A couple of months ago I was asked to take part in a user trial based on Citrix XenServer of CAD application delivery using shared GPU for apps to deliver applications including AutoDesk Inventor and Revit. I’ve been involved in a lot of GPU accelerated trials and benchmarks recently but this one was particularly alluring as it involved a large number of genuine users logging on at the same time, hundreds of miles from the data centre in remote locations on variable quality infrastructure. How could I resist the opportunity to play, plus I was curious as to how far as an ex-CAD engineer I could push it, the challenge was irresistible. In the end the experience was so good I admitted that the solution really was very good and invited the guys behind it to write a guest blog about how they managed it, bringing together a large part of the Citrix Ecosystem and technologies from NVIDIA, SuperMicro, Peer 1 and Cetus Solutions. It’s an interesting example of how if you bring together your networking, CAD licensing and GPU usage you can deliver a great solution even on a limited budget by sharing GPUs.

A Guest Blog from Ian Mulcaster and Graham Freakes from OpenBoundaries describing the results from their Proof of Concept beta program delivering CAD applications remotely using shared GPU for apps. OpenBoundaries delivered multiple applications for multiple users using RDS workloads using XenDesktop 7 and GPU Pass through, as described by my colleague Mayunk’s guide:

I had a multifunctional vision while I was a CAD contractor that one day I would be able to access any design software package over the wire, using any device and only pay for the time I used it. I had a vision that people would be able to learn to use different design software packages over the wire using any device. I had a vision that people could choose to work from anywhere and for any client. “I had a vision of Open Boundaries”

I wanted to change the status quo and liberate designers from the shackles of only one design software package, local clients and the same market sector jobs. No travelling to work at the client’s office, using the client’s machine and the clients’ licenses.

My name is Ian Mulcaster.

I am a freedom fighter, fighting to allow design managers to choose the best designers available in the country for the job in hand without providing a machine with a license, without paying overnight expenses and asking them to commute miles to my design office. Opening their Boundaries and not restricting the designer’s imagination.

My name is Graham Freakes

Our vision is Open Boundaries:

“Streaming design software from a central location out to users on a Wi-Fi connection, on any device anywhere in the UK and Europe”. 

Our message is “Design on Demand!”

Our challenges to bringing OpenBoundaries to life look monumental, so with very little cash, realising we needed a bit of magic to deliver the huge amounts of data over the string, that’s laughingly referred to as broadband .We decided to test the financial water and after a lot of ‘No’s found some VCs (Venture Capitalists) who might listen if we had a proof of concept under our belt. So much for risk taking!

To carry out a POC we needed an ISV with some software that was representative of reality and was legal. We spoke to all the major Design software ISVs and after taking some dead end turns partnered up with Autodesk, who have looked at the future and realised it is Cloud based. They generously provided us with NFR licenses (Citrix Ready) of AutoCAD LT, Revit Architecture and Inventor for the POC and have supported us in our efforts and continue to do so. This now is a two year partnership that is blossoming.

To carry out the OpenBoundaries POC we had to recruit some great partners with the technology and the back ground, capable of giving the users / beta testers a great user experience

In my research for the technology over the past four years the only companies I found which had the cutting edge tech to give the users what they wanted was Citrix & NVIDIA.

So with a lot of phone calls, emails and conference calls and speaking to the people in the know like “Thomas Poppelgaard” we found a Citrix partner in Cetus Solutions based in Manchester,(UK). Cetus Solutions took our vision on board and gave us lots of technical advice and their technical consultants time for Free. “Thank you Cetus Solutions” 

So Citrix Xendesktop HDX 3D Pro graphic‘s with the GPU pass-through was the answer, but there was a problem with the new (VDA) license model Microsoft had brought in. This did not work with our business model and made the end user costs to high. The only option left was XenApp, but yet again we run into problems, as it did not have the compression algorithm technology of HDX 3D Pro. We then decided to wait for Xendesktop 7 (New XenApp) with the same compression technology as XD HDX 3D pro. Fabulous..!  “Thank you Citrix”

The next task was to find a Hosting provider with the bandwidth powerful enough to stream the data and who was a partner with NVIDIA. This came in the form of Peer 1 Hosting, with data centres all over the world and 10,000Mbps of their own fibre bandwidth and four 10GB uplinks. At the time of contacting Peer 1 about our POC they had just received delivery of the brand New NVIDIA Grid K2 Cards. This was music to our ears.

Cetus Solutions sent a USB stick to Peer 1 with the Citrix tech and Win Server 2008 R2. We provided an external hard drive with the Autodesk licenses and drawing files.

Cetus’s technical consultants then got to work at their offices in Salford Quays, Manchester and remotely loaded / setup the Win Server 08 R2, Citrix XD 7, (New XenApp), along with Xenserver 6.2Netscaler VPX and the Autodesk licenses. The AD licenses where installed on one server as a network license, which distributed them to each Citrix server.

Peer 1 provided us with the IP addresses and two boxes, one for the Citrix technology with plenty of RAM and a second box for the NVIDIA GRID K2 cards, also with plenty of RAM. (64GB in each), this possibly may not of been enough, but we had a budget. The box for the GRID K2 cards was a SuperMicro box, (2027GR-TRF certified with Xenserver 6.2) which could hold up to four NVIDIA Grid K2 cards.

After a lot of work by Cetus Solutions we got our POC up and running, but not without problems. There was an issue with AutoCAD LT not seeing the Enable Hardware Accelerator of the NVIDIA Grid K2 GPU cards. We knew we had the correct Citrix ready Autodesk licenses, so again with lots of emails to partners, we asked Thomas Poppelgaard to take a look and within a matter of hours he had resolved the issue. We could now switch on the Enable Hardware Accelerator in AutoCAD LT. This is within the 3DConfig settings.

It was time to let the beta testers start test driving the POC. We split the testers up into groups of five over a period of 6 weeks. Each group of five beta testers had five days of testing. We then ask them to answer some marketing questions and produce a video of their experience.

The OpenBoundaries POC has been a great success, including the feedback from the beta testers and the partners; some of the feedback from the beta testers has been fantastic.

  • A quote from a beta tester who owns a I.T. business and is a big online gamer said; “The user experience was better than Onlive Gaming”

Other quotes were:

  • “It’s great to use a Windows app on my MacBook Air” 
  • “It felt like it was local”

Graham my business partner, tested the POC, on his ancient low spec. laptop, in the South of France, sat outside a McDonalds on a Wi-Fi connection, while munching a Big Mac..!! He couldn’t believe his eyes..!!

OpenBoundaries future is taking our vision to pilot and using the latest tech from Citrix and Nvidia and their Virtual GPU giving the user a greater experience.

Thank you to all involved, who have been a part of the OpenBoundaries Vision.

Some further information:

Ian and team have put some of the user trials out on YouTube.  This clip is on a 3.5mbps line, with a Ping speed of 55ms. A round trip of 600miles from the user to the data centre!! On a Wi-Fi connection. I suspect this user was a renderer as they seem to be very keen on ray-tracing. It was good to see the ray-tracing as on a physical server is the limiting factor.

As for my own efforts with the trial. I found AutoDesk Inventor as responsive as using a CAD program on a local workstation, I too had a go at turning all the fancy ray-tracing, reflection and texture mappings on (wanting to push things to the limit!) and it all worked fine, have a look here. After that I took a more sensible approach and actually tried to do some normal modelling from scratch, a sketch, extrude, a boolean, a draft, followed by a bit of blending/filleting etc. I tried to ensure I had reasonably complex some b-geometry on the part with some G2 blending continuity and then looked at how well I could work with the part, use analysis tools (curvature, zebra)  and the responsiveness of edge selection, picking and the menus in general. I warn you that not using Autodesk day-to-day user I spent a lot of time exploring menus, see here for my efforts! I too was about 600 miles away from the data and it was a better experience than I’ve had working locally on many CAD packages.

The OpenBoundaries trial demonstrated shared GPU for apps which is a complementary technology to the vGPU tech preview of hardware shared GPU for full Desktops, together with GPU-pass through for ultra-high end designers, together Citrix and NVIDIA have built up an unrivalled portfolio of GPU acceleration options for 3-D graphically rich application.

Learn more:

If reading about what some of our users are doing has interested you in the idea of virtualising and delivering 3-D rich application remotely then I’d highly recommend our webinar on the 11th December 2013, “XenDesktop Special Web Event! Virtualizing 3D Professional Graphics Apps”,  as a must see to find out where Citrix and our partners are taking similar technologies! Register here. The panel is great with experts from Cadalyst, PTC Creo, Citrix, NVIDIA and IMSCAD. Plus I’ll be answering some of the Q&A from the live chat, so you can ask any questions you have from my blog posts or the webinar material.