What do military bases, oil companies, and Hollywood visual effects studios have in common? Lumpy compute needs.
I’m sure that’s not how they would say it (you’re more likely to hear that kind of language on a Digital Realty earnings call), but these are the types of organizations that don’t need a whole lot of computing horsepower until they do; and when they need it, they need a lot of it, and they need it yesterday.
It’s these kinds of shops that made prefabricated all-in-one container data centers a thing. Instead of the years-long process of site selection, permitting, designing, building, and commissioning a brick-and-mortar data center, you order a container from a vendor, who builds and ships one to you, wherever you need it. All the computing equipment you need and the necessary power and cooling infrastructure to support it is already in place, and you simply need to prepare a concrete pad and connect the box to power, water, and network feeds. It’s slightly more complicated than buying a laptop. (OK, it’s a lot more complicated, but not nearly as complicated as building a proper server farm.)
Here’s how they actually say it:
“Because we’re cyclic in nature, the demands of the productions that we’re working on dictate how many people we have working for us, and how much infrastructure we need. Speed of deployment for our data center environments is absolutely critical to our business.”
That’s Alex Timbs, head of IT at Animal Logic, the visual-effects studio whose list of credits includes movies like The Matrix, The Great Gatsby, The Lego Movie, and Happy Feet. What he means is when the studio gets a contract, it sometimes finds that it needs more data center muscle than it has at the moment. Video rendering is one of the most compute-intensive workloads, and the more sophisticated visual effects get, the more number-crunching power you need.
How quickly do they need it? Schneider Electric recently delivered a data center container for Animal Logic in 4.5 months, and Timbs appears to be happy with that time frame. So happy, that he agreed to star in a Schneider-produced promo video for the French energy management and automation giant and bestow upon it the honorable title of “a partner in making movies.” Take a look: