Nvidia's Kepler: Changing the world one computer at a time
This week I’m at the Nvidia GTC (GPU Technology Conference), where Nvidia is showcasing the massive advancements it has made in the realm of supercomputing and the lucrative graphics space.
The star of this show is Nvidia's new Kepler platform and what is likely the most beautiful high performance graphics card ever created - the flagship GeForce GTX 690. Believe me when I tell you folks, this card is a piece of art, as it is truly beautiful.
I’m writing this as I watch the presentation of iconic CEO Jen-Hsun Haung (you can watch it yourself here). He is one of the few people with a stage presence that approaches the late Steve Jobs and his keynotes often trend toward the fascinating. Once again, he is talking about changing the world of computing and Nvidia tends to be very visual with their examples and this year is no exception. We’ll use Nvidia's demos to tell the story.
One of the most impressive demos was one where a virtual bullet was shot through three pillars of glass. Not only did the glass break realistically, but the reflections and refractions of both the backgrounds and the bullet’s image (once the event was slowed down enough to watch it) was properly rendered - not only while the bullet was flying, but through the random fractured glass that was breaking. Rendering with this kind of accuracy and reality was previously measured in days, yet this demo was done real in time.
The next demo showcased the complext properties of water - in real time - contained in a virtual glass box and reflected in both an Nvidia logoed ball and a large golden logo. Now, bear in mind that water is particularly hard to render in motion, simply because it acts like liquid glass and the physics occur at a near molecular level. However, the demo proved that Kepler was more than capable of accurately rendering the liquid in real time, along with precise reflections and ripples.
Fermi, Nvidia's earlier technology, was first showcased showing during a demo that knocked folk’s socks off last year when it modeled the big bang creation of the universe - processing four hundred million interactions. It is still impressive, yet Kepler has increased GPU computing power by a factor of ten, allowing Nvidia to model the collision of two mature galaxies. During the keynote, Nvidia engineers showcased the spectacular collision between our galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy. Don’t worry, this will happen about 3.5 billion years from now, so I’m pretty sure we still have time to develop a big enough air bag and buy insurance. Still, simulations like this confirm the existence of the unseen dark matter that represents ninety percent of the mass of the universe.
Cloud GPU – Windows on an iPad
Essentially, Kepler is the first "cloud GPU," as it has been designed to be virtualized, provide ultra-low latency remote display support, and because cloud technology density is very high, its development focuses on massive energy efficiency. This anticipates a SAAS (Software As A Service) that will ultimately encompass everything from high end gaming to advanced CAD (Computer Aided Design). Targeted at the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) world of personal smartphones, tablets and PCs, initiatives like this promise to revolutionize computing and make the delivery of applications more like the delivery of TV shows.
Nvidia's first cloud GPU demo was Windows 7 (using Citrix) with full GPU support on an iPad with full GPU acceleration. The showcase application was Autodesk, displayed on that same iPad so an engineer or an architect could create a sketch on a workstation, take their iPad to a presentation, and fully interact with what they created in the native application from a remote location.
They then had a presentation by Industrial Light and Magic (running remotely on virtual Windows 7) to edit a scene from the Avengers movie on a MacBook Air in real time. The ILM crew subsequently switched to the Nuke compositing application to edit a scene from Battleship, which was also running remotely on virtual Windows 7. As noted above, the cloud GPU brings the massive power of high-end workstations to any device capable of handling the low power client. Finally, Cisco showcased a specialized server that provides the same type of capability to large companies.
GeForce Grid: Cloud Gaming
If you can do CAD in the cloud certainly you can certainly do gaming. Gaikai, a firm that provides cloud gaming to Smart TVs, was brought on stage to showcase just how real this idea is. Indeed, LG partnered with Gaikai to include gaming in their new Smart TVs - working to make consoles and TV connected PCs obsolete for gaming.
The game showcased at GTC 2012? Hawken, an upcoming HD title. During the demo, two players
went head to head, one on the LG TV and the other on a Asus Transformer Prime tablet. The player on the tablet was regularly kicking the TV user's butt, which is interesting, especially given that both had equal performance and you’d think the TV’s size would have given that player a huge advantage.
The not so subtle message? This was largely enabled by Nvidia technology on both sides: Tegra on the client and Kepler on the server. It is truly an end to end solution, which ultimately could make game consoles and high performance computing truly obsolete.
Wrapping Up: To Infinity and Beyond
The overall message is that computing exclusively on connected devices is done and over with. We are clearly moving to an age where our computing capability will be based in the cloud - streamed to us with adequate non-device centric power to our smartphones, tablets, smart TVs and whatever we replace our PCs with. Yes, cloud computing is moving to the mainstream, and with companies like Nvidia changing the world, our future world is going to be vastly different.
But on top of all of this is the notion of a vision. As we've discussed many times before, vision is what companies like Apple and Nvidia are best known for, describing a future and then pushing the world into it. CEOs like Jen-Hsun Haung are a rare breed - they can tell amazing stories and make us feel they are real and make us want to help create them. This is core to a developer’s conference like GTC, as it is a showcase of Nvidia's power that they can stand up and show us something amazing in a tech rich world like ours.