This project involves the first phase of developing a Render Farm at CCA. A Render Farm is a collection of computers, housed in a server closet, that are dedicated to the computational processes required to bring 3D scenes to completed renders. A render is an image file that is created by analyzing the 3D objects, lighting and materials in a 3D scene created by a number of 3D applications and outputting this computation as a single or series of still images. Historically, rendering is the most time consuming and computationally intensive process of 3D imaging. By offloading this aspect of the pipeline to dedicated computers, CCA can maximize the lab usage by students since lab machines will no longer be tied up rendering project. The first steps will be to secure and install the farm in the SF server closet, complete the Qube! 8 hour training and begin testing render jobs.
The general purpose of the Install and Testing Phase will be to:
- Explore and discover the logistics of housing a small render farm in SF
- Establish various remote connection possibilities to allow for management from OAK
- Complete the initial training program provided by BoxTech
- Gather data from initial render job tests
This first phase will be considered an experimental service, in that access to the render farm will be limited to low priority jobs that test the capabilities of the farm and help to train the manager. Following the completion of limited successful render jobs, a pilot phase will be developed for Spring '15.
California College of the Arts (CCA) currently provides limited render options to the programs that require them, namely the fast growing Animation program, Architecture and Industrial Design. Students typically either balance lab station rendering with the timing of class schedules or work with a render farm service not associated with CCA.
A collection of dedicated computers tasked with rendering duties that are housed in the SF server closet would make up a “render farm”. These computers, or render nodes, would handle the job submissions and file output of the computationally expensive rendering process. A CCA Render Farm service available to students and faculty has the potential to:
- Decrease congestion of labs during crunch time
- Provide a long requested service for both faculty and students
- Further establish CCA as a cutting edge art school
- Offset operational costs as students pay to raise the priority of their render job
This project will involve working with ETS for the installation, maintenance and supervision of the hardware and software. Animation, Architecture and Industrial Design are the primary programs that are expected to make use of the service. The Business Office will be involved in implementing a pilot payment feature.
The Farm will be installed by ETS in the SF server closet. The Farm is coming in a 42U rack with a server node, 8 render nodes and 4TB of storage. Qube! Render Management software is bundled with the purchase and 8 hours of training is scheduled for the render manager, Ben Bracamonte.
Some likely system integration points have been identified for this project and more may exist that have not been identified yet. Scoping and analysis of these integrations will be incorporated into the next phase of deployment. Below is a list of the primary integration points:
- Seamless integration into PaperCut
- VPN access for remote management by Render Manager
- Web based render load indicator
- Application plugins
Third Party Tool Integration:
Based on the nature of the Farm a render manager software is required. For this project it will be Qube!. 16 Qube! work licences will be paired to the render nodes, 2 per node. The head node will hold the manager licence. In order for students to utilize the service application plugins will need to be installed on each lab machine. These are relatively easy to install.
Phase 1 Evaluation
Finally this projects includes an stage to evaluate the effectiveness and ease of use for students, faculty and render manager. During this time data gathered from initial tests and conversations with stakeholders will inform any revision or future planning for full integration of the Render Farm as a CCA service.
One of the major concerns is moving data over the DS3 to and from Oakland. Since the Farm will live in SF, the Oakland campus will have to transfer render jobs and completed files in order to allow for a convenient use of the service. Testing and scheduling will be required to ensure that the DS3 does not become over impacted with render jobs.
An initial plan is to schedule data transfers for non peak times. Testing of transfer rate, render times and files system logistics will inform this plan as we move forward.