I use the term “disruptive” very sparingly, as our industry tends to brandish it with a flagrant disregard for the true meaning of the word. Most uses of “disruptive” could easily be replaced with “trendy.” However, for this product review I am compelled, no – required to use the word disruptive to illustrate its life-altering nature. This review will be part of a three part series, from three different perspectives within Dawnrunner – myself, as the CEO – Geoff Peck as the VP of Technology – and Elias Woo as a Digital Media Specialist. Essentially we want to give you the three main perspectives of business, deployment/tech and use-cases. The NVIDIA GRID VCA will change the industry as we know it. The post-production world has been completely altered – and hardly anyone realizes it yet. I’m going to focus my review on the impact the GRID VCA has had on our business, and leave all the technical details and user experience to the other two posts. Let me start by saying that never has there been a more truly disruptive product to be embraced by Dawnrunner in its 8 years, than this. It hit with such force that it shook us straight to our business plan. From a business standpoint the GRID VCA provides a dynamically allocatable pool of resources (rapidly becoming my new favorite DR catch-phrase). A block of graphical-computing power than can be cut up as we see fit, on an as-needed basis, for artists…Both physically in the office and in our extended virtual office!
So why is this so world-shattering/life-altering?
I could pretty much talk all day about the GRID VCA and it’s ability to scale within a production environment. For the benefit of the reader, I will keep it as brief as I can. What you get with the GRID is a way to scale your post-production, with such ease and flexibility, it feels like cheating. We, as post-production professionals, are cheating on our long-term relationships with pain, misery, rigidity, and workflows established in the early 80’s. I described it above as a block of graphical computing power, and that block can be distributed to your various artists as workstations. Great, what does that mean? For Dawnrunner that means our recipe for keeping a slim workforce, and scaling as needed for projects – both up and down – rapidly is even more a reality than ever before. Previously we would have to keep a fairly balanced workforce to workstations. Essentially having an open workstation for every artist we planned on having for the year. If we got more work than we had available workforce, we were unable to accommodate the job without outsourcing, or purchasing more workstations to expand the workforce. Well that’s great, but what happens if we do that and the work dries up for the remainder of the year? Now we are in trouble, and it’s an issue that a lot of post-production facilities face. We’ve all “pillaged the farm” from time to time. Ripping out a render node, building it out a bit and calling it a workstation – though we all know that it’s not. That was our “best” practice for those odd increases in work demand that was outside any budget increases for workstation purchases. The GRID solves this entire situation by giving you the ability to have pop-up workstations, already integrated into your systems and workflow. Now our render farm remains untouched, our workstations work at full tilt, and when we need to scale up we have essentially 8 additional seats we can rapidly deploy as needed. Before the GRID I would have told you that we were at our limits in terms of project bandwidth. That without additional workforce and workstations we would not be able to increase our workload. One piece of equipment made a liar out of me. Our GRID, while not being actively used as a workstation, is set to assist in rendering wherever possible. We will also slide around our workstations to assist in heavy cpu rendering, and deploy a GRID seat for our artists so work can continue. This means our office plays a lot less Titanfall or Monaco, but we get a hell of a lot more work done. We have a company mantra – “No Idle Cycles.” To us, nothing is worse than working away and looking at idle system resources around the office. When an artist goes home for the day, and I’m still working on a deadline sensitive project, I want to steal his resources for my own. All of our efforts have been geared towards the full utilization of every possible resource at our disposal. The GRID allows for even more flexibility in that. As a business owner I know that every dime I have invested in resources is being fully utilized, at all times, even if there is only one person left in the office when I go home. As a business these key points have had an incredible impact on us, in just one year of being fully operational, and comfortable within the GRID workspace.
- It’s drastically increased the efficiency of our workers . We have increased the productivity, in terms of completed projects, with only a marginal increase in man-hours per project. This means we’re using what resources we have at our disposal more effectively than ever before.
- Increased the number of simultaneous projects we can handle (without scaling) from 3 to 7.
- Increased our total number of completed jobs annually (with scaling) by 200%
- Reduced IT overhead by 10%
- Reduced “down days” (down for system administration, updates, etc) across our systems by a staggering 70% across the year.
We are running smarter, faster, and more customized than ever before. I get asked often if I plan to “do away with” our workstations. The answer to that is a laughing and resounding “No!” The two systems are complimentary, and it is critical to keep the workstations for the heavy CPU simulations/animations. The GRID VCA solves a completely different problem that most of us did not even realize we had. It has had one of the most dramatic increases in our ability to complete our jobs that I have every witnessed. When the community at large catches on, it is going to be like a digital wild fire.