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Supercomputers on the desktop

Supercomputers on the desktop

Kiwi-developed GreenButton aims to revolutionise the way users access the power of cloud computing.

Last month, a proud Kiwi took centre stage at the Verizon Center in Washington DC. The estimated 13,000 audience sat riveted as the battle scenes in the Return of the King, the second of the Lord of the Rings movies, played on the wide screen. The man on stage, Scott Houston, CEO of InterGrid, explains how the 80,000 “really ugly” Orcs on screen had to be individually rendered by Weta Digital.

“We simply didn’t have enough processing capacity, we had to buy a thousand processors and build a brand new datacentre to have it completed in time,” says Houston, who was then chief technology officer of Weta. “I realised there had to be a better way to do it.”

The experience gave him the seed of an idea for InterGrid, which provides processing power from the more than 3000 computer processors at the New Zealand Supercomputer Centre, which he joined after leaving Weta Digital. The supercomputer served large companies that needed processing capacity for major projects lasting several months at a time.

Houston, however, was thinking of companies that will only require “occasional burst of power for complex intensive computing processes.”

This led to the development of InterGrid’s GreenButton, an application programming interface that can be embedded into customer’s software applications which users can tap on demand, on a pay as you go model. Instead of building a new infrastructure, InterGrid worked with Microsoft to have the GreenButton run on the cloud-based Windows Azure platform.

At the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington DC where the GreenButton was formally launched, Houston demonstrates how the service works. He cites a customer, a manufacturing and design company for private jets. The screen shows what looks like sketches of the interiors of the aircraft. The final rendering, says Houston, requires very complex textures that can take hours to run on a desktop PC. But the process can only take minutes using the GreenButton.

Houston shows the data being encrypted and put in the queue for processing. The images are broken down into pieces and distributed. When the job is complete, the data is reassembled and sent directly to the desktop application. “We are done,” says Houston and the wide screen shows how the interiors of the jet will look like.

“I believe Green Button will revolutionise the way users access the power of cloud computing,” says Houston. “The end users make the business decision, not the IT department.”

Houston is currently setting up an office in Silicon Valley, California. This will allow the company to “have primary engagements” with the ISVs to embed the GreenButton in their applications, says Marcel van den Assum, InterGrid chairman. Their main targets are material ISVs in a range of sectors such as biotech, digital media, oil and gas, engineering and finance.

Van den Assum says the move will also allow them to be closer to the venture capital funding in the Silicon Valley. The “core IP”, he says, remains in New Zealand. “The design team and developers are here,” he says. “We have a great team, you do the smart stuff here, you innovate, and you create it.”

Divina Paredes travelled to Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington DC as a guest of Microsoft.

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