Cloud Based Rendering – When Does it Make Business Sense?

In artistic fields such as architectural design and movie-making, obtaining faster results ignites a spur of creativity, improves the feedback loop, permitting additional time to delve in more iterations and trials, thus leading towards a better outcome. The power of in-house render farms can still be maximized by the usage of the cloud in order to gain access to more compute power at peak times.

The cloud is a topic that a lot of people are talking about in the creative realms, from how to get started and what are its costs. The following article is a list of frequently asked questions.

Q: When should cloud-based rendering be utilized?

Cloud rendering is viable in a variety of situations, but project size isn’t the primary determinant. Other circumstances for cloud rendering are:

  • Need it for a short time – A broadcast or post-production firm with an unusually large project can manage all of the extra rendering in the cloud without having to build facilities or purchase, setup and maintain significant additional compute resources.
  • When you are late – If you’ve misjudged the rendering requirement of a project or the scope has expanded beyond your internal rendering capabilities, then go to cloud for the rescue! Even more so now that RenderStorm is partnered with Deadline, you can be assured that your project will be done in a flash.
  • Maxed out infrastructure – If utilizing all your dedicated render nodes, all of your desktops when they are available or can’t rent any more machines either to add to your data center or in a local private cloud, then look to the cloud.

Ultimately, it’s truly not the size of the project that drives the benefits of the cloud, as much as the situation does.

Q: How does a studio hosting its own on-premise hardware compare to using a render farm manager like RenderStorm?

  1. Dedicated render nodes – If a company is in the business of visual effects, post-production or computer generated imagery, they will have on-premise dedicated rendering resources that are used 90% or more of the year.
  2. Content creation desktops used when available – Artist desktops are powerful rendering machines and can be harnessed to add significant render power to a pipeline when well managed. Some companies announce that it’s time to log out and everyone’s desktop becomes a rendering machine. Others have a logout policy that states when an artist leaves their desk for the day, they need to logout so it can be included in the render farm.
  3. Public cloud render nodes – Prior to 2015 there were three main impediments to public cloud rendering: security, software availability and data transfer latency. Only recently have these been seriously addressed. Services like Google Cloud Platform’s VPN service, the availability of rental software licenses for both rendering and render management and data caching appliances from Avere Systems for rent in the Amazon EC2 compute cloud and Google Compute Engine have made cloud rendering an attainable option for nearly everyone.

Q: How does local and cloud rendering work when it’s combined?

Having a mature render management system in place is extremely important when companies start rendering in the cloud. It should have the capability to define groups or clusters of machines and offer priority queuing to insure the important work gets done first. Cloud rendering requires administrative control to make sure that jobs are dispatched to the appropriate resource. For example short-running NUKE renders that are unable to exploit Avere cache coherence in the cloud, might better be rendered locally while long-running 3D renders (V-Ray, Arnold, etc…) could be routed to the cloud. A NUKE render will typically be very quick and produce large frames that would need to be transferred back to the studio before preview or use. Professional render management systems can automatically send jobs to the right resource based on the type of job, or other metrics that help keep costs down.

Q: What possible dangers exist and how to avoid them?

  • VPN – The VPN setup can be a little tricky and may take a few days and some tech support to get right.
  • Storage – Storage can present challenges depending on how you approach it. If you keep all your data on premise things are more straightforward but some studios stage their scene files to cloud storage first in order to go wide quickly. It can take quite a few storage nodes to spread the data out enough to feed a large number of cloud render nodes. So there needs to be some tweaking to match on-premise render times by cloud nodes.
  • Wasted Cloud Render Minutes – Another danger can be wasted cloud render minutes. Artists can be used to being able to render and re-render at will without a financial penalty if there is enough local resources. Once a studio is on the meter in the cloud it becomes more important than ever to make sure the data that is being rendered is really ready.
  • Rendering Large Data – Large data sets that render quickly and return large frame files are not good candidates for cloud rendering. Smaller data sets that require long render times are ideal.

Q: How is file security dealt with in regard to industry sensitive projects?

There have been significant improvements to cloud security in the last year. Actually, two of the toughest VFX houses have recently approved the Google Cloud Platform. Cloud providers are quite secure but the transfer mechanism to and from has not always been so secure. Providers are offering secure VPN connections now to address these concerns for most customers.

Hosting your data in-house and only rendering in the cloud is another measure that can improve project security.

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