A virtual GPU renderfarm?

I have this stack of GPU cards sitting here, and I really wish I could put them to good use. What I really need is a driver or something that automagically doles out frames to each of them in turn. It’d be nice to load up my Titan, two GTX 670s, and a bunch of older NVIDIA cards, and turn them loose on a render. Ideally it’d be a rack of the things – anything I could lay my hands on.

Seems like I could do it, although not with my current motherboard. I’ve been looking at these multi-slot backplanes – like 12 or more slots – with a decent CPU out front to act as the host. Or maybe a PCI extender, so the cards are effectively local to my current system. It seems like the base system could be built for under $1K, not including GPU cards and hard drives.

I keep googling around, looking for a recipe. Somebody who’s done it, and I can copy their design. I’ve just about given up hope, however. I might have to do it myself.

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Living with TITAN (and dreaming of more)

Living with TITAN (and dreaming of more)

Writing your own software, like I have, means that you’re responsible for everything. It also means that you don’t have a team of geniuses in the back room making things go ultra-fast. I just have me (arguably somewhat genius-like) and whatever GPU card I can afford. For now that’s an NVIDIA GTX TITAN.

I’ve had the TITAN card for about six months now. It’s no longer the fastest card from NVIDIA – I gather that the GTX 780i and GTX TITAN Black are faster – but it’s pretty darn fast. Fast, quiet, and BIG, as advertised. 6GB of VRAM gives me plenty of room for 3D rendering, various shaders and image processing, and it doesn’t force me to spend a lot of my precious spare time on silly things like memory optimization and algorithm fine-tuning. My time is too valuable, so I have to trust my tools. I want to toss my code at the hardware and… …ZOOM.

TITAN does that. Previously I had a GTX 670 FTW, which was nice, but when I installed the TITAN I noticed the difference instantly. The benchmarks said it would be about 2X. For my code it was about 4X. Also, I was immediately able to bump up my quality: more polygons! Like most quality-focused artists, I have to balance my patience (waiting for renders to finish) with the demands I place on the system. Higher quality means slower renders, and that ultimately means slower production cycles. I don’t like slow… …anything. I don’t like waiting.

My wife asked me once (a long time ago) how much my “ideal computer” would cost. I quizzed her about why she was asking, and she warmed my heart by telling me that she wanted to give it to me for Christmas. The problem is, my “ideal computer” has to satisfy Ken’s Supercomputer Test, which means we certainly can’t afford it.

My Test? Simple: any computer that can do what I want it to do, faster than I can think of something else for it to do. That’s pretty fast, since I can think of some pretty insane things. Like 16K x 16K dome videos running at 60fps, modeling dynamic scenes based on physical simulations at a quality level that will make the images indistinguishable from reality. Like that. Yes, it might be a while before NVIDIA builds that. Even the TITAN Supercomputer at Oak Ridge isn’t that fast. Maybe it can compute things that fast, but it can’t pump the data into, through, and out of the system fast enough. (People forget about that part.)

So I satisfy myself with wicked-fast computers that I can afford, while I wait for the Next Fast Thing. I have to trust the tools.


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Last month I attended the 2014 IMERSA Summit in Denver, hosted by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS). IMERSA (http://www.imersa.org) is a group of crazy people who like to create deeply immersive videos for fulldome, where “fulldome” is generally understood to mean “planetariums and similar dome theaters with digital projection systems”. “Deeply immersive” means that, because the imagery is all around you, your brain thinks that you’re really there, flying around. If you’ve ever seen a fulldome show, or maybe you’ve seen an IMAX Dome film, which is similar, then you know what I mean.

I was there because I believe that the best medium for my art is as immersive entertainment, presented in fulldome and/or IMAX dome.

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