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Posted on September 13th, 2012
Windows XP

Virtualization technology is fast on the move. Many enterprises now offer their productivity suites (such as Microsoft Office) through a cloud-computing interface such as a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (vdi). However, there has traditionally always been one class of applications that has been excluded from the virtualization community: GPU-intensive software. A good example is Adobe’s Creative Suite. Since CS5 Photoshop has supported GPU-acceleration, which allows for faster layer manipulation and effect generation. This move has seen it struck from the list of many business virtualization ecosystems. But no more.

The issue at its core is that GPUs are designed to be single-user devices. They’ve only recently begun experimenting with multiple thread computation. In a virtualized setup, multiple users need to access hardware resources simultaneously, and ‘lining up’ requests to access a single-thread piece of kit (like a GPU) causes intolerable latency in operation.

Recently, however, OpenStack have introduced - with the help of NVidia - a GPU hypervisor. This is an IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) layer that enables multiple users to access a single GPU. Along with this, NVidia have developed support for Xen and KVM drivers, as well as improving their GPU handling of parallelism (which allows for multiple computation instances simultaneously). On the hardware side, there’s the new NVidia VGX card, with 4 GPUs and 192 cores to a GPU. As well as affording parallel access to virtualized GPUs, the card can be managed by administrators so as to divvy up the graphics processing power among multiple virtualization instances That is, users can receive a proportional portion of the GPU’s computational ability.

What does this all mean for Photoshop in the Cloud? Well, quite simply, it means that it’s now feasible. Along with a host of 3D modeling apps, such as Autodesk, GPU-intensive creative applications can now be virtualized. This means that all the benefits of virtualization - easy scalability, little ‘hands-on’ hardware management, always-on access, thin client agnosticism - are now available to larger creative communities, such as design agencies, as well.

Of course, if you’re thinking about moving to virtualized instances of design suites in this way, check with your provider that the VGX - or similar soon-to-be cards from other graphics manufacturers such as ATI - is installed in their servers. Your OpenStack provider could be any one of numerous companies, but it’s a safe bet to say that only the larger, more established brands - such as IBM and Dell - will be including these cards from the off. Other, smaller operators may well follow suit - but check before you sign.

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