Heat on at Weta to lift efficiency

BY TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 08:49 30/03/2009

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Things are literally heating up at Weta Digital, where more than 700 crew are putting together special effects for film projects that include major movies Avatar and Tintin.

Hewlett-Packard sold blade servers worth millions of dollars to Weta for its new state-of-the-art datacentre in Miramar, which was completed in September.

HP business unit manager Jeff Healey says the company has since been advising Weta Digital on how it can cut operating costs.

This has included allowing the temperature inside the datacentre to rise from a conservative 18 degrees Celsius to a more balmy 24-26C.

Cooling is one of the biggest operating costs of modern datacentres, where thousands of pizza- box-sized servers are stacked densely in racks, but Mr Healey says HP's equipment can run at higher temperatures than are common without compromising reliability.

"We brought one of our thermal experts out from the US and managed to achieve quite considerable cost savings by getting that equation right."

Mr Healey says Weta's datacentre is extremely efficient, "the likes of which New Zealand has not seen".

"You would be hard-pressed to find anywhere globally as efficient as what they are running at the moment. They are using Intel 50-watt processors, low-powered memory, racks with their own air- conditioning and heat exchanges built into them, and chilling towers on the outside of the building that get free chilling from the Wellington air."

Weta Digital was the first company in the world to use "double density" blade servers made by HP, that combine two powerful servers in a single enclosure.

The company is carrying out post-production work on the US$200 million (NZ$347.9m) 3D science fiction film Avatar, due for release on December 18.

Time magazine reported that the film's live-action sequences were shot using actors rigged with motion-detecting sensors in an aircraft hangar in the United States, and are being rendered into 3D animations by Weta.

MTV meanwhile reported Tintin director Steven Spielberg used a specially designed video- conferencing system that allowed producer Peter Jackson to talk to him and watch everything on set while action sequences were shot in Los Angeles. Post-production work on the US$135m (NZ$234.9m) film was about to start and would take 18 months, it reported.

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