How to make your IT infrastructure work like Avatar

I am attending CAworld in Vegas this week and last night’s keynote was by James Cameron, the movie director of Avatar and Titanic. He spoke about the choices he made in his life along the way towards making blockbuster movies, and some of the ideas resonated with me. Here are a few points:

  • Virtualize whenever possible. To create the complex computer graphics world of Avatar, he had to create virtual cameras to block his shots and assemble the virtual sets. Not unlike what many of you are doing now with VM technology. Virtualization helped him design the kinds of shots that he imagined and also made it possible to put live actors into a virtual set. But the more you virtualize, the more you need:
  • You have to manage your digital assets before you can create them. Cameron spent two of the nearly five years making the movie first assembling a series of digital content management tools so he would be able to track the different versions of a virtual tree or creature. When the crunch time came and he had to actually generate the final product, this asset management system came in handy — perhaps it was essential — to getting things finished. Make sure your own digital infrastructure is up to the task before you start migrating your own servers over to the virtual world. This means better capacity planning and load management tools to help you understand what you are getting into too.
  • Vision drives reality and the future. He first had the idea for Avatar back in the mid-1990s, but couldn’t make any headway on the movie because the technology wasn’t available to realize his vision. How many of us have been there with our data centers or network infrastructure, where we are pushing the envelope on what we would want to do? Cameron had to invent specialized cameras and lighting to film the actual Titanic wreck at the bottom of the Atlantic, and he had to invent new ways to do motion capture of his actors for Avatar where they could move about in the sweeping battle scenes in the movie. He didn’t let the fact that these technologies didn’t exist stop him. The moral here is don’t give up on your vision, just because the hardware and software isn’t yet invented. Use your ideas to motivate vendors to deliver on what you really need.
  • Don’t let all this gear get in the way of telling a great story to your users and management. Sometimes we get too wrapped up in the gear to remember why we are here in the first place: to serve our business, make our users more productive, and save some money along the way.

If you want to read another perspective, check out this story by Joe ‘Zonker’ Brockmeier on on the same subject.


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