Dreamworks fuels open-source movement

If ever there was an industry capable of consuming vast tracts of IT resources, it is the film industry.

Attendees at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco Tuesday received a rare insight into the technology behind popular movies such as Shrek.

Ed Leonard, Dreamworks SKG's head of technology, today offered a real-world Linux case study where he, like many in the film industry, is pushing to migrate the company's entire film production systems to Linux-based technology.

Dreamworks itself today is comprised of more than 250 workstations and a rendering farm comprised of more than 1,000 servers, the bulk of which are Linux-based. The systems are primarily based on dual processor Pentium 3 processors, with migration to Itanium/Pentuim 4 technology just around the corner. Where workstations are concerned, Dreamworks runs the film industry's most popular machines: Silicon Graphics 02 and Octane platforms.

Judging by audience enthusiasm here, Dreamworks' public declaration of Linux support was a welcome vote for open-source true believers. However, Leonard did pick up on a common theme at the show: Open source still faces important challenges before it can become the true enterprise powerhouse its proponents envision.

"With the open-source community, it's very difficult to get an open view of the technology road map," Leonard explained.

To that end, Dreamworks has joined with other notable film makers such as Walt Disney under the banner of the Visual Effects Society to ensure the Linux community and Linux vendors understand the film industry's support and technical demands.

Leonard argues that continued Linux adoption within the visual effects community as a computer graphics platform is needed to ensure Linux vendors remain committed to "helping us get our work done." In particular, systems such as the common Silicon Graphics servers must be able to scale and remain stable as film projects escalate in size. Other challenges Dreamworks face include fine-tuning 2D and 3D graphics cards to cope with the performance demands of huge animation projects.

But although Dreamworks' team of developers may discover and implement many of the solutions themselves, Leonard said the advantage of open source is that the discoveries will ultimately enter the open-source community, which in turn helps other film makers.

"It's a model of shared success which I think is a really important and valuable," Leonard said. "We believe in Linux very strongly and are trying to convince our vendors and suppliers of that."

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