Panoply reaps the rewards of remote working with ERA’s hosted services

Based in East London, Panoply is a creative studio focused on crafting engaging experiences for advertising, broadcast, digital and print. Common to its projects is an emphasis on collaborative dialogue, visionary thinking and consistent creative integrity. Underlining its diversity, Panoply’s clients include Louis Vuitton, Mercedes-Benz, Anagram Films and Amazon Studios.

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Prior to the onset of the global pandemic, Panoply was planning to move towards a model in which its work would be conducted primarily in a remote way from team members’ own homes and studios. As part of this transition the company wanted to embrace third-party hosting and managed services for its production and storage requirements. Taking this path would not only provide the necessary remote access capabilities, it would also make it easier for Panoply to augment or reconfigure its media management provision as needs evolve.

The team’s research into hosted services ultimately led to the engagement of ERA, which is one of the UK’s leading independent providers of IT workflow solutions for the media, post-production and research sector. In spring 2020, with the implications of the pandemic for office-based working starting to become clearer, Panoply pressed ‘play’ on its plans, with ERA essentially achieving the transition from on-site to hosted media services over the course of a weekend.

As of June 2021, Panoply’s entire creative team has been working successfully at home for many months thanks to the ERA managed infrastructure.

Providing for a dispersed workforce

Panoply creative director Mark Lindner cites a few primary factors behind the company’s decision to implement a remote working model. “These days a lot of our team members are spread out around the country,” he says. “We had also noticed in the wake of the UK leaving the EU that a lot of talent had decided to leave London and that there could be challenges in future recruiting people to do the work.” 

With a more dispersed workforce and less predictable accessibility requirements, it was apparent that continuing with the existing on-site media management infrastructure would not be practical. Consequently, says Lindner, “we began to think about ways to effectively work hundreds of miles away without having to transport huge amounts of data.” With file sizes typically measured in terabytes, selecting an off-the-shelf file hosting service was not a viable option. 

With ERA already identified as a candidate to provide the hosted services, the arrival of the pandemic was “a trigger moment to jump right in. It was soon apparent that this was the only feasible way of keeping everything moving forward and maintaining momentum,” he recalls.

Panoply’s requirements were not especially unusual or complex, but they did prioritise substantial and consistent bandwidth to support high-resolution streaming. As a result, the media servers owned by Panoply and relocated to ERA’s cutting-edge media hosting and infrastructure facility have been enhanced with some additional capacity.

Outlining his team’s main current requirement, Lindner comments: “We have between 8 and 10 team members working at any one time, all needing to pull data from the network and have access to 4K resolution streaming. So we knew there had to be 1GB connectivity going up and down, with all our personnel able to work comfortably with 4K. We made the investment into greater bandwidth provided by ERA and that has been working very well for us.” 

Of course, one of the primary benefits of moving to third-party hosting and management is the ease and speed with which extra provision can be added. Indeed, Lindner does not rule out the possibility of adding further capacity in the near future as production requirements evolve. Not only is the company delivering a great deal of high-end 3D visuals and VFX work at present, it is also dealing with increasing frame rate expectations for formats such as 4K. 

“You absolutely need to have the bandwidth available there so you can keep latency very low despite the higher frame rates. Migrating to a hosted model has made the whole issue of capacity more straightforward,” says Lindner.

With the likelihood that Panoply will add more team members later this year, the convenience that ERA heralds in terms of “bringing extra workstations onto the network” is also beneficial. Adds Lindner: “If you were doing that in-house you might have to add another machine and create space next to an existing team member, and that can all be quite time-consuming. With hosted services you are more likely to be looking at only one or two days.”

Building out from an existing base

ERA commercial director Sean Baker confirms that the Panoply deployment was “built from an existing base in the sense that we reused a lot of their own equipment and moved it across to our facility. But since then, they have taken some ad hoc extra services from us when, for example, they have required additional workstations or rendering capability.” 

Panoply is also making use of ERA partner Teradici’s PCoIP (PC over IP) technology that offers a remote desktop experience whose features include lossless reproduction of text and crystal-clear representation of wireframes, textures and other intricate graphics. PCoIP facilitates reliable remote access to a host of applications, ensuring projects can be supported through all stages to completion.

Baker underlines the quick turnaround nature of the project once it had been green-lit. “In essence we picked up their equipment on a Friday evening and then had it all up and running at our hosting facility by Monday morning, with people logging in and being able to carry on working in a seamless way,” he says.

Last word to Lindner, who praises ERA’s support and help resources as well as its technological capabilities. “There were a couple of minor issues – all out of ERA’s control, I should note – but their team supported us really well and kept everyone up to date. They have been very responsive and helpful; I really cannot fault their support.”

All in all, it feels like the early stages of what promises to be a long and effective partnership: “ERA has shown a great ability to adapt and work with our requests as they have arisen. We are very happy that we moved towards a hosted model and that we chose ERA to make it happen.”

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