Hardware Guidelines

mattgolsen's picture

I was hoping of you more experienced guys could offer some insight on some hardware requirements for an installation upgrade I'm planning on doing. I'm not really sure how QC scales, or if what I'm planning on doing would be the best idea.

Currently I have 20 laptops running an installation that pulls XML/RSS feeds, and shows short 720p video clips every hour. I'm planning on reducing this down to 5 Mac Pro's running the various displays (each 8-core) over a hdmi to ethernet balun. I'm not really sure if this hardware will be enough (generally speaking of course) to pull this off

Can you guys share some of your experiences with large installations?

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cwright's picture
Re: Hardware Guidelines

If each screen is its own composition (not sharing stuff across screens/GPUs), it should scale fairly well. You'll likely run into memory bandwidth limitations more than anything (a few really busy cores can saturate the memory bus, and it looks like you'll be doing 4 screens per Mac Pro, so that's 4 cores doing their thing) -- you'll have to profile this to see if it actually becomes a problem or not.

sharing stuff across GPUs is pretty expensive. Sharing stuff across screens on the same GPU (context sharing) isn't expensive.

I think it wouldn't take too long to mock up a single system to do what you'd like, and see how well it does or doesn't perform.

(by the way, Matt, can you provide any information on this project? Not too detailed, perhaps, but I know the QC community is dying to see people tackle all kinds of problems with QC, and what you're doing is very different from what I've seen other composers do.)

sbn..'s picture
Re: Hardware Guidelines

Well, I've no experience with installations of that size, and never worked with Mac Pros, but just glancing at the Apple store page, I see that you can get four low-end minis for the price of the cheapest Pro. With the pro, you'd probably have to throw in some sort of scan converter / splitter, or some extra graphics cards. Then there-s the whole hdmi / ether hassle on top of that.

If you aren't mixing multiple videos or doing heavy processing, I think the mini should handle 720p fine. Right now, they're specced at C2D 2.0, 9400M. Rumors have it that they'll get a bump up within the week.

I'd do that, especially since they're small and quiet enought that you can stick them behind the display. Get an ethernet hub with enough connections, run a net cable over there, and secure it with a clamp or kensington-lock it down. I'd configure a ghost image with vanilla OS with VNC / remote desktop configured. Then the whole installation could be set up and controlled from a single laptop.

That's what I think, but like I said, I haven't done anything near this complex, so take that with a grain of salt.

ETA: The VJ soft Modul8 has been able to do something similar for some time; seven output screens + one with the UI via a Mac Pro with four dual-head GPUs. For opinions on the hardware side of things, you could try looking at their forums.

usefuldesign.au's picture
Re: Hardware Guidelines

I'd ask on the list, Matt.

I got some advice on list once about hacking AppleTVs (voids warranty) to run QC Comps. They're cheaper than mini's and have component connects out back. Low processing power but if it's just video could be good. Can pair with other AppleTVs (any other Mac ) for processing leverage on the computational stuff and pass data to ATV compositions.

mattgolsen's picture
Re: Hardware Guidelines

I'd love to share info.

So I basically work in a repair facility for computers. I'm not talking about a mom and pop shop. We have at least 400 employees that require instance access to their performance and the various related metrics. This group is only the pilot group, only half of the employees in the building.

There are 20 displays, 1 for each team of 22 (mostly MacBook Pros, the occasional white or black MacBook). These are connected via DVI to 35" LCD panels, and using the stereo jack from the laptop to the TV. They also have homebrew IR sensors (the laptops are blocked by the TV) that we salvaged from broken MacBook Pros. We also built all of these laptops from other destroyed laptops. I'm pretty sure I can rebuild any Apple laptop blindfolded now.

With all of these employees consistent and constant communication becomes extremely difficult. Trying to get a clear message across is like herding cats. So we have several patches that display the information that we'd like to get across to them. Most of this information is pulled directly out of Microsoft SharePoint (yuck, I know). SharePoint has this awesome feature that allows any "list" or module in the site to export its information as RSS or even better, XML. So, an employee can enter information into their site, about say a certain computer part is subbed for a different model, and 30 seconds later, it's automatically pushed out to their display. This applies for any information they would like to share. The great part is SharePoint (since it's a Microsoft product) integrates tightly with Office, so it's an environmental front end they're already familiar with.

The best part of all this (of which I'm kind of proud of) is that since each display is pulling different information for each team, it was going to be extremely tiresome to customize each distribution for each team. So, I created a master XML configuration file, that lives in a custom list on SharePoint, that keeps all of the pertinent links in for each display. So, when the software starts up, it downloads this file, which is piped out to all of the sub patches, which in turn download their specific configuration information, other XML urls, etc. So instead of tailoring each display, I literally only have to change one index value in a structure to get it to change EVERYTHING on the display.

As we are a large facility we are also extremely cramped for space. So, these displays will serve another purpose. Training videos, or any company video communication can be initiated either by my team (via OSC), or using the homebrew IR dongles, can be browsed using an Apple Remote by one of the team members. So they can queue a specific video, or cycle through and pause the different patches if they'd like to have a meeting about a certain piece of information (team performance, news etc).

So it's basically interactive informatic signage. Basically.

I think that pretty much covers it. I'd be happy to answer any questions about it.

mattgolsen's picture
Re: Hardware Guidelines

I'd like to minimize the amount of hardware I have to maintain, as it's just me for the time being. I definitely thought about using Minis, especially with cost considerations, but I have to purchase these specific Macs through internal company channels, and they only offer Mac Pros, or MacBooks.

Also, not to mention this composition could scale even larger, and may require more processing power. The video cards in the Mac Pros aren't really a consideration, as I can get them for a very, very, very low cost. All of the systems are currently connected through gigabit in a 400K sq. foot facility, using Cisco switches (I piggybacked onto existing infrastructure). I'm also using VNC and SSH to remotely admin them all, which is very nice, but if I can cut it down to 5 machines, that would make my life much easier.

I'll definitely check out their forums though, it hadn't even occurred to me. Thanks!

gtoledo3's picture
Re: Hardware Guidelines

All these thoughts of going low power would just result in an extreme headache, and flakiness, especially if it starts getting driven by external values, pulling in video, or has to do any substantial amount of processing. The mac mini is nice, and I have been duly impressed with the new version for what it is, but I wouldn't pull it for something like you're doing... it's lucky for you that it looks like the towers are in your future!

If there composition is basically rendering text from the xml and rss you're probably pretty darn good, but as more events in the composition are strongly driven by that xml or rss, you will see commensurately more problems in performance.