an inside look at greenbutton, cloud rendering from your desktop

Greenbutton.net has gained some attention and has certainly raised more than a few eyebrows over the last little while, with a statement such as “Your personal [super] computer”, Greenbutton allows users to access the power of thousands of computers from the convenience of not only your own home, but right within your favorite application and desktop really.

This is made possible by a program for vendors and developers which is how Greenbutton can offer seamless integration of cloud computing by offloading process intensive tasks – not just rendering but also anything that can make use of multiple processors such as scientific calculations or intensive number crunching for geoscientists and engineers.

Greenbutton takes it a step beyond just a convenient interface to the cloud however by offering features such as job prediction to assist in the decision of what performance level users want to pay for.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak to the fine folks at Greenbutton and they were very accommodating with this insiders look at the Greenbutton service, API and where Greenbutton is going.

A big thank you is in order for Cassie Merrick and the marketing team at Greenbutton!

LB: How did GreenButton come about?

The idea for the ‘GreenButton’ was thought up GreenButton’s CEO Scott Houston. The idea was born when Scott was the chief technology officer at Weta during the production of ‘The Two Towers’ and ‘The Return of The King’. Scott faced the dilemma of needing extra processing power during the final weeks of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. With no on-demand computer power easily available then, Weta had no option but to spend several millions of dollars to buy the 1000 extra computers, “…all for just 8 weeks of work, there had to be another way ” and in classic kiwi tradition, Scott formed Intergrid to invent the GreenButton service.

LB: How does cloud rendering differ from standard render farm services right now?

The main difference really is capacity and global reach. A standard renderfarm has the same financial and hardware limitations around providing enough capacity to truly accelerate jobs just like anyone else with their own hardware. Even with Weta Digital having more power back then than NASA, they still ran out of capacity, so cloud fill’s that overflow gap and can provide 1000’s of computers AND to thousands of users. The other part is global reach, major cloud providers such as Windows Azure, or Amazon EC2 have global points of presence meaning that you can get excellent performance from anywhere in the world and not just best from local providers.

LB: What are the advantages of cloud rendering?

Besides the points mentioned above, we see cloud rendering expanding from just providing raw horsepower to it providing services and features that being connected to the cloud can deliver. For instance, remote backup is a given feature so that business issue of failure just got solved, but other services like web access to completed services that can be access from any platform, remote collaboration and workflow options of finished outputs etc.

LB: Where are your key market targets – who is this aimed at?

We are targeting several markets with the GreenButton. Our main focus in the beginning was the digital media market but we have discovered there is also a need for GreenButton in several other markets such as bio tech and geoscience.  Digital media reaches the masses and explaining the value proposition with Scotts experiences have made the journey more relevant.

LB: How does GreenButton really work?

GreenButton is an application programming interface (API) that can be embedded in any software application. It is designed so that users can simply click the GreenButton icon to use Windows Azure compute power on demand. When a user clicks GreenButton, the job is sent to a Windows Communication Foundation web service, which is hosted in a Windows Azure Web role. It is then sent through the Windows Azure AppFabric Service Bus and split into multiple tasks. Each task is then sent to Queue storage in Windows Azure, where it is picked up and processed by Windows Azure Worker roles. Once the processing is complete, users can download the rendered image or animation file.

By using GreenButton users can render high-quality stills and animation in a matter of minutes.

LB: GreenButton supports a few 3D programs right now, what are they plans for other software support in the future?

The plan for us is to work closely with the ISV (independent software vendors) and build the GreenButton into the actual applications itself so that the power to resolve peoples problems is already shipped and available. Being a small company, we simply don’t have the resources to enable every application but what we are doing is creating a SDK that will allow other software vendors to take our framework and build their own plugin. For this, we can then share on the revenue model that the ISV wants to deliver.

When do you expect maya and 3ds max support to be available?

We are working through the licensing issues with Autodesk and hope to kick off the Beta trial around mid-January. We have had several positive meetings and presented our POC (proof of concept) to them. We are now waiting for them to decide on what business model we operate in.

LB: Will they both support 3rd party renderers such as mental ray, renderman, v-ray etc.

Each renderer needs a specific plugin  and we have done POC’s for all the mentioned renderers here.

LB: What are the up and down times for large assets like high res textures? Do you have a system for larger files?

Transfer times as you can imagine are directly related to file sizes and we know that the bandwidth into the Azure platform via GreenButton won’t be the bottleneck. We have created our first Digital Asset Management system that will apply a level of smartness around file upload and downloads so that we only need to transfer the files that have changed so as not to reload existing files. We also think that with cloud visualisation tools and workflow processes that we can help minimise the need to download and perhaps relay the output to your network such as youtube or something like that.

LB: Has the GreenButton for developers been well received so far?

We are very happy with the progress of GreenButton for developers. We have had several parties come forward who are interested in being part of our SDK program.  We expect to provide the beta version to a select group in the next 4 – 6 weeks which will be exciting.

LB: What are the plans for the future of GreenButton?

Expand beyond being a small startup! We have a clever but small team and this is our number one limitation to rapid growth. We had always planned to be more than a ‘renderfarm’ and planned to be a enabler of high performance using our software architecture. We actually think that existing renderfarm providers who offer great personal service could also use GreenButton for increasing capacity just like anyone else.

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