For nearly two decades, Guru Studio has been a leader in animated storytelling. With partners like Netflix, Disney, Nickelodeon, and Spin Master, to name a few, Guru’s award-winning content captivates and inspires audiences all over the world. Its roster of hit shows include the global smash hit PAW Patrol, Abby Hatcher, Mattel’s Ever After High, and its own original properties True and the Rainbow Kingdom, and the two-time Emmy nominated series Justin Time, which now airs in more than 100 countries. Specialising in 2D and 3D animated kids and family content, Guru has built a proven production pipeline that’s nimble while enabling a fast-paced, collaborative environment. The company now has over 400 animators and artists in its loft studio in the heart of downtown Toronto.
Guru’s IT team is lean, consisting of five technology experts all housed at the company’s headquarters. Jason Burnard is the IT Director at the studio overseeing IT operations and has been with Guru for almost eight years. Kym Watts has been with Guru for more than five years and is a pipeline developer. Watts helps manage the studio’s software and infrastructure, and also maintains some of the tools used by artists.
Competition in the animation industry is fierce, and Guru’s IT infrastructure plays a direct role in differentiating the studio. “Guru is unique in everything it does,” said Burnard. “The infrastructure to support our customised approach can be demanding on our workstations and resources. Our job in IT is figuring out how to address those challenges and ensure our systems are optimised to fit our growing needs, all while doing so at a competitive price.”
“The infrastructure to support our customised approach can be demanding on our workstations and resources. Our job in IT is figuring out how to address those challenges and ensure our systems are optimised to fit our growing needs, all while doing so at a competitive price,”said Jason Burnard, IT Director.
Aligning infrastructure with business growth for the long-term
One of Guru’s major challenges, both from a business and IT perspective, was keeping pace with the studio’s rapid growth. “As the studio grows and takes on more productions, we’re constantly balancing huge demands on our infrastructure with keeping the systems accessible for our artists at all times. That’s our biggest challenge on a day-to-day basis,” said Burnard.
And what role does data storage play in Guru’s business? Watts said, “The importance of storage is massive. As the animation studio behind hit shows like Justin Time, True and the Rainbow Kingdom, Abby Hatcher, and PAW Patrol, we have amassed thousands of assets over the years. Having these assets available online so that our artists can quickly and easily access them is key as it saves lots of time. We no longer have to hunt around for tapes.”
Reliability was also paramount for Guru when it came to its storage. “Our storage infrastructure must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s one of the core requirements of IT – from how artists work on their machines, to even how accounting departments access files,” said Burnard.
“The second thing we need from our storage is the ability to diagnose issues as they occur. We need insight into what’s actually happened, so we can figure out if it’s something we need to adjust and determine where the problem is coming from,” said Burnard.
“From the technology and infrastructure side, we also need the storage system to serve at scale,” said Watts. “Since moving our storage infrastructure over to Qumulo, we no longer need to have someone dedicated to storage. It becomes a shared role that a few people in our team can help with. As our studio grows, we love that we do not need to re-think our storage solution, it’s simple enough to pop another node in the cluster. To expand the cluster we just scale it up!”
Gaining visibility into their data, rebuilding trust in what’s possible with storage
Guru began searching for a new storage solution after the terms expired on its previous system. “With Qumulo, one of its biggest features is being able to capture the analytics and details of our data to see what is happening on our workstations,” said Burnard. “Being able to access real-time data helps us make informed decisions. Previously, the information we used to get from artists’ workstations on the floor was very limited. But with Qumulo, we tapped into the analytics immediately and found some crucial insights. It wasn’t another thing we needed to purchase.”
Watts recalled when Qumulo’s file system was first installed and began processing the studio’s data. “When we had our first productions migrated over to Qumulo, we were all watching how it accumulated stats and data. In the first month, you could see where specific applications were hitting storage particularly hard, and we could isolate those areas. We discussed it with Qumulo and, with the tools they provided, we were better able to optimise our data management and storage workflow without skipping a beat.”
Burnard added, “What we love with Qumulo is that there is no need to have regular meetings with our storage vendor. Together on Slack, we can figure out exactly what the system is reporting and confirm that we don’t have a pipeline issue. Qumulo is a real-time solution in identifying problems and helping us to a fast resolution.”
The transition to Qumulo’s file storage wasn’t just about improving Guru’s storage capacity and performance. Burnard said, “It’s getting people back into trusting that our storage is working correctly.”
Additionally, “Being able to tap into the API gives us a lot more visibility and control over what happens to the data that lives in Qumulo’s file system. One of the things that’s phenomenally quick is the ability to track data for every project hourly and determine whether it’s up or down. With the API, you can drill two or three layers deep and get listing of sub-parts in the file system,” said Watts.
It wasn’t just Guru’s IT team that saw the benefits from Qumulo’s storage. Burnard was able to better understand his data usage (and, in turn, his infrastructure needs) for the studio’s executive team. “Using Qumulo’s analytics and the API, we can get a forecast of where our storage is going to be. Previously, when we had to forecast our storage, there was no easy way to quickly assess what we needed. Now, when we talk about expanding our storage, I can bring actual numbers.”
Immediate answers and accessibility via Slack contribute to customer delight
When considering Qumulo, there were several factors that set it apart from the competition for Guru. “We are a relatively small IT group, and so we needed a support team that was actually supporting us. The fact that Qumulo uses Slack as an avenue for support is a huge advantage. The ability to ask questions directly with engineers and get immediate insights really stood out,” said Burnard.
A critical example was when Burnard was viewing live production data in the storage snapshots and getting differing results. “Essentially, we went into Slack and discussed the results I was seeing and how I was interpreting the data. Within a couple of hours, they walked me through how the snapshot architecture was designed and written. They made sure I fully understood the reporting. It was very educational, and I feel they learned from us, too, including how we were using the file system. Support from Qumulo is like having another team within the same building.”
Guru’s relationship with Qumulo is well-aligned both today and in the future. “When we talk to Qumulo about their plans for the future, their vision is very much aligned with where we want to be,” said Burnard.
Watts added, “Qumulo definitely has the right goal for the future of storage. I’m excited to see what comes next.”