and rendering costs, the push to the cloud helped Smith and his team avoid the headaches of high hardware prices and constrained supply chains since 2020.

"The IT roles have changed quite dramatically, especially in recent years," he said. "We've leveraged a lot more cloud technologies. We were one of the first studios to run in a virtual way, as we saw the writing on the wall a while ago."

The current Jellyfish Pictures headquarters has cut down its data center by 50% and has eliminated local workstations in the office.

Artists looking to fully render a scene, however, are still subject to a formal ticketing and approval process before HPC instances are spun up.

"We don't give our artists access to the cloud render farms as, obviously, they'd go nuts," Smith said jokingly.

Pulled out of Hammerspace

The organization and policy tools provided by Hammerspace give Smith and his team visibility into stored data, which cuts down on unnecessary, outdated project versions and orphaned files.

"In this industry, it's all unstructured data," he said. "You can have pockets of data, but in isolation, that's not acceptable. There needs to be a global file system, but it needs to be relatively easy to manage and deploy, and hit those tick boxes when going across everything."

He still expects Jellyfish Pictures and other companies to continue using a combination of on-premises and cloud technologies into the future, for security and to justify expensive technology purchases of the past.

"Many studios, including us, have spent millions of dollars on hardware," Smith said.

The location-agnostic capabilities of Hammerspace, which enables hybrid cloud workloads, could also help studios break out of costly vendor lock-in, Smith said.

"You're not held victim to any proprietary software," he said. "It's all built on open standards. When you take a look at something like [Dell] EMC ... that's a 100% vendor lock-in scenario. Back in the day, we did have an Isilon. It was cheaper to replace it rather than renew it. [Hammerspace] gives us that security, that hardware [agnosticism] that we could run on whatever hardware we want, for as long as we want."

Hardware demands for rendering are already increasing. Jellyfish Pictures recently used 90,000 CPU cores over a three-month period for a rendering job, a costly HPC request for a project that isn't even considered the high end of the industry, Smith said.

"That job wasn't even Ultra HD," he said. "I don't know if people fully know how much work goes into a show they watch on Netflix, but it's a huge amount of effort."

Tim McCarthy is a journalist living on the North Shore of Massachusetts. He covers cloud and data storage news.

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