Love it or hate it, the high tech world of VFX is necessarily interweaved with IT – and consequently, all of the complexities that come with it. That’s why when handling this unavoidable business element, two very different camps tend to exist within the industry.
First you have the artist who would prefer to simply use IT infrastructure as a means to an end. If something goes wrong, this individual’s first instinct is, rightly, to call support versus tinkering. Then there are those who thrive on IT – the tech-geeks who absolutely love getting their minds and hands deep into the machinery. These individuals are happy to maintain the long tradition of “building your own” solutions to adapt to project demands – a tradition that keeps the industry proudly cutting edge, and that’s led to some of its most prized products.
But how realistic or even necessary is a “DIY” philosophy around IT in the VFX world of today – especially for smaller studios? The current marketplace is awash with emerging studios offering great quality, and the client knows it – take too much time to build a solution, and you run the risk that your client will take her business elsewhere.
The shrewd studio owner must evolve with this modern reality, and understand that “building your own IT” is fast becoming an outdated notion – a luxury reserved only for the very big players with deep enough pockets to fund their own engineering departments committed to building project-specific tools.For smaller studios, the need to adapt can be met through cloud. Yet moving your IT to the wrong cloud solution is simply trading one headache for another.
Athera offers up an optimal solution, operating on the sophisticated might of the Google Cloud Platform – the same platform fueling YouTube and Google Search. Using Athera, the need for DIY solutions is completely removed – and IT woes are eradicated.
So what exactly are the IT issues shared by VFX studios and freelancers the world over?
The headaches often start with your hardware
If you’re a new studio, maybe you’ve already got your storage and networking in place – you’ve made your investment, you’ve got all of the configurations set up, everything is plugged in where it should be, and you’re ready to handle projects.
But as the projects begin rolling in, who’s pegged to manage this complex system for you – remembering it needs constant maintaining and refreshing? Do you have someone technically inclined enough in-house who can handle it? Or do you hire the job out, which means coughing up more overhead?
On top of your base storage and networking considerations, you’ve got equally tough decisions to make on your choice of PCs. You clearly want to make sure you buy good machines, so your artists can focus on the job. You already know the output is likely to be steep if you’re serious about preventing the glitches and crashes of sub-par equipment. But how can you be sure those pricey PCs are going to be worth the investment over time?
“There’s a lot of volatility,” says Mathieu Mazerolle, Athera’s senior product manager. “A lot of jobs don’t necessarily come in on the schedule you thought, or they’re not maybe the types of jobs you expected. You might end up doing, for example, a virtual reality project where you bought a bunch of hardware that was well suited to doing animation projects – so part of you wants the VR project but you didn’t invest that $5000 into VR headsets, and the extra hardware you need for it.”
Most studios are forced to run a bit of a gamble when it comes to spending decisions. There’s no crystal ball telling you how many projects you’ll have lined up in the next three, four, or five years – and there’s no way of knowing whether or not the machines you picked will be suited to those jobs.
Issues with software
VFX software issues compound your hardware headaches. For starters, you’re often working with highly complex tools that were born from production – created by other studios as needed per project.
When these software models are later swooped up and mass-produced to be deployable to everyone, the rough edges quickly become apparent – issues persistently creeping up with configuration and installation. Equally or more frustrating are licensing issues. Harkening back to the early days of VFX when the most coveted licenses sold for thousands of dollars per unit, the industry continues to foster a protective attitude of “keep it under lock and key.”
The VFX software products of today are secured by the most sophisticated licensing technology available – and the complexity of this technology creates a whole lot of hassles on the job.“If you’re an honest customer, licensing gets in the way. It wouldn’t get in the way if it just worked – but tons of stuff tends to happen,” says Mazerolle, pointing first to the trials and tribulations of trying to hop from machine to machine.
Trying to do so is almost not worth the effort, requiring that you re-run all the licensing again – a time consuming and infuriatingly niggly process. Floating licenses connected to a central server have been used to combat this problem, but are still not an ideal solution for a smaller studio on a tight budget.
“You have to have this extra machine – this server – that’s extra cost. It has to be on all the time, because if this machine goes down, nobody gets a hall-pass. Plus this thing can crash – it’s got to be connected to everything, so forget about being remote,“ says Mazerolle.
Additionally, the setup is different for every set of software. So it’s feasible for a small studio to end up with several different servers, attached to several different systems that all have to cooperate and get along. The potential for things to go wrong is ever-present, making maintenance a constant priority and headache.
So what about moving to the cloud?
It might be tempting to seek out cloud as a solution, hearing all the buzz about reliable access to a wide variety of hardware, high-speed networks, and endless storage.
You start to wonder if it would be worth starting from scratch, launching virtual workstations, and replacing your storage and license server in the cloud. Unfortunately, moving to a traditional cloud model merely replicates your original IT issues in a different place.
“You’re definitely right where you started, but in the cloud. You have all the same IT problems you had before, but you just have the capability to connect from anywhere – but it doesn’t feel like a big win,” says Mazerolle.
How Athera eradicates IT issues
The idea behind Athera is not to try to create a 1:1 model between your former IT setup and the one that you adopt in the cloud. Instead, the big win with Athera is that you’re able to remove IT issues altogether – starting with storage.
“We want to make problems with storage go away – so we want to provide you the ability to just drop your files in a big block of cloud storage, hook it up to Athera, and now anyone can get at them. You don’t have to worry about upgrades or this thing failing. You have to worry less about security. We take care of all that and it just works,” says Mazerolle.
Hardware issues vanish
Using Athera, you no longer have to worry about upgrading the computer, what type to have, or whether you’re keeping pace with the latest technology. You have a whole menu at all times, because your cloud provider is investing in it for you and is always going to make the latest option available. Athera has partnered up with Google Cloud Platform – the goliath infrastructure that runs YouTube and Google Search.
With this highly sophisticated, bullet-proof platform as your storage and network base, there’s never a need to build anything yourself to adapt to project needs. With Athera, it’s possible to package up whatever you need running on the might of GCP.
“We launch the machine for you, we configure it for you, we connect it to the storage for you, if it crashes we make sure that we shut it down properly and we give you a new one right away. We also provide logs and reports so you know who’s using what. We do all these nice things that would normally be hard to do on your own,” says Mazerolle
Licensing nightmares extinguished
Athera takes all the worry out of licensing through its pay as you go approach. If you want to launch a specific software product, you simply fire it up and receive a license while you run it. When you’re done using it, the license goes away. “We want to make licensing something that’s kind of abstract, that you just don’t have to worry about. It’s about making it based on how much you use it – not how much you buy up front and figuring out how to protect you from abusing it. Athera takes care of that,” says Mazerolle.
The way that you pay for a license through Athera is completely flexible. Most vendors choose a 30-day option – but in theory licensing can be purchased by the minute, by the hour, by the day, or by the week. There are no concerns over compliance, double dipping, or any other issues surrounding management.“We know when you’re using something because we’re running it – so it’s a great environment, it’s very secure, it benefits customers and it benefits vendors. It’s a good business model, and it’s simple – it just works much better,” explains Mazerolle.
The future is less about tinkering and more about working
While you may enjoy IT, it’s positive to recognize that tinkering with workstations, networking, and storage is potentially a wasteful practice in today’s VFX world, knowing all of these things can now be reliably accessed through cloud.Foundry spent over two years developing its VFX cloud-based solution, packaging together optimal configurations for meeting the needs of performance, security, scaling, and everything else VFX freelancers and studios need to maintain smooth pipeline production. Using Athera, there’s no need for building. No tinkering. No IT headaches. No more going back to the drawing board, trying to adapt stuff. It just works – so you can get on with your work.
“If building a cloud pipeline was easy we wouldn’t think this was valuable to people. A lot of the big guys are coming to us too once they realize how hard it really is – they look at Athera and realize that this already makes it all work,“ says Mazerolle.
To see how well Athera’s cloud solution can work for you, check out a FREE 30-day trial now!