We had the pleasure of discussing Revit via Amazon G2 Instance directly with Autodesk earlier in the week. Mark Davis, Senior Director, User Experience, CTO Office of Autodesk spoke with me while John Schmier, Principal Engineer, also of the CTO Office of Autodesk, gave me a demo.
Before we go into a lot of details–and we have them–let’s first do a good summary of what Autodesk is developing and offering.
The Key Summary
Autodesk, along with key technology partners, have developed the ability to run native Windows Autodesk applications through a web browser wherein the application is running on an Amazon Web Services G2 server and is being delivered to any device (including iPads for Inventor only) running a multitude of operating systems and web browsers. For Architosh readers in particular–this means you can run Autodesk Revit, 3ds Max, Maya and Inventor on your Mac in a compatible browser.
The Technical Details
The other key pieces include Nvidia’s GRID GPU technology being tapped at Amazon which is hosting the software running on Windows 2008 Server. In other words, hardware GPU acceleration is taking place via Keplar GRID GPUs from Nvidia.
At the moment Autodesk is suggesting users use Chrome or FireFox for their HTML-5 compliant web browser to run Amazon instances of these hosted Autodesk applications. Technically Safari can work as well but the company feels that the other browsers run better. Internet Explorer doesn’t yet work.
A Technology Preview
As was announced, the ability to access and run apps like Revit through a browser on a Mac or other device is currently a “Developer Preview” and Autodesk told us that the company has no specific time table for when such a product can be made a commercial offering.
“This is available for developers and some of our select users who want to give this technology a spin,” said Mark Davis, of Autodesk. “The goal is to get valuable feedback while our internal teams explore options for this technology.”
Davis explained that ultimately the Amazon instance delivery approach wants to fit into Autodesk’s broader plans for cloud and in particular Autodesk 360 offerings.
A Native Version of Revit
Some readers maybe wondering what are folks gaining by this new technology and what does this signal for where Autodesk may take products? These are some of the best questions and we put them to Autodesk.
“This gives us a way to get to market faster with some of our customers,” says Mark Davis. “And it does it without committing additional development resources.”
Davis explained that Autodesk’s focus throughout the company is on the cloud and the ability for users to have anywhere, anytime access to data and resources. When asked about that strategic directional change he admitted this changes things and said “this does affect how we code.”
In summary what Autodesk gains with this approach is the ability to solve current needs while gaining insight about demand, while simultaneously being careful about commitments to various platform developments.
Bringing Users to the Apps and Data
While many have already vocalized skepticism on commentary threads online, Mark Davis clarified some factors that we at Architosh have not yet read anywhere else. These are benefits to end users that many may not be aware of.
First off, Davis said, “These four apps were partly chosen because they are graphically intensive and truly test the viability of this offering. If we could get these apps to work well than others will clearly work well.”
John Schmier, of Autodesk, while running the demo said that running Revit on his Macbook Air he was obtaining 45 FPS performance and in internal tests the company has gotten as high as 60 FPS. “That’s gaming level graphics responsiveness,” said Schmier. “The human eye cannot see differences beyond 30 FPS and 20-25 is perfectly fine for CAD applications.”
Davis mentioned that the pipes going into Amazon’s Web services are incredibly fat and for large data stores in particular there are big advantages to bring users to the data and apps versus bringing the data and apps to the users. “Syncing large Revit models can take hours but an IT CAD manager can send a URL link to hundreds of users in seconds,” said Davis. “Within minutes users can be working via a Web instance.”
Beyond general IT scale and deployment advantages, Davis also mentioned that the NVIDIA GRID GPUs cannot be under-estimated. They are capable of doing raytracing far faster than even powerful local workstations.
In fact, parallelization is a major thread (no pun intended) in this story. As applications become more tooled to take advantages of GPU compute resources, access to large scale GPU clusters can greatly speed up analysis and simulations that are normal to the present and future BIM workflow. Autodesk said solar analysis and raytracing are just some of the things that the Keplar NVIDIA GRID GPUs can tackle much quicker than what your local office workstation can do.
What we might be looking at here are the early beginnings of an entirely new delivery model–similar to where Adobe has moved–where in the future access to applications like Revit, Maya and Inventor may be made on scalable rental and subscription terms, accessed from a large body of popular desktop, mobile and smartphone level devices–where users always have access to their centralized and backed up data, at anytime, from anywhere.
Importantly, it was also mentioned that currently with Amazon instances they are based on an ‘image type’ you select and the options include very Low – High and 10 Gigabit. The user can scale the performance they seek. This too means that in the future, when you need to crunch big numbers, you can do so and pay for it only when you truly need it. Does that seem like a ‘force of change’ to the workstation market to you?