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Go Soft or Die – How a Software Defined Infrastructure Enables Studios to Keep Pace with Changing Technology and Business Requirements


The following article was written by Barry Evans, CTO Pixit Media


The era of “fast food” post production is finally upon us.  Clients want their content fresh, they want their content cheap and they want their content now. And from a format and resolution perspective, they certainly want it ‘their way’.

Now, that’s not to say these demands have not always existed. This is by no means a new ‘problem’. The difference between ‘now’ and ‘then’ is that the technology supporting these requirements have, until very recently, been the major blocker to speeding up the end to end workflow. The benefit of that ‘problem’, is that most facilities were operating within a comparatively predictable landscape. Got a big job coming up? Purchase more ‘stuff’, pass the costs on to the client, rinse and repeat.

The Emerging Guerrilla Studio

However, change is afoot and it’s coming rapidly. The ever-maturing capabilities of technologies such as cloud computing and storage, NVMe and commoditized high-performance Ethernet have allowed ‘guerrilla facilities’ to emerge. Capable of scaling up and down both human and technology resources rapidly almost entirely out of operational expenditure, these facilities have been able to drive down the cost of post-production activities while remaining profitable and innovative.

What does the guerrilla facility look like? These lean entities can move their operations with minimal impact to take advantage of increasingly competitive tax positions globally. They can turn around sizeable jobs rapidly without the expense of a large data center. They are able to keep up with the ever-increasing format quality demands without constant technology forklifts. Most importantly, they are able to purchase intelligently from a huge variety of vendors without ever creating a technology silo or being hand-cuffed to any one piece of hardware or utility. The guerrilla facility is quietly leveraging these capabilities to build a strong, profitable, creative business.

Meanwhile, traditional facilities are struggling with the commercial complications of shrinking margins, ‘bursty’ sales pipelines and strong geographic competition. Locked into a small set of hardware-based appliance solutions with unpredictable cost of scale and a forced fit architecture, their productivity suffers while assets are relocated from one island of technology to another for the next stage of production. The traditional facility is losing time and money while the guerrilla facility quietly and efficiently reacts in perfect tandem with the constant change in the industry.

Unfair Competitive Advantage

What is arming these guerrilla facilities? Software. Unlike the monolithic appliances of yester-year, software-defined architectures offer the same scale-out capabilities without the commercial pressures that come with being restricted to one particular vendor’s hardware ecosystem. Perhaps even more compelling, when combined with cloud-based infrastructure, software-defined architectures are freeing facilities from the restrictions of their own bricks and mortar.

Many vendors who have traditionally shipped ‘all-in-one’ hardware/software solutions have been recently retreating from this practice, offering software-only bundles and allowing customers to choose the hardware they run the applications on. Color and editing applications, SDI over IP conversion, Ethernet infrastructure and of course storage, are all examples of technology offerings that even just a few years ago were typically purchased inside of a physical package that could only be supported and purchased from the application vendor.

Some application vendors have even started offering their own cloud services under the premise of making it easier to consume software that would otherwise be held on premise. However, despite being software-driven, single-vendor cloud service approaches miss the point of the primary advantage of software-defined architectures: choice. In order to take advantage of both the technology and commercial benefits of software-defined architectures, the ability to choose where, when and on what platform that software is run is paramount.

Pixit Media’s Approach: All Software, All the Time

At Pixit Media, our focus is razor sharp on enabling our customers to make their own purchasing decisions on hardware and cloud infrastructure, while reducing the operational complexity of doing so. As a software-defined infrastructure solution provider, our aim is to provide both cost and productivity efficiencies through every step of the workflow. Pixit Media is giving content creators and distributors all over Europe and North America the tools required to transform their businesses from being a traditional facility, weighed down by their own premises, locations and infrastructure, to lean and modern facilities that can confidently bid for jobs of any size.

We start by installing our PixStor software platform on-premise, which provides lifetime-guaranteed performance to any VFX, post-production and broadcast application. Providing a centralized storage resource that runs entirely on commodity storage, network and server technology of the customer’s choosing, PixStor offers all of the enterprise-grade data protection, security and reliability features of far more expensive proprietary platforms. PixStor does this within an extremely small and efficient footprint capable of delivering central, uncompressed, full frame-rate streaming performance of up to 16K over low cost commodity Ethernet technology.

As capacity and performance requirements increase, PixStor can be scaled up (or down) simply by adding additional commodity storage. The expansion does not have to be tied to the existing hardware platform, ensuring that purchasing power is directly in the hands of the customer. PixStor also allows you to scale capacity into cloud and object resources transparently through the use Pixit Media’s Ngenea offering, allowing our customers to maintain their small on-premise footprints while bursting to PBs of capacity, either permanently or temporarily. Additionally, PixStor supports the use of multiple cloud and object storage offerings simultaneously, giving the benefit of tracking the lowest price/performance cloud offerings without ever breaking the single ‘on-premise’ view of data.

Seamlessly Expanding Workflows into the Cloud

Perhaps one of the biggest burdens that the guerrilla facility is freeing itself from is the on-premise burden of render and transcode resources. Instead of purchasing new compute nodes that may sit unused following job delivery, the guerrilla facility ‘consumes’ virtual machines in the cloud. Other than the obvious capital savings that this can bring, using the cloud for computational requirements is enabling full economic costing to be performed against each job, finally bringing transparency to the true cost of creating and delivering content.

PixStor greatly simplifies and accelerates this capability by uniting on-premise and in-cloud PixStor storages instances into a single platform. Data is transferred automatically and on-demand into the cloud from on-prem, eliminating the need for time-wasting manual ‘data shipping’. PixStor even provides the in-cloud storage performance required for the next generation of cloud-based workstations, allowing even more physical infrastructure to be liberated from the facility. PixStor uses these same techniques to allow collaborative activities globally, enabling facilities to keep ahead of ‘rotating’ tax incentives and remove the complications associated with sharing work across geographically distributed teams.

Know Your Data

One complication with distributing data all over the world, even with a centralized and consolidated presentation, is knowing the location, usage and contents of the data. PixStor’s Analytics and Search capabilities remove this complication by tracking the movement, age and cost of data while simultaneously harvesting embedded metadata to quickly locate assets. Having access to this information takes the guesswork out of determining if data should be migrated to a lower cost or high performing resource and gives artists the ability to find otherwise ‘lost’ content based on ‘human’ terms.


If content creators and distributors are to remain competitive without sacrificing work quality, they must embrace the same software-defined techniques that have enabled the rise of the modern ‘guerilla facility’. Only a software-defined architecture can provide the glue necessary to bind changing technologies and business requirements together in a seamless fashion. And only Pixit Media can offer these capabilities end-to-end without removing the most import piece of the puzzle: choice.




Curtis Chan