Digital Transformation

DreamWorks Animation gets a Hollywood-style digital transformation

Find out how an HPE Aruba mobile-first network was used to retool the entire DreamWorks campus in California and boost it from 60% Wi-Fi coverage to totality.

Filmmaking is all about transformation and turning the mediocre into magic, but the moviemakers at DreamWorks Animation needed a technology update in order to keep their creative juices flowing.

The 11-acre DreamWorks campus in Glendale, CA, and a satellite building one mile away, received a complete network makeover using HPE Aruba equipment. The network was designed to create a mobile, collaborative environment so that employees would have robust coverage anywhere across the campus or when working in remote offices, as well as allowing for greater use of mobile devices. The satellite building is part of the unified network so users from the main campus automatically connect to it.

The campus is a natural site for innovative tech, because having a mobile workplace for collaborative efforts is essential for creativity and being able to move around to move around freely while working, said Keith McKay, DreamWorks Animation's network operations supervisor.

SEE: How one university is upgrading three campuses covering 10 million square feet with gigabit Wi-Fi (TechRepublic)

Before the redesign, only 60% of the campus area had Wi-Fi connectivity. With the digital transformation, the campus now has 100% connectivity.

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40 outdoor APs were installed on campus.

Image: Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Animation

"The design, the performance criteria that I set for myself, was that if a user was issued a laptop as their main production device, then I never wanted that laptop to have to be connected to a wire," McKay said.

Planning for the technology overhaul began 18 months ago, and then it took six months to re-cable and reinstall the new network over the old network and decommission it. The indoor Wi-Fi was turned on in September last year, with 300 access points (APs), and the 40 outdoor APs were installed after that, McKay said.

"One of the goals was we had to keep connectivity up 24/7 while doing the work. So we had them coexist for a period of time," said Scott Miller, technology fellow for engineering and infrastructure at DreamWorks Animation.

Supporting thousands of devices

At any one time, there are approximately 2,000 connected devices on the campus, with each person on site carrying an average of three devices, McKay said.

The number of mobile devices per person is one of the changes that has occurred since DreamWorks first installed Wi-Fi a decade ago. And that means that there could be 20 devices in one conference room for a meeting of just a handful of people, Miller said.

Technology upgrades are a continual process at DreamWorks. "We are, if nothing else, a technology company that likes to stay, not quiet on the bleeding edge, but close to it. As a result, we are continually looking at what we can improve, the performance that we can eke out of the wires that are in our walls. And now, the performance that we can eke out of the airwaves that are floating around our campus," McKay said.

The Glendale campus focuses on content creation, making feature animated films and TV programs. "So a lot of our technology infrastructure is oriented around content creation. And much of that are things like file service, storage, keyed network to move the bits all around, and a high-performance compute environment to do the calculations required to create those images. So we tend to refresh about a quarter of our services, storage, and compute infrastructure every year," Miller said.

Most recently, the tech upgrades included the introduction of HP's synergy composable hardware to dynamically reprovision services and core assets depending on user demand. They added about 6,000 compute cores. They also added new firewalls and internet facing infrastructure in support of those technology initiatives, Miller explained.

Preventing hackers from getting into the network

DreamWorks changed the way that users access the network so it would be more secure.

The film studio provides a guest network that is internet only for BYOD. The internal network is highly secured and only DreamWorks-issued devices are allowed on the secure network, McKay said.

SEE: Reducing the risks of BYOD in the enterprise (TechRepublic)

Before, he said, "It was DreamWorks, and DreamWorks only, and we trusted anybody who walked in the door. And you know, with the Sony hack a couple of years ago, we had an information security officer that was really concerned about the universal-like nature of the way we access information around here. So we're doing some internal rejiggering to support role-based access control here to the network. That's pretty exciting."

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DreamWorks Animation's campus in Glendale, Calif. underwent a digital transformation.

Image: DreamWorks Animation

DreamWorks is using Aruba ClearPass for network security. "Aruba spent a significant amount of time and research just figuring out how to do network access control and role-based access control, just the right way," McKay said. "It's not that it's not a point-and-click solution, but it's so thorough that we can profile devices as the come onto our campus, determine what they are, and sort them into the appropriate bucket. And we can do that through any number of mechanisms, from just a basic Mac address, to a user ID, to an active directory group. The sky's the limit. So with ClearPass we're actually able to support not just DreamWorks operations but other operations as they come and go on campus."

Miller explained how it works. "So the model there is using the ClearPass policy backed by other information to microsegment people or their devices into the exact right network compartment to get just the data sets and resources that they're allowed to get to. And I can do that per user, no matter where they are on campus because it's the same wired and wireless logical infrastructure. If the device is recognized to get to How to Train Your Dragon 3 data, for example, doesn't matter if it's plugged in or wireless or where it is on campus. The device is profiled, not the location."

SEE: Ebook—IT leader's guide to achieving digital transformation (Tech Pro Research)

Hosting collaborative efforts

The new network also supports collaborative applications, whether it's streaming video, viewing artwork, taking notes, or sharing notes wirelessly on a tablet.

"A lot of our note-taking and prevention review process has gone paperless. And the goal is to not have to shuffle pieces of paper and take it back in again, but when a director or creative [person] reviews a piece of content and says, 'that looks good but move his arm over here, or change that color' or something like that, those notes are taken on a tablet and stored directly into our notes applications and made available campus wide to the people who will make those changes. So basically we've untethered the creatives from having to sit at a wired device. They can wander anywhere on campus and when they take notes, those notes are integrated," Miller said.

"The goal for us is technology should enable but not get in the way. So, the technology enables the creatives to do their reviews and to create notes and comments with each other, but it's not a burden," Miller said.

Looks matter—when it comes to APs

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The paint on each outdoor AP, as seen here, matches its surroundings.

Image: Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Animation

The aesthetics of the equipment were a crucial part of the installation because they needed to blend in on campus and not look unattractive.

"It's actually a very base concern around here. It's Hollywood, so showmanship is everything and that comes right down to how things appear on the outside of our building," McKay said. "That involved things like figuring out, not only locations on the outside of buildings, but making sure that we color matched the outdoor APs to the buildings we were hanging them on. And taking them to an auto shop and getting them painted and brought back."

With 40 outdoor APs, that required some time to complete, but the overall result is seamless and hasn't drawn negative attention.

Miller said, with a laugh, "Everything's a facade. I joke that sometimes the buildings are a facade, and everyone's inside working diligently and anyone who's smiling is a paid extra."

Top 3 takeaways for TechRepublic readers:

  1. The 11-acre DreamWorks campus in Glendale, CA, and a satellite building one mile away, were the target of a complete network makeover using HPE Aruba.
  2. DreamWorks changed the way that users access the network so it would be more secure.
  3. The aesthetics of the APs were a crucial part of the installation because they needed to blend in on campus.

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About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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