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May 29, 2012

Cloud Rendering in the Push of a Button

Robert Gelber

3D production studios are all too familiar with the amount of time required to render their work. They could invest in private clusters to speed the process, but it would require high initial costs and a steady workload to make the purchase viable. Cloud services provide a financially attractive alternative, but the task of provisioning hardware and building an accurate cost analysis can be challenging. Green Button is a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) provider focused on removing the barriers of cloud computing for graphics firms.

Earlier this month, Stephen Spector, cloud evangelist at Dell, spoke about the company at the Austin Cloud User Group. Based in New Zealand, GreenButton was founded by Scott Houston, who built the private cloud used to render the Lord of the Rings. When production for the film had completed, he wanted to keep using the technology and formed a new company.

The platform comes with an SDK, allowing for independent software vendors (ISV) to incorporate GreenButton functionality into their offerings. The result gives end users the ability to offload high performance rendering jobs to AWS, Azure and Dell vCloud directly through a compatible application. In one case, a designer reported GreenButton rendering performing 20 to 43 times faster than his local computer. His job, consisting of 240 hours of content, took 5 hours 36 minutes to process, including upload and download of content.

An example was shown rendering a 90-frame clip within SAP Visual Enterprise Author (formerly Deep Exploration). On a local quad i7 processor, the user was able to process 1 frame every 3m43s. After the first frame, the user switched to GreenButton, and selected 90quad core processors for rendering. The remaining 89 frames were processed in 1m52s with a cost of $1.29 to the user.

Because of the variance in compute resources required per job, the platform also incorporates a predictive pricing model. When a customer chooses to render through a cloud service, GreenButton delivers three payment options. Cost per job increases with higher core counts. If time is not a major factor, the user can save some cash by opting for fewer processors.

GreenButton is currently available in applications including Blender, LuxRender, Geneious, Brazil, Yafaray and Incus. It is gaining further traction as Pixar announced RenderMan On Demand earlier this year. The service was developed together with GreenButton and is set to run on Windows Azure.

Network bandwidth and occasionally complicated hardware provisioning typically limit cloud services. Once those challenges are overcome with simple interfaces and higher throughput, services are capable of delivering high-power and low-cost alternatives to private clusters.