Wednesday, December 16, 2009

David takes on Goliath…

… and, while the battle still rages on, David appears to be winning.

In April of 2004 Nvidia hired Ian Buck, who specialized in GPGPU research at Stanford, setting their foundation for CUDA development. Two and a half years later Nvidia launched CUDA. In June of 2008 Nvidia announced their C1060 Tesla card intended solely for GPGPU processing. Pat Gelsinger, Senior VP and co-general manager of Intel’s Digital Enterprise Group, stated in an interview in July 2008 that CUDA will be little more than an “interesting footnote in the history of computing annals”. Pat confidently proclaimed that Intel’s Larrabee chip will easily best the GPGPU ecosystem that Nvidia had built. Larrabee would not only be a HPC powerhouse but it would be a better graphics card as well.

Fast forward to December 2009 and you will find that Intel has thrown in the towel from the Larrabee graphics perspective and the HPC future of Larrabee is still somewhat murky. Intel claims that Larrabee will still be used internally and externally by developers as a HPC platform. Pat Gelsinger the “confident” Intel executive now works for EMC. But Intel wasn’t the only CPU juggernaut bearing down on Nvidia. In 2006 AMD purchased ATI and announced its vision of the future… Fusion.

AMD Fusion is the codename for a future next-generation microprocessor design and the product of the merger between AMD and ATI, combining general processor execution as well as 3D geometry processing and other functions of modern GPUs into a single package. AMD announced at its Financial Analyst Day in December 2007 that their first two Fusion products codenamed Falcon and Swift would be available in 2009.

Fast forward to December 2009 and you will find no mention of AMDs Falcon and Swift. However, AMD does not appear to have thrown in the towel yet. They are still working on Fusion and claim they will have something out in 2010.

In January 2009 AMD announced at CES a system called the Fusion Render Cloud. The system will be powered by Phenom II processors with “more than 1,000″ ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards. The Fusion Render Cloud is supposed to move rendering of complex interactive, three dimensional scenes up onto internet Fusion Render Cloud servers and, using OTOY’s software, stream the data to a simple browser on a connected device, bringing this kind of content to devices that haven’t been able to handle it yet because of ”device size, battery capacity, and processing power” — think, cell phones and other mobile devices. The system will be ready the second half of 2009.

Fast forward to December 2009 (last time I checked December was the last month of the second half of the year) and still no Fusion Render Cloud. Interestingly enough… from out of the blue… Nvidia announced their RealityServer platform. The platform is a powerful combination of Nvidia Tesla GPUs and 3D web services software that delivers interactive, photorealistic applications over the web, enabling product designers, architects and consumers to easily visualize 3D scenes with remarkable realism. The RealityServer platform runs in GPU-based cloud computing environment, accessible using web-connected PCs, netbooks, and smart phones, enabling 3D web applications to dynamically scale based on utilization requirements. Oh… and it was available for purchase the day they announced it.

So while David has not killed Goliath yet… he seems to be making steady progress on the hardware and software side putting actual products in the hands of his users. It doesn’t look like anyone has told David that he is going to be little more than an “interesting footnote in the history of computing annals”. If they have… I don’t think he’s listening.

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