SAN speed boost critical for film lab's success

Once the exclusive domain of telecommunications carriers, 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GigE) is fast becoming a necessary tool for post-production and release printing house Atlab.

Bandwidth-hungry Atlab, which has 30TB of SAN space in Sydney, and recently added 20TB in Melbourne to handle the award-winning Rolf de Heer film Ten Canoes, has found speed critical in handling the massive digital files produced when a movie is scanned and stored on the SAN, which is an SGI InfiniteStorage TP9700 system supported by integrator Intraware.

A typical film requires around 6TB of disk space, but this can expand during production as colour graders, directors and photographic experts apply colour, tonality and other changes to the digitised images.

Reviewing those changes in real time meant Atlab's network needed to deliver video at film-speed 24 frames per second. With an average frame consuming 50MB of space, that equates to a throughput of 1.2GBs. Even using smaller half-resolution frames requires sustained data transfers of 380MB per second.

Meeting this requirement has made Atlab an eager adopter of fast networking technology, with 4Gbps Fibre Channel connections linking SAN devices and 10GigE connecting the SAN to an HP switch providing 1Gbps Ethernet links to around 20 workstations. Once 10Gbps Fibre Channel technology is widely available, it is likely to drive a SAN upgrade matched by 10GigE to the desktop, says Robert Sandeman, digital services with Atlab.

"We're always looking for speed," he says. "Working in the way that we do, our primary concern is with I/O, not with high computational processing. We have to have enough speed to get the film in front of the director, so he can be confident that when he looks at the digital image playing at 24fps he knows he's seeing it in the correct way."