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GlusterFS Keeps VFX Studio on the Cutting Edge

Gluster
December 10, 2013

Cutting Edge, a visual effects company that’s worked on films such as The Great Gatsby and I, Frankenstein, had outgrown its NAS storage system and was in search of a way to boost its storage capacity and performance in the face of several large upcoming projects. The Australia-based firm turned to GlusterFS as an alternative to making a massive investment in an enterprise SAN.

I spoke to Dan Mons, R&D SysAdmin at Cutting Edge and architect of the company’s GlusterFS deployment, about how he tapped Gluster to meet Cutting Edge’s growing storage needs.

“We’ve had three feature films roll through our Gluster storage since it went in, and to be 100% honest we couldn’t have done them without Gluster,” Mons said. “The flexibility it offers us for storage is amazing.”

The GlusterFS storage solution that Mons assembled consists of 24 total GlusterFS 3.4.1 nodes, each running CentOS 6.4 and outfitted with 34TB of RAID6 storage. These nodes are assembled into four six-node clusters, which provide the company’s Brisbane and Sydney offices each with its own production and backup cluster pair.

Each cluster hosts a distributed-replicated GlusterFS volume, which keeps data accessible in the event of node failure. Nightly rsync operations between the production and backup clusters at each location provide an additional layer of data protection.

Users in Cutting Edge’s Sydney and Brisbane offices have access to 107TB of production storage, and read-only access to another 107TB on each location’s the backup cluster.

Mons explained that given data volume, time and bandwidth issues, it isn’t feasible to synchronize completely the data generated at the two offices, but that the company’s artists have access to scripts to sync particular folders between the locations when it’s necessary to collaborate with co-workers in another office.

Client Access

With a client pool that runs the gamut from Linux-powered render machines and individual workstations to machines running OS X, Windows, and a handful of specialty OSes, ensuring access to their data across multiple platforms and protocols has been one of the trickier parts of the Cutting Edge deployment.

The Linux machines that comprise that majority of the company’s client mix access the cluster via the GlusterFS FUSE client, which provides access to all six nodes in the production cluster directly, for maximum bandwidth distribution. Older Linux and machines running speciality OSes tap the cluster via Gluster’s NFS support, with DNS round robin for distributing the load.

Mons explained that while the OS X-based machines in his company’s environment are able to access the GlusterFS cluster normally via NFS or CIFS mounts using command line tools, he’s run into various issues with the OS X Finder application and with Carbon or Cocoa-based OS X applications.

To work around these issues, the team at Cutting Edge set up a separate Linux server that mounts the GlusterFS volume with the FUSE client, and then re-exports that as AFP via Netatalk3. This method works, but at the cost of performance and of compatibility with some of the firm’s pipeline processes. Ideally, Mons would like to see a FUSE client become available for OS X.

The company’s Windows-based machines access the cluster via Samba, installed on each node in the cluster, with DNS round robin for distributing the load and Active Directory for authentication. Mons said that his team encountered file locking issues with certain applications, most of which they were able to resolve, although they’ve continued to experience issues with Photoshop and Microsoft Office on Windows.

Looking Ahead

Since their March 2013 deployment, the Cutting Edge storage solution has undergone updates from GlusterFS 3.3.1 to 3.4.0, and most recently, to 3.4.1, all of which have gone smoothly. Mons noted that the latest GlusterFS updates have brought noticable speed and NFS stability improvements, benefiting legacy and turnkey systems for which the FUSE client is not an option.

Looking ahead, Cutting Edge plans to add new node pairs to their production and backup clusters in early 2014, as their production clusters are nearing 90% capacity, with more project data on the way.

Mons told me that he’s begun testing Samba with Gluster’s recent libgfapi enhancements, which appear to boost file browsing performance in his environment. Along similar lines, Mons is looking forward to seeing support for storing directory and file information in extended attributes make its way into GlusterFS, which promise to speed list directory and disk usage operations.

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