Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Lucasfilm's Data Center, and an Encounter With the Real Death Star (Video)

Wednesday I introduced you to Kevin Clark, master of all things data at Lucasfilm and Industrial Light and Magic. Today, as promised, I’m taking you into the data center Clark commands.

Shortly after my chat with Clark, ILM’s publicist Greg Grusby ushered me into the room, where, as you’ll hear, the roar of air conditioning units cooling all the machines makes it hard to hear much else.

The room is 10,500 square feet and contains the systems running all the things that you’d find in pretty much any other corporate data center for things like email and Web service. is hosted in the room, for example. But I was more interested in the machines used to produce the crazy cool visual effects. As Clark mentioned in our chat, ILM is using almost a full petabyte of storage–or nearly 1 million gigabytes–and for that it relies upon NetApp appliances.

I lingered over an older rack of machines nicknamed the Death Star. These are the old customized Racksaver servers, each containing a single AMD Athlon processor and 2 gigabytes of memory, that were used to render imagery for “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith.” They’re also now considered so old that it’s not cost-effective to run them any longer.

Then we saw the new machines: The IBM racks, which to me actually look like they belong on the Death Star, are a mix of LS22 servers with AMD processors and newer HS22‘s with Intel processors. They average 32GB of memory per blade and currently cranking away on several movies. If you’re among those eagerly awaiting the release of films like “Cowboys and Aliens,” “Pirates of the Caribbean 4,” “Super 8,” “Transformers 3,” “Battleship” and “The Avengers,” every blink of the lights on the Bladecenter brings them one step closer to completion.

We’re not done with the tours. Next up, I’ll take you on a walking tour of the Town of Dirt seen in the animated feature “Rango.” And before we’re done with all this, I’ll tell you what ILM considers its “secret weapon,” at least from a computing perspective. Enjoy the video.

(Image via Wookiepedia)

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus