Network Rendering III: Third-party management software

Network Rendering III: Third-party management software

Last time, I looked at manufacturer-specific render farm management software. While this software can make a very good solution for many people, it doesn’t tell the full story. Many CG pipelines need to render images that have been created using software from several manufacturers. In order to effectively manage such pipelines, a third-party solution is needed that can queue and dispatch jobs to several software packages.

There are several packages that are capable of this and most of them act as remote program launchers with some kind of front-end queuing system. If you are planning on building a multi-package render farm, you will need a copy of each software package you intend to render along with all plug-ins installed on each of your render nodes. Licensing for this varies between software packages, and most manufacturers offer a number of render-node licenses for free with each seat. Many render farm managers make use of the built-in network rendering functionality discussed in the last article. This helps them to get around any licensing issues and means you can avoid having to buy a fully licensed copy of your chosen software package(s) for each render node.

A few things to look for in a render farm manager are:

Queuing and priority – This should be present in any solution worth its salt – the more granular the better. On a large render farm, options to control queuing/priority on a per user basis can be very helpful. Some managers also have options for creating clusters of nodes that can then be assigned to a certain artist or department. This ensures that, on those nodes, the artist will always have priority.

Resource management – You may have a limited number of render node licenses for certain software packages or plug-ins. For example, you may have 20 render nodes but only 10 licenses for a certain plug-in. If your render manager tries to send frames using this plug-in to all 20 nodes, you may end up with certain elements not being rendered. Your chosen render manager needs to have some kind of method for managing these resources to avoid this happening.

Job dependence – Many render jobs will depend on other other elements being completed first. You may, for example, have a final scene that uses externally created textures. If you were to submit the rendering of both the final scene and the baking of the texture to your farm at the same time, it may try to start rendering the final scene before the texture is baked. You need some way of telling the manager not to start rendering the final scene before the texture is baked.

In-app submission – Most artists will prefer to submit jobs from within their applications rather than using a render manager’s GUI. If you are planning on letting artists submit their jobs directly to the render farm, rather than through a render wrangler station, then it is worth checking that your chosen solution has submission plug-ins for the software you are using.

The Future of Render Farms

Everyone seems to be talking about GPU-based computing at the moment and, with its large amount of relatively simple calculations, CG rendering could lend itself very well to technologies such as CUDA or OpenCL. There are already software packages, such as iray and StudioGPU, claiming tenfold speed increases when rendering on a GPU as opposed to the CPU. These packages are yet to be widely adopted but considering such speed increases, it is bound to filter down into the more mainstream packages as it matures. NVIDIA are already shipping Tesla GPU clusters consisting of several GPUs connected by high speed links. In the future, we may see render farms built (at least partially) out of these clusters instead of traditional CPU-based servers.

If you are planning on building a render farm and would like some advice on the options available, give me a call on 03332 409 309 or email us at Visit us on Facebook or Twitter (@Jigsaw24video)

Experimenting with stereoscopy with Maya

Experimenting with stereoscopy with Maya

As a long time CINEMA 4D user, I was a little daunted at the prospect of learning to use Maya. But, as Autodesk’s application has built-in support for stereoscopic rendering and live stereoscopic previews (something only available in CINEMA 4D through plug-ins), my interest has piqued.

Creating stereoscopic content

All 3D software is technically capable of creating stereoscopic content; you just need to use two virtual cameras (one to represent each eye) and then finish the resulting content in the same way you would live action stereoscopic content, but this approach creates a few problems. For one thing, animating two cameras as one to maintain the 3D effect often requires complex scripting to keep the cameras aligned and to achieve comfortable, working 3D. This problem is compounded by the fact that most software has no provision for previewing your work in stereoscopic 3D. A company called SVI do make a plug-in that will allow you to edit stereoscopic work within CINEMA 4D but, as Maya has this functionality built-in, I wanted to test it out.

Working in Maya

I decided very early on that learning to model within the application would take far too long to learn so, after obtaining some demo content from my good friends at Autodesk, I set about learning the stereoscopic aspects of Maya.

maya camera attributes

The good news is that everything is very well integrated in the Maya program. Autodesk have used the built-in scripting language to create a range of stereoscopic camera rigs for you to use, and made it very simple to control all of the important stereoscopic parameters (see left). The rigs range from a simple three-camera rig (two of these cameras represent the viewers eyes and there is one in the centre for framing your shots) to more complex nine-camera stereo rigs. These more complicated rigs are useful for scenes with a lot of depth, such as outdoor scenes, as often you will set the stereo parameters for objects in the foreground and it will break the stereo effect in the background or vice versa. These rigs, combined with Mayas render layers, can allow you to use different stereo parameters on different objects in your scene, making it a very flexible solution.

When using these cameras, Maya can show a 3D preview directly in the viewport and supports anaglyph display (using inexpensive tinted glasses) for those without special displays or options for more exotic displays, including horizontal interlaced, active shuttered displays and checkerboard format. This allows Maya to display an image on almost any 3D display out there. It’s worth bearing in mind that some of these displays require additional hardware, and you will certainly need a powerful graphics card to display a (usable) stereoscopic preview. We recommend NVIDIA’s Quadro range of graphics cards and can advise you on a 3D display for a range of budgets.

The camera rigs have several options for controlling the 3D effect. You can control the inter-ocular distance (separation between the cameras), zero parallax plane, and also have options to mimic physical 3D rigs (such as parallel or off axis).

stereo volume in maya

This image illustrates the safe stereo volume (in blue) and the zero parallax plane (in red).

Maya will also show a visual representation of the zero parallax plane along with a comfortable viewing volume (think of this as a three dimensional title guide).  These features take a lot of the guess work out of composing 3D images, and give you all the help you need to create comfortable 3D scenes.
Export options are also plentiful; Maya is able to directly export an anaglyph image (for posting to the web or printing out) or separate left and right streams (for post processing or use with stereoscopic players).

In summary, although these options are available in other software through plug-ins or scripting, the fact that they are an integral part of Maya helps to make them a great solution for producing stereoscopic CG content. Being able to preview your work in realtime will also save you a huge amount of time.

To find out more about creating stereoscopic content in Maya (or CINEMA 4D), get in touch with us on 03332 409 309 or email

Network Rendering II: Management Software

Network Rendering II: Management Software

Last time, I discussed the hardware requirements for a render farm and drew the conclusion that CPU power is still king for dedicated render machines. I will now take a look at some of the software management solutions that are available to manage all of that hardware.

Most popular rendering packages ship with a solution for managing network rendering. This section will look at some of those options:

NET Render – Maxon’s solution for rendering Cinema4D jobs across a network is NET Render. It will distribute the rendering of animations on a frame-by-frame basis or still images using the tiled camera. It can also be used to batch render multiple jobs from multiple machines. NET Render is available as a chargeable add-on to Cinema4D or is included with the XL (three client licenses) and Studio (unlimited client licenses) bundles.

NET Render will run on OS X, on Windows clients, or even a mixture of the two. It is relatively easy to set up and, because jobs are submitted through a web interface, they can theoretically be submitted from any internet connected computer. To submit a job to NET Render, you have to open the interface and upload not only your scene file, but any associated assets such as textures or externally referenced models one by one to the NET Render server. While this ensures that all of the assets are in the right place, it can become tedious if you have many assets.

ScreamerNet – This represents NewTek’s solution for network rendering with LightWave. It is capable of distributing the rendering of an animation by having each node in your farm render complete frames. ScreamerNet ships with LightWave for no extra cost and can batch render jobs but only from a single machine. It is compatible with Windows or Mac machines.

ScreamerNet requires shared folders to be set up on your network for it to work properly, which means it cannot work in mixed environments. All render nodes should be running the same operating system as the machine that created the scene files. ScreamerNet gives a good speed advantage but it can be difficult and confusing to set up.

Aerender – Also known as the After Effects Render Engine, this is Adobe’s command line renderer for After Effects and can be used to set up an After Effects render farm. The render engine is included with every After Effects license and can be used to render multiple jobs from multiple machines. There is no queuing system; jobs are rendered on a first-come, first-served basis. Setting this up requires a watch folder to be shared out over the network and the project, and all associated assets must be copied here before rendering. This watch folder can make setting up cross-platform render farms difficult, although it is possible.

Backburner – Autodesk’s solution for network rendering supports several Autodesk products, including 3ds Max, Maya, Smoke for Mac, and Cleaner. Backburner can render multiple jobs from multiple machines and includes a facility for queuing and managing these jobs. It can even render jobs submitted from several different supported applications, provided those applications are running under the same operating system.

Backburner is supported on Windows, OS X, and Linux, but all render nodes must have the same operating system as the submitting workstations; mixed environments are not supported. Backburner is powerful, fairly easy to set up and expandable.

Mental Ray Satellite – Another Autodesk technology that allows distributed rendering. Mental Ray Satellite is designed to allow several machines to lend their CPU power to a designated workstation. Renders are started as if processing locally, and networked workstations help out with producing the final image(s) – this is then displayed and saved on the creating workstation. Mental Ray Satellite works best when there is only a single workstation creating content on each set of render nodes. It is compatible with any Autodesk software, making use of Mental Ray, and will run on Windows, OS X or Linux. Different packages ship with differing numbers of Mental Ray Satellite licenses, ranging from three to eight machines. This number can be extended by purchasing standalone Mental Ray Licenses.

Next week, I will look at third party management software and make some predictions about the future of network rendering.

For more information about render farms or any of the products mentioned above, give me a call on 03332 409 309 or email Visit us on Facebook and Twitter (@Jigsaw24video).

Network Rendering I: What’s it all about?

Network Rendering I: What’s it all about?

Rendering a realistic image of a 3D scene is one of the most stressful things you can ask a computer to do. For complicated scenes, this can take hours or even days of processor time, leaving a computer effectively useless until the render is complete. This is simply unacceptable for most CG artists – many of them resort to leaving their machines on overnight to finish renders.

Network rendering is the process of having multiple networked machines collaborate on the same project, with the sole purpose of bringing the processing time down. These banks are often known as a render farm, where each machine will render a full frame of an animation or, in the case of a still image, a tile of that image. There are several ways to run a render farm and many of the popular 3D packages have their own management solution.

This is the first in a series of articles that will look at the options available for network rendering in order to help you make an informed decision on which one to use. I will start by looking at the hardware requirements for a render farm, along with the best workflows for creating a scene using network rendering. Future articles will look at render farm management software including those that ship with popular content creation software as well as with third party solutions.


Currently, final renders are calculated using the CPU. While the field of GPU rendering is looking very promising for the future, it has yet to achieve widespread adoption. For this article, I will focus on CPU-based rendering as this is the industry standard. As I mentioned before, complex rendering will max out any CPU on the market for a significant amount of time. As these renders take so long even a small increase in CPU speed can mean saving a few minutes or even hours for a single frame. If you think that a typical animation will have 25-30 frames for every second, then increasing the speed of your cores can save quite a bit of time; increasing the amount of cores can save even more time. Most renderers are multi-threaded so rendering scales very linearly with respect to cores – going from 1 to 2 or 2 to 4 cores will equate to around 1.5 to 2 times the render speed.

Bearing this in mind, building a render farm is all about getting as many fast cores as you can. These need to be backed up by a decent amount of RAM as each machine will need to load the entire scene and any associated assets into the memory to achieve best performance. We recommend 1 to 4GB per CPU core depending on the type of software you are using and the complexity of your scenes. There is no requirement for any kind of graphics acceleration in a render farm machine and typically these machines are managed remotely, so are not even hooked up to monitors during day- to-day use. This means that you can get away with very basic onboard graphics as you will likely only use them during initial setup and troubleshooting of the machine.

That should have the heavy lifting covered. Another thing to consider is the networking hardware. For network rendering to work properly, the scene file and all its assets need to be stored on a network location that can be accessed by all of the nodes. Depending on the number of users and level of redundancy needed, this can be anything from a simple network attached hard drive to a full-blown RAID system. Quite a lot of data flows back and forth between render farm machines – the scene file and assets will be read from the file server and control messages will be sent between the worker machines, so a fast network is advisable. We recommend gigabit for general use or even something faster (like fibre channel) if you are rendering high definition video from After Effects or similar software.

That’s it for this installment. Next time we will look at software management solutions for all of this hardware.

You can find out more about network rendering, as well as all things 3D by getting in touch with our experts on 03332 409 309 or by emailing Visit us on Facebook and Twitter (@Jigsaw24Video).

Performance Machines

Performance Machines

All artists are most successful and creative when they have access to faster, more powerful computers. They can deliver completed projects sooner, and regain creative freedom because artistic experiments don’t take up too much time.

After reading that, you might expect that we’re going to plug the latest, fastest workstation. Not so. We can help you with that if you’d like, but independent tests show that offloading your rendering delivers better performance gains than stepping up to the next level in processor technology.

One of the most processor-intensive tasks in 3D is rendering, so it stands to reason that when this number-crunching work is farmed out to other systems, your computer becomes much more responsive.

There have been many attempts to solve this problem using technology, such as shifting render processing to the GPU on a graphics card, or dedicated rendering boards containing multiple dedicated DSPs (expensive!). These have tended to suffer from a lack of universal support for workstation hardware, specific operating systems, or modelling apps. The usual compromise has been distributed rendering, by which I mean the ability of many of the major 3D editing software packages to take advantage of idle processor time on other workstations for rendering tasks – the chief benefit being low initial cost.

Outsourcing – it’s not for everybody

An alternative to workstation rendering is outsourcing. You upload your files over the Internet to an online render company (usually based abroad), pay your money, wait, and download the finished job. This may seem ideal – you have the computing power at your disposal plus reasonable rendering time, but without the hardware outlay or the need to maintain what appears to be complicated technology. However, it’s not for everybody. Here are just some of the things that you need to consider:

  • Formats – will they support your workflow, plug-ins, and file formats?
  • The upload and download process – downloading rendered files can be very demanding on your Internet link. You may need to factor-in the cost of an upgrade, especially if you’ll be doing a lot of high definition render work.
  • High cost – up to £2800 for a minute’s worth of footage is not unknown.
  • Pre-flighting and testing – is there an option to do a free test render? This would be fairly crucial in order to ensure you have all the right files and textures in place.
  • You may not be a priority – regardless of how urgent a job is to you, you may just have to wait your turn.

In-house flexibility and freedom

A dedicated render farm will give you the flexibility and the freedom to try out ideas to your heart’s content. It’s undoubtedly a long-term, strategic investment:

  • The equipment is optimised for your needs, incompatibilities are eliminated and your results are perfect.
  • You’re free to make tests, tweak your models, even cancel a job… you’re in complete control.
  • You’re at the front of the queue, every time – make your own priorities based on deadlines and respond to any emergencies as they arise.
  • There are no hidden costs! It’s simple.

Get more done and do it faster

With a dedicated render farm, artists are never left twiddling their thumbs while they wait for a render to complete, or because a shared job is consuming the processor cycles on their workstation. All your resources – people and equipment – are firing on all cylinders, all the time.

For the sake of illustration let’s take a series of frames, where each frame takes a very modest 9 minutes to render. At that rate, 1500 frames (1 minute of footage at 25 frames per second) would need 13,500 minutes of processor time, i.e. 225 hours, 9.37 days, or 28.12 working days. How much more productive could you be by giving over 200 hours to your artists for every minute of footage you render?

Using a basic 5 node, 80 core render farm with dual quad core Xeon E3340 processors, the same minute of footage will be completed in only 1 hour and eleven seconds. With that sort of turnaround you can afford to be creative. Plus, the pressure of deadlines dissolves away.

Few people will turn their nose up at the chance to save money

Since the computing hardware in render farms is designed for density, low power consumption is standard. Normally, when you have a lot of computing power in a small space, a lot of heat is generated. The best way to reduce that heat is to consume less power. So there’s a lot of clever technology in there designed to manage the use of electricity in an intelligent way.

The fully-populated 80 core render farm running at 100% duty cycle draws 414W per unit, equating to 2070W of power in total. In comparison, you’d need 20 quad core workstations to equal 80 cores, each drawing 1050W, which is 21000W in full.

But the render farm runs “headless”, whereas workstations need monitors. Assuming 22″ LCD monitors, each drawing 56W, we need to factor in another 1120W, so the workstation equivalent draws 22120W of power.

At the time of writing, business electricity rates are 11.5p per unit during the day and 6.9p at night. The formula for cost is ( [unit-cost] x [usage-in-watts] ) / 1000. The render farm costs 23.8p an hour to run. The workstation equivalent is going to cost £2.54 per hour. That’s £2.30 per hour difference – it all adds up!

As you can see, investing in rendering hardware takes a lot of thought and planning because of the costs involved. However, there will always be those added benefits that are difficult to quantify in monetary terms – enhanced reputation for the studio, the extra business you will win, the flexibility and control that you will gain and the improvement in the quality of the work you produce. All of these things contribute towards placing your studio in a prestigious position in the 3D industry.

To find out more about render farms, get in touch with the team on 03332 409 309 or email us on Visit our website Tweet us @Jigsaw24Video.

Games development in education

Games development in education

New college and university courses and talk of A-levels and GCSEs based on games development are hot topics at the moment. As games development and the integration of 3D animation in everyday life is growing exponentially, there’s no greater time to let student imaginations run wild by letting them create and develop their own video games.

Finding a teenager these days that doesn’t like playing video games is a hard feat, then trying to find one of those that hasn’t ever thought about or talked with their friends about creating their own game is near impossible. Before now, the idea of sitting down with multiple 3D modelling applications and a dummies guide to software coding, kind of took the fun out of starting to create any sort of video game.

Thankfully we now have Unity

Unity is a great all in one games development solution that has been designed to ease creation of games. Aided scripting alongside a vast array of tutorials and walkthroughs makes for a very short learning curve. Pupils can instantly get engaged in exciting, interactive classroom based projects that they have a personal interest in.

When Unity first arrived in the Jigsaw office, the excitement could be seen on the faces of our 3D team. You could slowly see the smiles appearing around the department as the realisation that everything they needed to make that childhood dream game was hours away… needless to say, not much work was done that afternoon!

One of the great things about Unity is that students can get creative and start making interactive games right away. They can build them to play online with their friends, upload to the web or to run on their Mac/Windows PC. The software allows students to work with real-world technologies without subjecting them to the pitfalls and technicalities.

There is support for model import from all 3D applications, meaning whatever your current 3D modelling software, 3D models can be imported directly, hassle free! So there’s no need for students to have to learn new tools or the school to have to invest in new 3D applications in order to create things for their games.

Unity is not restricted to games development however. Unity’s built-in Ageia PhysX physics engine provides a fun and interactive tool for teachers to demonstrate or bring to life other subject areas of the curriculum. Unity allows pupils to build, experiment and interact with endless situations limited only by the imagination of the pupils and teachers – For example what happens to a stack of boxes when a car drives into it? Let the students create the scenarios and explore the consequences using a variety of real life variables such as weight or gravity!

For more on our 3D solutions for education, call 03332 409 306 or email Visit us on Facebook or Tweet us @Jigsaw24video.

Recording and broadcasting lessons at St George’s College

Recording and broadcasting lessons at St George’s College

St George’s were looking at expanding the reach of their lectures and wanted to find a way of recording and broadcasting their lessons to students at home, as well as other schools and colleges they are partnered with. We set them up with cameras, wireless mics, and screen capture and editing software.

For the recording, we suggested a Sony HVR-V1E HDV camera with a Sennheiser wireless microphone connected to a HVR-D60 hard drive recording unit, all of which can be activated by remote control. This, working alongside a Camtasia screen capture program to record what students see on the interactive whiteboards, allowed footage of both the content and the teaching to be recorded for students to have access to after the session.

We then provided the college with some custom motion templates for their Final Cut Suite, so their recordings could be dropped into the template and exported to various mediums including the college intranet, the web and also DVD, making them easily accessible for everyone who needed to see them.

The system has worked really well and now students, teachers and the partnered colleges can access parts of the curriculum off campus. This has been a particularly useful facility for students who have missed lessons through illness or holiday, and also cuts out the need for students from partner schools and colleges to have to travel between campuses.

For more information about recording and sharing lessons, get in touch with us on 03332 409 306 or email

Google SketchUp: Conceptualisation and Pre-Visualisation at its best

Google SketchUp: Conceptualisation and Pre-Visualisation at its best

In a relatively short time, Google’s SketchUp has seen its user base go from strength to strength with new users from all sorts of backgrounds encouraged to get into 3D by SketchUp’s short learning curve and ease of use.

For those unfamiliar with Google SketchUp, I’ll provide a quick overview. Essentially, Google SketchUp is a 3D modelling programme aimed at architects, civil engineers, hobbyists, games developers and other related professionals who are looking to create quick 3D content for pre-visualisation or conceptual purposes.

The key to SketchUp’s success is its ability to let the designer literally build up or design from scratch complex three-dimensional geometries with minimal effort. Whether you’ve never used 3D before or have been an avid user of AutoCAD since the beginning of time, SketchUp’s unique intuitive interface makes for a very short learning curve. Coming from a CAD/CAM background myself I couldn’t believe the ease with which I could quickly model designs on screen. After a few hours I was producing conceptual models that would have never been worth modelling in my usual CAD software – I just wouldn’t have had the time and would have instead resulted to sketching out the ideas on paper, losing the visulisation and analytical benefits that a 3D model offers.

Now don’t get me wrong – in no way, shape, or form will SketchUp ever replace our trusted CAD or detailed modelling software. Although there are various plugins available for the export of SketchUp models to various external ray-tracing software renderers, such as Artlantis, the possibilities for detailed high-end models and photorealistic imagery are limited.

Having said that, high-end visuals are not what SketchUp was designed for and because of this it already has a firm place in the professional market as a pre-visualisation and concept design tool. The nature in which things can be quickly moved, changed or edited make it a perfect solution for over-the-shoulder type work with clients, where amendments can literally be made on the fly. Where should the house extension go? Here off the kitchen, no… Maybe off the living room? Maybe I should make it longer; perhaps I’ll add a sofa for some idea of layout… It’s really that simple with SketchUp, and it’s this simplicity that allows for a natural evolution of any design into 3D as though being drawn by hand.

Once you’ve got your concept approved and signed off by the client you can go into your dedicated 3D CAD programs and start getting into the nitty-gritty, leaving you safe in the knowledge that the majority of any major changes have already been made and seen in SketchUp.

SketchUp’s ease of use really does lend it to all sorts of situations. Five months ago I found myself moving house and had the usual dilemma of trying to work out if all of the stuff from the old living room would fit into the new one. Now call me a geek if you will, but first thing I did was boot up SketchUp, mock up my new living room (with accurate dimensions, I might add) and in a matter of seconds I was adding and resizing comparable furniture from Google’s free 3D warehouse database!

Before you knew it, my furniture was all in my new virtual living room, laid out as I wanted – leaving me ready for the move.

Now I realise that in the commercial world, this example doesn’t have much relevance, but it does highlight how practical this software is and how quickly and accurately you can create, build up, model and evaluate 3D spaces. Give it a go – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Visit Jigsaw24 to buy Google SketchUp

Call us on 03332 409 309  or email with all your 3D queries – we’re happy to help.

Creating impressive digital signage at St Paul’s High School

Creating impressive digital signage at St Paul’s High School

St Paul’s Catholic High School wanted to impress with a new digital signage system. We supplied them with all the knowledge, support and equipment they needed, installing a Scala digital signage system and various extras. Since the installation, staff at the school have been able to have great control over the information displayed around the site.

Updating the school environment

St Paul’s is a Specialist Engineering college for 11-16 year olds in Manchester. As part of the ‘Building Schools for the Future’ (BSF) programme, St Paul’s is working towards updating its technology and facilities.

The staff at St Paul’s wanted to give the school’s entrance a modern feel by installing a digital signage system. The aim was to place two screens in the visitors’ entrance and one in the pupils’ entrance, with a further two screens in the main hall alongside a new projection system. All of the screens needed to be able to play the same information and be changed individually, so that both general and subject specific content could be displayed.

The projection system in the main hall had to have the capability to be used with a laptop, play DVDs, work as additional digital signage, and be controlled from the main hall and a control room above.

Designing the solution

After an onsite consultation, our digital signage experts suggested a Scala digital signage system, including a template starter pack and training on how to use the new setup. We created and branded five templates for the school, which were easy to update and add videos, images and text to by using a simple web interface.

Creating a complete branded signage system

As the installation of the digital signage system got underway, we also equipped the control room with an AV rack unit containing a DVD player, AMX Control system and a SMART-E CAT5 Matrix. This was integrated with an AMX Touch panel system (school-branded, courtesy of Jigsaw24) in both the control room and the hall.

In addition to this, a VGA wall plate was installed in the hall. This allows a laptop or PC to control the output of the projector and LCD screens from either room. DVDs could be shown on the projector and signage on the screens, or vice versa.

Creating original material

The system suggested and installed by Jigsaw24 more than fulfilled all of the school’s requirements. The digital signage template package was just a starting point and the training went a long way. Once staff were familiar with how to create, update and schedule content, they could manage the entire system themselves with very little effort. Now they create all of the content and scheduling used at St Paul’s.

For more information on our AV and digital signage solutions, get in touch with us on 03332 409 306 or email

Using Extensis Portfolio to meet growing business needs

Using Extensis Portfolio to meet growing business needs

The customer came to Jigsaw24 needing a storage solution to meet their growing business needs. Our consultants advised them that Apple Xserve RAID and Extensis Portfolio would give their business the efficiency they needed by having digital asset management. With a searchable database to overcome the original problems with lost or dispersed files, and a backup system in place, they now have the reliability they need.

What they needed?

Our customer is an increasingly successful independently-owned publisher, whose computing infrastructure needed to match the growing business. The company is a specialist in photo-realistic art and creating books that are attractive to their readers. The customer came to us looking for a storage solution. A structured filing system had already been put in place, but even with the best efforts of their technicians, this was easily broken. They felt that they could improve efficiency in centralising their file storage on a server-based RAID with secure shared access. The business anticipated further growth so a solution that allowed expansion was needed.

Searchable images and files using DAM

After considering the problem, our consultants recommended Digital Asset Management. By using a searchable database of images and files, the customer could make best use of their investment in storage hardware. Extensis Portfolio was identified as the most cost-effective solution to meet the company’s workflow needs. In the early stage of consultation, Extensis spoke directly with the customer and ran a demonstration so that the benefits of DAM could be seen. From this, they were convinced that the gains of the Extensis solution would far outweigh the investment in new equipment.

3.5TB of server storage in an Apple Xserve RAID was identified as the most suited to providing standard central file storage for the business, as well as for hosting the Extensis Portfolio application. To complement the storage and asset management equipment, a tape library with capacity to backup between 15 and 30 terabytes of files was obtained. Backup software was included to automate and manage the backup of all their files.

Installation without disruption

We did some preliminary work to minimise disruption to the customer. The server was built and OS X Server software was configured ready for the Portfolio installation. A RAID1 (mirrored disks) configuration was chosen to provide good performance and minimal risk of data loss.

The new technology was to be installed alongside existing network equipment in the customer’s rack, which required the addition of rack-mounted power supplies to cover the server in the event of power outage. Extensis Portfolio was installed and the server was configured for file sharing. The backup software was installed and configured with scripts and a schedule. To ensure that the customer was able to get the most from the new installation, the technical staff received training.

Improved efficiency and availability

As a result of the installation, our customer has experienced greater efficiency to their workflow. All of their initial requirements were met and the backup system ensures maximum up-time and availability of computer systems. The use of DAM means that the previous loss or dispersal of files has now been removed.

According to Paul Scott, our systems installation and service engineer, “As well as higher performance when reading files, a RAID1 configuration was selected for its superior reliability. For example, built from hard drives with an estimated life expectancy of four years, a two-disk RAID1 setup might statistically be expected to suffer total failure only once in every 800 years.”

To find out more about how Extensis Portfolio could help your business, visit our Extensis shop, get in touch with us on 03332 409 306 or email