Disaster Recovery special FX

Acronis helps digital media special effects company

Stargate Digital is a full service visual effects company best known for its innovative work in film and television. Founded in 1985, it has studios in Los Angeles, Vancouver, and London with over 150 artists, supervisors, and producers covering all areas of digital production and visual effects.

In addition to Matte Painting, 3D, compositing, film and HD production, and editorial services, Stargate Digital offers its innovative Virtual Backlot and Digital Intermediate techniques utilizing its own proprietary technologies. It also offers upfront script evaluation, storyboarding, and pre-viz to help develop the signature looks for a proposed TV show or best determine the right approach for complex visual effects scenes.

The Virtual Backlot is more than just a green screen; it creates an immersive, 3D environment which can be photographed from any angle, moving in and around objects, in a complete 360 degree world. Combining matte paintings (left), green screen elements, and photo-real 3D models, any world can be created or extended by Stargate Digital within the often challenging schedules and budgets of film or television.

Obviously the screen special effects are mostly computer-generated and for Stargate Digital if the computers crash then its product work stops. Disaster recovery (DR) is not an option here; it is a fundamental requirement of its business. That is to say, it needs a disaster recovery facility and it also needs to recover rapidly from a disaster. Its creative people are very expensive and should not be kept idle. Equally its clients have their schedules and expect Stargate Digital to adhere to them come what may.

That means Stargate’s IT department has to provide a top notch service. Its mission statement is similar to the philosophy of Stargate’s visual effects work: “If you notice the results of what we do, we’re probably not doing things well enough.” IT’s job is to have the creative staffs’ workstations be as reliable and responsive (and therefore as unobtrusive) as a telephone or a refrigerator. This allows the artists to focus on what they do best: visual effects.

There is a heterogeneous computer network with a huge amount of customised software running on its servers and workstations. The best way to recover would be to do a straight single stream, bare-metal restore with no complex software product and application re-installation and configuration sequences. Consequently it decided to use Acronis’ disk imaging software to copy its working computer disks to the disaster recovery site.

The product chosen was Acronis Enterprise Server 9.1

The company has redundant hardware with a spare parts inventory. If servers or workstations partially or totally fail then a fresh server can be made available in short order and an Acronis-created disk image streamed onto it from the DR site. Once complete the system can be switched on and booted up. A few minutes later it is ready to use.

Stargate’s IT department looked at a variety of well-known backup and recovery products, but the consensus view was in favour of Acronis. The team was particularly impressed with the Universal Restore option and the speed with which it can move a configured system to disparate hardware.

The IT staff found unexpected benefits from the product. For example, by taking advantage of the ability to make differential “snapshots” of the O/S, they have been able to easily undo the effects of deploying faulty software. They have also been able to get double duty from some of their render servers; being able to switch O/Ses and applications between Linux and Windows in less than 6 minutes.

Thirdly, Stargate sends crews out to various places around the planet to obtain material for the Virtual Backlot system; having an up-to-date snapshot of the systems that they can send out into the field for reliable disaster recovery is another and major bonus.

Due to the tremendous pressure to produce work for its clients on time and under budget, Stargate Digital’s network necessitates a 99.995% uptime. Hardware failover, redundant and hot-standby systems are only part of the equation; a reliable software recovery system is needed to complete the protection picture. Acronis Enterprise Server delivered that capability.

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