The Autodesk University Technology Mainstage was a chance for Autodesk and AU Partners Intel, HP and Microsoft to share their vision of how new technology, services and software will impact the design world. I regretted missing it in 2006 so made sure to be there this time.
Computing “in the cloud” with Carl Bass:
It’s obvious Carl just loves technology. His talk, casually delivered and with no supporting presentation, covered everything from immediate challenges to future technologies and work methods. He spoke about big concepts, like technology's impact on society and the planet, but also got quite specific about challenges facing Autodesk today. He’s challenged Autodesk to deliver design software that offers the sort of interaction and graphics currently seen in games:
My son’s Xbox should not look better than a $5000+ design application.*
He also expressed frustration that his multi-core PC doesn’t really exploit the power it has today.
The challenge facing application engineers is creating software to exploit how ever many processors/cores are available.*
Shared processing and storage across multiple computers and networks, so called “computing in the cloud”, means this could be hundreds, even thousands, rather than the two, four or eight cores we use today. While modelling is now the accepted design method any simulation, analysis and high end visualisation is generally done in a separate post design process. The results may refine the design model but that is generally an iterative process, often requiring several applications. Vastly increased computing power will allow simultaneous design, analysis and high quality visualisation. Carl sees all that happening while you design, almost instantly, giving the designer much more feedback to use while refining their ideas..
This vision also takes computing and data off the desktop to become available on the tools that best suit the current task and location. It might be your office workstation, a Tablet/UMPC your smart-phone or even a table or wall. Imagine that with new user interfaces like the Perceptive Pixel "multi-touch" screen, as seen in the AU Exhibit hall, and “Surface computers” and we have an exciting future. The following speakers showed this future isn’t very far away.
Nano, Nano, Intel:
Intel spoke about their 45 nanometre “Penryn" technology. It gives more computing power (30% from memory) while using less power which means less heat and longer battery life. However they aren’t stopping there as mentioned 32 nanometre technology is planned for sometime in 2009.
“Intel has demonstrated its 32nm logic process with a functional SRAM packing more than 1.9 billion second generation high-k metal gate transistors”
In addition to ever faster chip/systems new modes of processing will bring more power to the user. I say “user”, rather than machine, as it’s likely you’ll be working across distributed remote PCs., virtual machines on your own PC and virtual applications. The line between desktop, servers, local network and web is becoming increasingly blurred. All of that’s happening now and it’s worth investigating how it will impact you. Both Microsoft and HP had more to say about that in their own presentations
BIM on a Blade with HP:
The HP presentation included their new “Blade Workstation Solution” (BWS). It’s enables workstation standard hardware to serve users powerful CAD/BIM applications with all the hardware, apart from monitor keyboard and mouse, located in the server room.
“Harness the power of your workstation environment and experience it anywhere”
The idea is BWS reduces operational overhead and allows more efficient use of the hardware. It’s an intriguing concept and worth investigating but I wonder how it handles with multiple profiles on a single box. We haven’t tried using roaming profiles for CAD users and I wonder if they are required in this model. The positive side is that all the grunt work, including graphics, is done on the BWS with only screen graphics and mouse/keyboard inputs being transferred. It looks to make high-end cad on a remote box much more viable.
HP also showed print isn’t dead and is getting easier with their “One Click” HP Instant Printing system. The idea is the user doesn’t need to manage print settings for various page sizes etc in a document set. Just click once to print the whole document set with the correct settings. You can try it with Autodesk Design Review 2008 today if you have compatible HP plotters (Tick “Use HP Instant Print” in the print dialog) but it may also turn up in other applications.
Microsoft’s Digital World – Life in the Cloud:
Microsoft had a very design oriented demo of how their technology, and services, can help with design collaboration. The scenario was of a company developing a new consumer product. Sharepoint was the main tool for storing, finding, monitoring and sharing info. Office live meeting was used with a cool new device for on-line meetings.
Microsoft Round Table looks a little like a table lamp without a shade but houses cameras and microphones. One camera shows a panoramic 360 degree view of the whole room so you can see everyone in the meeting. Another camera, rather eerily, follows the current speaker with automatic tracking and shows them in a bigger window. It looked like a slick simple answer for a small meeting compared to more conventional camera/mike meeting room setups.
A video showed Microsoft’s current concept of a digital lifestyle. Some used existing technology, others new, but it all depended on on-line storage and integrated networks to allow seamless transition across multiple devices. For example a call that started on a mobile phone at home transitioned to the car phone system, with integrated voice/location aware search/directions, then ended on the same persons tablet PC. Your data is not device specific and stored “in the cloud” being served to the device that best suits your current needs.
That’s not a new idea but the technology and networks are getting to the point its becoming viable. It’s also interesting to see how Microsoft, still considered “rulers of the desktop”, are responding to the mass of on-line competition. It’s a challenge facing all the “traditional” application companies, including Autodesk, as they struggle to work out the best “Software + Services” offer. While the data flowed seamlessly what I thought was missing from the “vision” was an integrated UI which works with keyboard, tablet, touch and voice on all types of devices; something like this!
I saw some of the location based search technology in action just before Autodesk University when I was in San Francisco. I met Michael Scherotter for coffee and he showed me voice driven, location aware search on his Windows Mobile phone. We were in San Rafael and asking for “Italian Restaurant” produced a list, and virtual earth map, of nearby Italian restaurants complete with reviews. Very cool!
If anything came out of AU, on the IT side, for me it’s a real need to learn more about server, machine and application virtualisation. I think these technologies along with dramatic improvements in, already impressive, hardware and graphics will radically change the way we all work in the near future. My works IT are currently "virtualisiing servers” so that part is done but there is real potential to simplify testing and deployment with virtualisation at the desktop level.
I only have one real reservation about life in the cloud. It requires reliable network connectivity and I wonder where you find that! What if “The Cloud” isn’t there?
* Most of this post was written somewhere over the Pacific on the plane heading home from AU but I’ve added relevant links from more recent times. The “pull lines” are not in “Quotes” as are from my notes/memory rather than a reference or recording.