Imagine firing up five sets of software at once under five tabs on your machine, each one totally secure and prepped precisely with the resources you need to execute your tasks of the day – all while having the flexibility to pause, transport, or access those same applications from anywhere you wish.
Such an ideal, context-aware work environment may sound too good to be true – yet that’s exactly what a VFX artist can expect using Athera, thanks to the containers technology at work under the hood of Foundry’s cloud-based platform.
“Containers are super-new, and to date, as far as we know we’re one of the only products using them for cloud-based VFX production,” says Mathieu Mazerolle, Athera’s senior product manager.
Built into Athera, the advantages of containerization include heightened speed of applications, tighter security, and precise control over resource allocation. Combined, those benefits make it easier to create the ideal, highly tailored environment every studio and artist seeks – typically a tedious and costly challenge for smaller studios to realize.
Mazerolle says Athera’s modern containerized infrastructure running on Google Cloud Platform (GCP) is the solution.
“We have competitors literally firing up a whole machine in the cloud letting you work on it – but they’re not doing anything to configure that machine to work on the right stuff that you want to work on in that moment,” says Mazerolle.
The difference with Athera is that the notion of a context-aware session is front and center.
“Athera’s saying ‘we’re not just going to give you the software running in the cloud – but we’re also going to configure all the data, all the permissions, all the quotas, all the security, and everything just for that one particular thing you’re working on,” – all achieved, says Mazerolle, using containers.
So what are containers?
You binge watched your favorite new show on Netflix last night, opened up your Gmail first thing this morning, and watched a YouTube video on your break – all because of the containers technology at work on those platforms.
A container is essentially like a virtual machine – portable and completely isolated from the hardware that it’s running from – that you can create, have someone interact with, then throw out very quickly. “What’s different about containers is that you can pack several containers onto the same machine – and they’re super lightweight, super secure, and super fast,” says Mazerolle.
“Containerization of workflows is just short of revolutionary,” says Adrian Graham, a Cloud Solutions Architect at Google Cloud who’s worked closely with Foundry for the last year-and-a-half in its efforts to deploy Athera on GCP.
With its built-in Docker container technology orchestrated by Kubernetes, Graham says Athera offers up a truly unique advantage to studios and freelancers wishing to compliment their current VFX workflows with cloud-based solutions.
“Do you want to be able to access your data, or run your content creation business from anywhere – whether it’s a laptop at an airport, or a workstation at home, or a Chromebook on an airplane over in-flight wifi?” All possible, says Graham, running Athera’s containerized service on GCP.
Three main advantages of containerizing the VFX pipeline
One of the main advantages of Athera’s approach to workflows is the very fact that it centralizes all data in the cloud, allowing for ease of management. A user gains the mass compute power of the cloud without any of the headaches associated with running on-prem hardware – like memory and storage limits, where multiple users can be crunched out by a single user running a huge, memory-heavy app.
“So you might have a massive Houdini application running in one tab, that’s using hundreds of gigabytes of RAM and 64 cores…but you’re free to run any other number of tabs with any other number of applications, ” says Graham.
It doesn’t matter whether you have one, ten, or a thousand users all accessing the platform at the same time, adds Graham, noting the containers all have their own assigned resources and are therefore not subject to the loads and challenges that can arise when other users are doing complex things within the same system.
Heightened security is another huge advantage. Running Athera on GCP, network and storage durability is already as robust as it can get – but the platform’s containerized architecture adds yet another beneficial layer, with users being centrally controlled by a resource administrator or production manager.
“So if a freelancer goes rogue, for example, their access can be cut off completely,” says Graham.
The third major benefit studios get from containers is the ability to precisely control resource allocation. “If you have a project starting up Monday and it’s Friday afternoon, you can allocate resources and assign workstations to workers in a matter of minutes,” says Graham – unlike a studio running its workflows on-prem, where acquiring GPUs can be a super pricey, lengthy challenge over and above the many associated overhead costs such as floor space, power, and cooling.
Additionally, studios running Athera have the flexibility to hire from a global talent pool, as the nature of the service allows for any number of users to access the platform from anywhere in the world. “You can draw on the talent pools where they are and the cost benefits of running them where they exist,“ says Graham.
Athera will be a go-to platform to facilitate the move to cloud
By building modern containers into its architecture, Athera is able to offer some clear advantages to studios and freelancers looking to take the leap to cloud as they grapple for position in an ever evolving, hyper competitive industry.
As the VFX world moves towards an inevitable future where companies exist entirely in the cloud, Graham believes Athera will be a great platform to facilitate the cross-over.
“Because in order to build out your own virtual workstation setup, you will need to be able to define things like every inch of your own pipeline, and every inch of your resource deployment – and Athera takes care of all that for you,” says Graham.
If you’re interested in learning more about all of the amazing things Athera can do for you, be sure to check out the Athera website and order your free month trial today!