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Super Micro to launch AMD render cloud

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The conceptual render cloud that Advanced Micro Devices was showing off a little more than a year ago at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show is going commercial this year.

Back in January 2009 AMD was still a maker of CPU and GPU chips and had teamed up with Otoy, a Sherman Oaks, California developer of 3D rendering software that allows for high definition games to be streamed from server farms over network links down to different kinds of devices, from PCs to iPhones.

(Last summer, AMD was showing off the render farm as it streamed Crysis down to an iPhone.)

The original render farm (er, render cloud in the modern lingo) was a cluster of machines based on AMD's Phenom II processors as well as its ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics processors and glued together using the AMD 790 chipset; it had over 1,000 GPUs and delivered over 1 petaflops of aggregate computing power to render content before it could be streamed down to users.

Now, motherboard and server maker Super Micro and Otoy have teamed up to take the idea commercial as the Fusion Render Cloud, which will be based on the most recent CPU and GPU technology from AMD and systems from Super Micro. Specifically, the Fusion Render Cloud will cram 125 two-socket servers based on AMD's imminent "Magny-Cours" Opteron 6100 processors, yielding a total of 3,000 x64 cores. The machines come in what Super Micro calls its pre-configured Super Rack setup, with 500 of AMD's Radeon HD 5970 graphics cards in the servers.

The Super Micro and Otoy specs say that each of those GPUs has a peak theoretical performance of 2.7 teraflops, but that isn't right. This dual-GPU graphics card from AMD is rated at 928 gigaflops doing double-precision calculations and 4.64 teraflops doing single-precision math. The setup takes up 40 square feet of space, burns just under 100 kilowatts of juice, and delivers 1 petaflops of aggregate computing power according to AMD and Super Micro.

But assuming double-precision math, and that the Opteron 6174s (the top-end standard part expected in a matter of weeks running at 2.2 GHz with a dozen cores) will be able to do four flops per clock, then each Opteron 6174 will deliver 105.6 gigaflops of oomph and that is 26.4 teraflops of CPU processing power and 464 teraflops of GPU power, for a total of 490.4 teraflops. (Either the specs are wrong or Super Micro and Otoy are doing the math wrong.)

In any event, whatever the specs, Super Micro and Otoy say the Fusion Render Cloud is capable of supporting 3,000 concurrent HD streams (at 1080x720 pixels at a 60 Hz refresh rate) or 12,000 concurrent SD streams at 120 Hz. The Otoy remote rendering stack, called the Open Streaming Initiative server platform, has a "token-basted [sic]" metering system to allow for resource provision and metering to users, so you can use it for chargeback, and it has "ultra fast" HD encoding that takes under 1 ms per megapixels.

The Otoy rendering software can stream content down to the iPhone's 480x320 screens all the way up to ultra HD resolutions at 3840x2160. Frame rates range from 24 frames per second (for rendering Blu-ray media) all the way up to 120 Hz for stereoscopic HD 3D video.

AMD, Super Micro, and Otoy are excited about the possibility of being able to allow service providers to deliver video games, PC applications, and other graphically intensive applications over the Internet using the render farm instead of local PCs, workstations, or game consoles. Software vendors will no doubt be excited about the prospects of getting recurring revenue streams from their games and applications without actually distributing their code on CDs and DVDs and thereby making it easier to be copied.

The Fusion Render Cloud will be available in the second quarter. Pricing has not yet been announced, but assuming the machines are configured with a reasonable amount of memory, just the base hardware alone will cost close to $2m at list prices. You'll want to play Crysis with all of your friends - and charge them plenty - to be able to afford that. ®

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