The school purchased a render farm setup back in October/November of 2010, it took a bit of setting up but it was used by some project students initially and the students finally for rendering their 3D Studio Max models in the first semester of 2011.
The idea of using a Render farm is to shift the intense CPU work away from the local workstation which can crash or be switched off to a remote server which can break the job down into batches of frames for processing. A post render job can be run to take the resulting images and put them together in a Quicktime movie. You don’t need to have access to the latest processors (though the heftier the better) to do the work as the server is up and running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (hopefully).
We worked with Escape Studios to develop the spec for the machines and dased on the number of users and potential traffic we were recommend to purchase 2 x 2U Boston Quattro rendernodes. Each unit is in effect four rendernodes i.e. four motherboards in a 2U chassis. Each unit has 8 quad core (32 physical cores) processors. At the time the offering was for 56 series Xeons which offered virtual threading i.e. for each physical core your software (providing you have virtual threading enabled) will be able to address an additional virtual core. Thus a 32 physical core unit can deliver 64 core performance. What we purchased was E5620 series Xeon processors with a 2.4GHz clock speed. The standard spec for each Quattro unit is 48GB RAM (so 12GB per separate node) and 4 x 250GB hard drives.
In addition to the render hardware there was the issue of central storage. The increased network traffic from the renderfarm can trouble an existing infrastructure so we also took a look at some central storage for the renderfarm. We ended up with another Boston product, an Igloo. This is a 6TB disk array set-up as RAID 5 to provide data protection. The unit runs without backups as the work that goes on to the system is transitory and end up moving back to student home areas which are backed up.
The set-up also includes a server which acts as a header unit for the storage, a licence server forthe render queue management and a licence server for applications such as 3ds Max if necessary. This just allows us to centralise a lot of the school workflow. The server then connects to the storage with Fibre channel meaning a fast connection between the server and storage for renders.
To finish off we managed to get a boost to our network setup for the C8/C9 lab from 100Mb to the desktop to a 1Gb connection. This allows for a speedier transfer of work from the students home area to the render farm.
Students access the render farm using a piece of software called Deadline by ThinkBox software. Submission is made from a custom menu attached to a submission script within 3D Studio Max. Completing the submission uploads the Max file and all the materials for the model and thereafter the student can monitor its progress using the Deadline Monitor tool.
Making sure it all runs smoothly, some lecturing staff and the Schools System Administrators are alerted of problems processing jobs and can take remedial action to fix it.