With the AWS infrastructure, some exciting opportunities are available to us that would have been impossible a year ago due to complications and cost scaling in our old environment.
Ari Garboos Director of Engineering Operations, PIX System
  • About PIX System

    PIX System is global collaboration and asset-sharing service for the film and entertainment industry. PIX users can securely upload media files of a few megabytes to multiple gigabytes, and they can access and modify shared files anytime from anywhere.

  • AWS Services Used

  • Benefits of AWS

    • Smooth migration from on-premises data center to AWS Cloud
    • Improved performance, with 30% increase in download speed
    • Increased transfer speed in application tier by 33%
    • Increased batch transcoding capacity by 40%
    • 16 times more storage capacity at about half the cost
    • Ability to scale easily

PIX System is an online platform used by film and entertainment professionals for sharing creative and strategic content and collaborating on every aspect of production and post-production—from casting, script revisions, and dailies, to picture and sound editing and approvals. Launched more than a decade ago, PIX has matured to an enterprise-level provider serving major motion picture and film studios.

“Our goal is to be holistically inserted into every step of the movie-making process to help produce what we see on the screen,” says Ari Garboos, director of operations at PIX System. “If you’re a studio producing high-end content, it’s very likely you use PIX System to secure and share assets.”

PIX users can securely upload media files of a few megabytes to multiple gigabytes. PIX encrypts and stores the media, transcodes it to multiple formats, adds watermarking, and performs other custom work. Users can access and modify shared files anytime from anywhere.

As the business expanded, PIX found itself at a crossroads. It needed more file-storage space and compute capacity in its on-premises data center, but its hardware was aging and difficult to maintain. “The network was stable, but highly complex,” says Garboos. “We were wary of making even minor updates to our aging equipment because of the significant effort required to mitigate risk while meeting our customers’ expectations of 24/7 availability.”

Aging hardware also meant the engineering team was spending 8–12 hours each week resolving performance issues and system alerts. Even more important, the data center infrastructure was difficult to expand: adding a new application server could take weeks to get into production due to the lead time needed to acquire new hardware, then rack and configure it. “We found ourselves with our back against the wall,” says Garboos. “And the answer was clear: if we want to scale and continuously improve the service experience of our clients, we need to be in the cloud.”

PIX considered several cloud providers and chose Amazon Web Services (AWS) for its flexibility, maturity, and proven security. The film industry often requires certificate authority to move its workloads to the cloud. “Amazon has a lot of security industry certifications and a track record of being very secure,” says Elliott Freis, principal engineer at PIX in charge of the migration. “That was something our users needed to see in order to feel reassured about moving to the cloud.”

To get the buy-in they needed, the PIX team visited studios and met with security groups and executives to discuss their plan. “What ultimately won over our users was the fact that on top of our existing proven security model, we could take advantage of AWS services to help ensure not only that our content was well protected, but also that internal and external connections were highly secure and all data was encrypted by our application,” says Freis.

In executing the migration, the challenge was to move more than 450 tebibytes of encrypted customer data to the cloud, while keeping that data highly available to users throughout the process.

PIX used AWS Direct Connect to transfer data to Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) with Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) file servers. “The ability to have a dedicated connection from our network to the AWS Cloud was absolutely essential—and highly affordable,” says Freis. “We transferred more than 1 GBps continuously for three months to move all our data to AWS.”

For its CPU-intensive batch transcoding system, PIX chose Amazon EC2 C3 instances because they provide high input/output operations (IOPS) and instance storage (temporary storage), which is needed during the transcoding process. The company also used C4 instances for other resources that did not require instance storage, such as its web server, digital rights management (DRM) system, and Aspera server.

To replicate its MySQL customer database to AWS, PIX used Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) and set up a replication chain through AWS Direct Connect to first sync the database and then keep it in sync during the migration process.

Because users need 24/7 access to content, instead of executing a slow rollout where services are turned on one at a time, PIX decided to switch over to the new AWS resources during an eight-hour window. The switchover went so smoothly that there was virtually no impact on users. Freis says, “It was the best migration process I’ve ever been a part of, which is a testament to the AWS infrastructure and its flexibility, and the preparation and efforts of the rollout team.”

After the migration, PIX immediately saw a 30 percent increase in download speed, a 40 percent increase in batch transcoding capacity, and a 40 percent decreased load on its application tier, which improved overall response time. Running reports against the MySQL database on AWS also improved: queries that once created performance issues ran without any system impact, and database load alerts no longer occurred. “Since we’ve migrated, we’ve also seen our system alerts steadily decrease to nearly zero,” says Freis.

The flexibility of AWS meant PIX could easily switch from Amazon EBS Magnetic volumes, which had a limit of 1 TB, to new throughput-optimized SC1 hard disk drive (HDD) volumes, which allow for up to 16 TB, at roughly half the cost. “The SC1 volumes have been amazing for us because the savings has allowed us to move from a ‘RAIDed’ environment, and the performance has been marvelous,” says Freis. “Effectively, it was no different from running on magnetic—if not better—for the same cost.”

PIX has since started phasing out its old backend transcoding system and now works directly with Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and AWS Lambda. PIX is also in the process of using AWS services to set up a CI/CD pipeline to automate deployments.

With the ability to take in unlimited amounts of data and process it, the company is beginning to explore new microservices—in particular, one that would allow transcoding in real time, which would be a huge advantage for PIX users. “With the AWS infrastructure, some exciting opportunities are available to us that would have been impossible a year ago due to complications and cost scaling in our old environment,” says Garboos. “Having this new infrastructure in place is going to make some cool options available to us going forward.”

Learn more about digital media in the AWS Cloud.