We’ve seen the GRID at many events since CES 2013, and how it will change the gaming industry. Now NVIDIA wants to tailor this architecture towards another industry: film post-production.
The NVIDIA GRID was designed for putting GPU’s into the cloud, handling loads of computing tasks off of these TESLA-fueled datacenters. NVIDIA saw that this platform could gear resources towards graphics generation tasks, which led to the birth of the VCA (Visual Computing Appliance) platform. The GRID VCA contains dual CPU’s, RAM, and storage units like any other server, but can also hold up to 16 GRID K2 boards (K5000 class GPU’s) all inside one 4U form factor. Each virtual machine can be assigned to one or more GPU’s, however multiple VM’s cannot run off an individual K2 unit. Underneath the main components are two 10GbE ports which are plugged into both the storage units and a network switch, where the streams are remoted off to clients within the office.
To connect to the VCA, an editor simply logs in via an installed GRID Client, and creates a session with one of the VM’s running off of it. The stream is then presented though H.264 compression in the client window, and they can immediately get to work. Besides the client application itself, nothing is stored locally in the client system, which can also run on platform. For example, we were shown a client running Autodesk 3DS Max on Windows 7, from a Macbook Pro. Another system nearby ran The Foundry’s Nuke compositing software on Ubuntu, but the editor was also checking up on another artist’s work on Adobe After Effects, which doesn’t run on Linux, off of the GRID Client. This is probably not a likely scenario, but the point is that users could have access to applications that their OS couldn’t support. These are just two ways that a small post-production facility could easily bring K5000 class performance to any system in the office, all managed at one point at the datacenter.
Remote access and virtualization are not new concepts by any means, but the GRID VCA is tailored specifically as small business processing solution over a LAN network, for the best performance. When asked about possibly accessing the VCA from outside the office, they found that WAN may be possible, but like any other remote access, the client could run into latency issues through all the gateways, VPN points, and other hardware handshakes- all resulting in dropped frames and degradation.
Another potential advantage of the GRID VCA is an added layer of security for content management. Post-production companies may hire contractors to complete certain tasks, all whom usually bring their own system to the office. The contractor can easily be added to the VCA network, and all they need to install is the GRID Client. They can log into the VM, complete their work, and at the end of the day log off without any data or assets saved locally onto their system. Larger companies who have much more endpoint clients can also integrate GRID architecture into their existing enterprise-grade solutions, such as servers running VM Ware or Citrix remoting infrastructure. This can bring the best possible low-latency GPU computing onto a thin client device, while keeping all the authentication features of a full-fledged virtual network.
But all of this doesn’t mean that local GPU’s in your own rig will vanish anytime soon. The GRID may not be the right setup for all members within the office. For example, colorists need to view their work at the highest image quality and color accuracy to give the finished film the final "look" audiences will experience. The demo Da Vinci Resolve desk ran a Mac Pro with a K5000 underneath, with a triple GeForce GTX 680 setup in an expansion chassis alongside, grading raw Sony F55 4K footage at 24 FPS onto two 4K displays – all in real time. All of this raw GPU power could also be found on the GRID VCA, but for tasks that require strict quality control, a compressed stream is not ideal. That being said, whoever’s on this system can still pull up info from the GRID if needed.
As digital cinema advances, the need for stronger hardware becomes more demanding. Being able to share these resources with the whole team ultimately gives artists more creativity, without having to wait for each frame of their story to render.