Centralized Storage in CG & VFX Production

December 27, 2020

Centralized storage is important for you as a professional artist and provides quite a few benefits.

This article is sponsored by Synology and they have kindly equipped my home studio with their servers.

* It is not recommended to place speakers like I did. Vibration can cause damage to mechanical drives. I do not listent to anything very loud though, so it's safe for the servers - nonetheless, keep this in mind.

The reason why It happened though is because I'm using Synology commercially for many years. I equipped our studio with two Synology servers, bigger ones, several years ago. And I never touched them physically since then. This is the best sign of quality in my opinion. We have over 20 people using these servers on daily basis, remotely these days and directly when the world was normal. I separated CG team from Design team so the two have two separate servers. Because each team have very different technical requirements: CG team is using server constantly, we're editing videos from the server, we read all our assets (textures, sim caches, scripts etc.) from the server and we constantly rendering to the server. So straight away it is obvious that CG team needs better bandwidth. You can get 10G connectivity in Synology servers by installing 10G Expansion card or In some of the recent Synology units 10G comes by default. Pay attention to model type and class to clarify connectivity. DS1621+ comes with 4x1GbE and requires additional 10G extension while DS1621xs+ has 10G by default.

Installing 10G on DS1621+

It doesn't end with just the card installed, unfortunately. You need to make sure your whole network is 10G, this is done with high category Ethernet cabling in the building where you work or by creating internal 10G network with appropriate 10G switches. Not to mention your clients (Workstations) need to support 10G either in motherboard by default or with specialized 10G PCIe Extension card.
In our case, CG team is in its own internal 10G network, while Design team is on regular 1G connection because they don't need all that. They read the file, work on it for some time, then save it. No particularly heavy load is present.

Why I recommend centralized storage anyway... Not only for businesses but even for individuals that are serious about their work. I have a totally same setup at home now for my personal work thanks to Synology.

1. Render Management

When your projects become more and more complicated you want to use as much rendering power as you can get. Often this involves several workstations. I use Thinkbox Deadline for my render management. When I'm done working on a scene, I submit it to Deadline. Deadline then assign available machines to frames and renders them. I can set timeouts, so if something froze and not rendering, Deadline will restart the frame render, or if something crashed, Deadline, again, will restart the frame for you. If you are using more than one machine in this workflow, your scenes and all dependable assets have to be stored in a shared location. Basically all the machines in your render farm have to be able to open the project all the same regardless the workstation.


In order to use Deadline on its full, you need FULL licenses for each machine. As many C4D Licenses as you have machines, as many full Octane licenses as you have machines, as many full Redshift licenses and so on. This is necessary for true efficient distribution. However, In my personal projects I use Octane which have native network rendering. So In my current setup I have only one machine configured as Deadline worker at a time. I divide my sequences into batches of 5-10 frames. Every 10 frames the scene reloads into GPUs. This helps to avoid crashes and sorts problems like particles motion blur render time incremental growth. All Octane crashing pain is gone. Several machines I have at home have only Octane Render Nodes installed, but the master render is going through Deadline. Best from two worlds combined. Centralized Storage is necessary to keep renders rolling when another machine is set as "Worker" and I'm working on the main one. It needs to be able to launch the scene all the same.

2. Ease of technical management

Plugins, Fonts, Scripts, HDAs, Brushes, Presets, Libraries or whatever are all stored on the server. In Fusion, for example, instead of installing all the fuses and scripts on each machine individually I just amend my user paths and tell Fusion where to look for these assets. Each machine in the network then have the same tools installed automatically. Same with Houdini, all the HDAs, all previously created tools are all centralized.

3. Remote Access

The CG team in our studio have physical machines running 24/7, the guys are working remotely connecting to their machines through Parsec (Remote access video and tips), so they have access to server anyway because they kind of are in studio. Virtually. The other part of the team, however, work on laptops that they take home, so they don't have access point for same workflow. Thankfully, Synology provides remote access functionality. All you need to do is setup remote link where every team member will be able to use his credentials and access the server. From anywhere in the world.

This smoothly takes me to The next thing I cherish Synology for. Their management system. It is super easy to use and is very flexible for almost any needs. You can easily create hundreds of users with their own user name and password to secure server access. You can create personal folders that would be visible only to corresponding users, you can setup remote access for these users in couple of clicks. I love the tools that make my life easier.

By the way, you don't necessary need to fill the whole server with drives straight away, it may be a bit pricey in one go. You can expand as you go. You do need at least two drives to start though. The reason for this is redundancy, another major point. At any point if, by some reason, one of your drives burn down - you don't loose any data (RAID 5 by default). Just replace faulty drive and everything will be back to normal. You can choose RAID configurations when setting the server up, but I always go with RAID 5. For all the years I never had any faulty drives but it's nice to know that all the data has additional layer of protection.

Installation is straightforward, you don't really need to figure anything out. Download the installation manager that will automatically detect your server on the network and guide you through the process.

In regards to 10G network, at home I did exactly the same thing as in studio - my office is in its separate 10G network and both servers are connected to all the machines through Netgear 10G Switch.

As for the configuration of the servers, 1621+ has 3x6TB drives for all my temporary camera offloads and 3x4TB SSDs for all my simulations caching.

1621xs+ has 6x12TB drives and is a repository of all my work and assets. Both units has RAM expansions as well as SSD cache modules installed.

All the units are expandable beyond the amount of drive bays in your current unit. You can buy expansion unit, connect the two with specialized cable and the whole rig will work as one.

DS1621xs+ and DX517 Expansion. CG made by Andrey Lebrov

All the units are very flexible for any workflow, have different expansions to boost particular operations. I already mentioned 10G expansion cards, there are expansions with SSD cache to enhance read-write operations and also RAM is expandable on all the units.

SSDs are also supported by the way, so you can configure something other that RAID 5 and get an ultra fast space, for me server is about the golden middle between amount of space and speed.
Final thing I'll say is that these units are very good looking. I have no desire to hide them somewhere, on the opposite I think they really fit well in my personal workspace. The build quality is of the highest standard, high-tech look - I love it.

That would be all I have to say about centralized storage and I hope this article will be helpful to anyone on the lookout.

Synology DS1621+
Synology DS1621xs+ (10G)
Seagate 12TB HDD
Netgear 10G Switch
Asus 10G PCIe Extension

P.S. These are affiliate links, if you'd decide to buy something using my links you don't pay more, but I get a small commission. Which is highly appreciated :)