Richard Lewis Takes On the Pipeline
RL: What percentage is Netflix of the internet [traffic]? The internet is an amazing thing, but it isn’t going to be the edge condition. Digital media rendering is an edge business case in the world of business. I use Google docs extensively and to me, that’s the cloud. I have no idea where that spreadsheet is. No clue. It’s in Google somewhere. But, it’s always there, every time I open it. But it's small data, very low security requirement. I have a password and it requires no specialized software.
There are three problems with the cloud for digital media content creation. Number one is licensing. Recently that has been addressed a little bit. I understand Pixar is allowing services tied to Weta [Digital] out of Australia to rent RenderMan licenses on demand, but they’re toeing the water with that. I know NVIDIA has a GPU thing going with Autodesk for still renders for 3ds Max but again, it’s kind of a specialized little thing. Licensing is number one. You cannot just on demand rent all the software you need to do a visual effects project, just for three days. It’s just not available. How do I get that, if no one is offering it? So until all that changes, and I don’t expect it ever to, licensing is number one.
Assuming you bought all of your own licenses that you need and you’re going to float them to the cloud, number two is bandwidth. And maybe you have unbelievable bandwidth to your cloud storage wherever that is, but I don’t know anyone that does. I know a lot of people that have very high speed bandwidth to private clouds, which is a whole different thing. That’s just on a network. It’s in a data center, it’s in another city, you own it, it’s yours. IBM has been running that on demand forever. [For years] Companies have been putting up remote data centers for disaster recovery and whatever over private high speed links. That’s not the Cloud. “Cloud” means I send it to the internet and I don’t know where it is, and I don’t know who has it.
And then the third part is security. In our business, stuff gets leaked all the time. “Where is our stuff? I don’t know.” So you have to convince them [the studios] that it [your cloud storage] is secure. You have to provide the kind of bandwidth you really do need. There are special things like Sohonet, and companies that are addressing that as a more private [solution]. But, again, it’s not [accessing] the cloud from my living room…
DS: It’s more like your own private network.
RL: Right. And after saying all that, we have a customer that uses Qube! in the cloud, and it's Xtranormal. Xtranormal does those funny little animations. Writers use it and write dialog, and little guys talk to each other and it’s free, it’s on the internet, you pay for extra characters and things. But you see, it is user generated content, no security. It is a free renderer and it is really small bandwidth. And they use a combination of servers in their office for all the heavy lifting and the Amazon Cloud for audio encoding and for preview renders.
But, what I learned in working with them is, and I have had studios tell me this, “Oh, we are just going to fire up 500 nodes in the Amazon cloud to do this render.” I say, “Oh really? They’ve got 500 nodes waiting for you whenever it is you decide to be ready?” They would have to have a million machines, so that 500 are always available for you. How could they? Then, in working with them I found out you are likely to get 25 machines. After you have used those 25 for a really long period of time and paid them a lot of money, maybe they will give you 50, maybe. And even then, the Amazon cloud nodes are not designed for digital media rendering. You can’t send a 50 GB Harry Potter scene to an Amazon cloud node, and you would never want to. We don’t want to think in visual media that we’re an edge case, but we are. We are a bunch of artists who like computers. And that’s not an average situation.
DS: So where do you think folks like Autodesk and NVIDIA are headed with this? What is their angle, their strategic vision?