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UT Dallas School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communications Expands Panasas HPC Storage Deployment

October 2020 by Marc Jacob

The University of Texas at Dallas School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communications (ATEC), one of the first universities to merge computer science and engineering with creative arts and humanities, has expanded its footprint of Panasas® high-performance computing (HPC) data storage to support the complex and data-intensive projects conducted at ATEC’s Animation and Games area.

ATEC has now deployed a total of 740 terabytes (TB) of Panasas ActiveStor® data storage running the PanFS® parallel file system to manage the complex workloads and growing files sizes at ATEC’s render farm, which resulted in a 30 percent increase in user productivity. It has also helped ATEC students produce such award-winning projects as the animated short film Stargazer.

Founded in 2015, ATEC helps students become what the school calls “Intentional Future-Makers” – people who bring different skills together to thoughtfully and responsibly create technology for the world of tomorrow. A recognized multidisciplinary academic research school, ATEC offers leading-edge programs that build upon the creative disciplines of Science, Technology, Art, Engineering, and Management (STEAM).

At ATEC’s Animation and Games area, students from different degree paths come together to tell engaging, innovative stories in beautifully rendered digital images. This media requires powerful computer technology and high-performance data storage to efficiently process the terabytes of data generated during the various design stages. To increase compute performance and allow students to work more productively and creatively, ATEC decided to deploy a dedicated render farm, supported by Panasas storage. At the university level, render farms are uncommon. But school executives felt it would best prepare students for professional careers.

“Panasas ActiveStor storage helps ATEC students create amazing things,” said Peter McCord, assistant professor of instruction at ATEC. “Having a render farm supported by high-performance storage gives students the freedom and creative license to execute projects they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. An additional plus is ActiveStor’s ease of use; once we assign students to their storage resources, the system is pretty much hands off.”

ActiveStor storage supports direct and parallel data flow to the 24 Red Hat Enterprise Linux blades in use at the ATEC render farm. When the farm reaches 100 percent capacity, the render software can also send renders for processing to Windows machines in ATEC classrooms.

“It seems that render practices and technologies change every six to 12 months, causing an increase in our file sizes,” said ATEC Professor Todd Fechter, area head for the animation and games program at ATEC. “We render each image with about 100 layers of information and each layer is adjustable in a composite, which demands more resources to facilitate the sheer size of these files. We chose Panasas ActiveStor because we needed an HPC storage infrastructure that can easily adapt to these changing requirements.”

  “ATEC is a very unique place where students are encouraged to collaborate across technology and creative disciplines to, in their words, ‘use technology to make a future we want to live in’,” said Jim Donovan, chief marketing officer at Panasas. “It’s exciting to see HPC storage used in such a creative environment and we are looking forward to having our high-performing, adaptable ActiveStor solution support many generations of ATEC students to come.”

The ActiveStor turn-key appliance is a consistently fast, total-performance HPC storage solution that uses the PanFS parallel file system with Dynamic Data Acceleration technology to automatically adapt to the changing and evolving small file and mixed workloads that dominate today’s HPC landscape – all at the lowest total-cost-of-ownership (TCO) and without the need for tuning or manual intervention.

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