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Issue #712 | November 15, 2011
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In This Issue
1. Design1 Slashes Price of Solid Edge to $20 a Month
- Is This Market Real?
2. Maximus for MCAD
- How Maximus Works
- About Tesla
- Cloud Helper
3. No Out of the Inbox this week, because we have so many more letters on whether the CAD-on-the-cloud is viable.
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Design1 Slashes Price of Solid Edge to $20 a Month
It used to be impossible for tire kickers to get a trial version of Solid Edge, but suddently Siemens PLM Systems is now making a two-for-one offer, a 45-day eval version, and last week announced a $20/month edition.
Solid Edge Design1 is a reduced-function version of Solid Edge that will be licensed exclusively (at least for now) to the 13,000 members of LocalMotors, a crowd-sourced car manufacturer. Currently it is in free beta (again, to members only), but starting January 1, the price will be $20 a month, with no minimum number of months.
I asked Kris Kasprzak and John Fox, who do marketing for Solid Edge and Velocity Series, respectively, at Siemens PLM Systems, "You used to be quite schüchtern about free or cheap editions. What caused the change?" Mr Fox replied, "We're interested in shaking things up, and given our position in the market, we have to. This required a change in mind set."
I wondered about his statement, 'our position in the market?' He replied, "We're not #1, and we need to grow."
Why the Design1 name? "We thought it was a cool name, and it makes sense as a starter package. And that it focuses on empowering individuals."
LocalMotors had been using SolidWorks, but wanted less than a full-blown CAD system. According to what Evan Yares wrote on his blog, LocalMotors approached a number of CAD vendors, and all of them turned down the company's request. I asked Messrs Kasprzak and Fox if this was true? "Yes," they confirmed.
Members have been using Google SketchUp, but then find they reach its limits. Packages like PTC's Direct Elements Express and Autodesk's 123D are for enthusiasts, but not for the co-creation and crowd-sourcing market. All of these alternatives either lack precise modeling, or have no way to read and write other formats, or limit the size of models. "Users are sold short on the power needed by a site like LocalMotors that designs car parts," said Mr Kasprzak.
Because it is a direct modeler, Solid Edge Design 1 can read 3D models from other CAD systems. Using SynchTech (direct editing) is easier than parametric CAD. "And," he added, "Design1 shows that we are a flexible company that can face the challenge of new markets."
How did you decide which features to strip out? "LocalMotors staff knew which commands they needed." For instance, there is no need to print 2D drawings, and so there is 2D drawing environment, because members work with 3D models that get CAM'ed. He listed for me a number of Solid Edge features that are not needed for car part design.
Is this the only CAD software offered by LocalMotors? "Yes. They have other partnerships, such as with SnapOn, but this is the only CAD package."
Is its file format incompatible with SolidEdge? "Yes, it is specific to Design1, because it is meant only for members of LocalMotors." But I suppose the workaround is to use JT. On Twitter, bcourter (Blake Courter) wrote, 'So the Design1 JT is going to be incompatible with other JT? Why ever bother writing native files?' Is his claim correct? "No, the JT format is the same."
Is there a limit to the number of parts, as in other low-cost MCAD systems? "There is no limit to the number of parts in an assembly, no limit to the number of faces a part can have."
Who handles support? "As the reseller, LocalMotors is the first line of support. We provide their staff with training."
Is your agreement exclusive to LocalMotors? "No." I could see Siemens PLM offering similar versions of this software to other low-end markets, such as schools and, well, just about anyone else.
Siemems PLM also announced their first browser-based JT viewer. When LocalMotors members upload 3D CAD models in future design projects, they will be converted on-the-fly to JT format, which can be viewed and marked up in "any" browser. When downloaded, the model files are converted to IGES and Solid Edge.
Is This Market Real?
It is fascinating to watch CAD vendors search for new markets, and one of them is the down market of the makers and hobbyists. I say "down market," because the CAD software has to be sold for free or very cheap, a price point most of the really big CAD vendors are not used to doing.
This is a brand-new market, and so it be interesting to see a year from now whether these stripped-down CAD packages have been taken up by the tinkerers in numbers significant enough for the big CAD vendors to keep offering them.
Maximus for MCAD
If you do 3D CAD and simulation and/or renderings on a single computer, then this will be of interest to you. David Watters is the senior director of manufacturing and design industry at nVidia, and he feels that a tremendous amount of computing capacity can be put on desktop computers. He calls it "reality-based design," where designers can develop parts with complete realism turned on -- visual and simulation.
In the case of rendering, he feels that complete photorealism is now possible. "See all components and assemblies with real world materials, photorealistic rendering, and global illumination, where objects reflect light on each other," said Mr Watters. Off-line rendering that takes a long time is no longer needed; it's now done instantly and interactively on the workstation with software like Catia V6 with LiveRendering and 3DS Max with ActiveShade. "Engineering should be part of the styling effort," he enthused.
The same is true for structural and fluid dynamics: there are now enough flops [floating point operations per second] in workstations for realtime visual cues and feedback as the component is being designed.
This is possible, but not probable. It's possible when your computer meets the following conditions:
When your computer has all this, then it can run Maximus.
How Maximus Works
Workstations have a multi-core CPU for computations typically made by Intel or AMD, and a GPU for handling graphics, by AMD/ATi or nVidia. Some engineers run not just the MCAD program but also run simulations and renderings on the same computer. These last two tasks tend to take over the CPU, slowing down even multi-core CPUs.
And so nVidia figured out how to split tasks, so that CAD design takes place only on the CPU and displayed by the primary GPU (graphics board), while the simulation or rendering calculations operate on the second GPU, specifically nVidida's Tesla board.
Maximus is a new driver for Quadro graphics and Tesla GPU boards that transparently assigns tasks: those that run on OpenGL (or Direct3D) are locked to the Quadro graphics board; those that work with CUDA (or OpenCL) are locked to the Tesla board.
The CPU is not ignored: half of its cores feed design work to the Quadro GPU, while the other half feed the simulation/rendering tasks to the Tesla GPU.
Tesla GPU boards do just one thing, massive parallel computing processing; they have nothing to do with graphics, and don't even sport a display connector. nVidia has found that GPUs are developing far faster than CPUs, which seem to have stalled in speed advances. A Tesla has 192 cores, all of which are used simultaneously. Compare this with a typical CPU from Intel that has just four cores, and ends up running software that isn't optimized for more than two cores, usually.
But Teslas are pretty specific. They speed up software written with CUDA APIs and OpenCL libraries. Programs like Ansys Mechanical, Vray, iRay, and so on, are written on Cuda or OpenCL, and are accelerated by Tesla GPU.
Tesla C-series are boards that go inside workstations; M-series are modules that go into GPU-enabled servers.
In the automotive industry, Mr Watters told me, it would take overnight to generate turntable renderings of proposed automobile designs. Now, with Tesla, it is nearly interactive.
He showed me a movie in which four Tesla GPUs are 25x faster than two 6-core CPUs in running Delta-Gen for rendering cars in realtime (with ray tracing for head and tail lights, reflections in wheels, clearcoat paint reflections, interior through the glass), as well as FluidDyna to see the fluid dynamics around the vehicle doing a mathematically correct simulation -- all using GPU acceleration.
Using Maximus, Ansys CAE is 2x faster on a GPU+6-core CPU than a 12-core CPU, due the faster memory bus and faster computing that GPUs have. Running Ansys analyses at the same time as SolidWorks on a 12-core CPU results in SolidWorks slowing its interactive performance by half and Ansys slowing by a quarter. In contrast, using Maximus with a Tesla GPU+6-core CPU meant that SolidWorks did not slow down, while Ansys ran 1.5x faster.
The Tesla C2075 add-in board has a list price of $2,499 list, with a street price that's a couple hundred dollars lower. Against that cost, consider that it is cheaper to license Ansys for a 6-core+GPU system than a 12-core CPU, because Ansys is licensed on a per-core basis. All 192 cores on the GPU are considered a single core, from a licensing position.
HP, Dell, Lenovo, and Fujtsu are releasing official Maximus-certified workstations. Certification ensures the computer and graphics board work together with software from Adobe, Ansys, Autodesk, DS, Matlib, and PTC -- and large firms generally purchase only certified systems. But you can build your own just by adding the Tesla C2075 board and then downloading the Maximus driver appropriate to the Quadro 2000, 4000, or 6000 graphics board. Oh, and it helps to have 32GB RAM on your computer, too.
Maximus is not possible on Macs, because Apple does not allow any one else to write display drivers, and so Quadro and Telsa cannot co-exist.
When David Watters described how nVidia's new Maximus driver gets its power by separating computing tasks transparently, I got a feeling that this was an attempt to move the computing power of the cloud down to the desktop.
"I recall nVidia had been promoting the use of Tesla GPUs on Amazon EC2, " I asked. "Does Maximus replace cloud-based services?" Demand for cluster and cloud computing is exploding so fast, he told me, that they are getting clogged up at large manufacturing firms, and so firms want designers to run more simulations locally -- sending only final designs to the cloud. A delay has been introduced in submitting all analyses to the cloud, and then waiting on the results. [Those of us who experienced mainframe-terminal computing in the 1970s and 80s know about the waiting.] Maximus could not happen in the past, because of insufficient local performance.
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Letters to the Editor
"I am guessing you have received more than one email with a link to the 123D Catch download page, but just in case, it's http://www.123dapp.com/catch."
- Glenn Kennedy
The editor replies: "You're the first! When I tested the Web pages, I was too early. Autodesk hadn't made them live, even though articles about the new software were all over the generic media last week. Later on Monday afternoon, the press release went out, and the pages finally went live."
Re: The Cloud is Dead?
"It is interesting that this discussion of whether the cloud is dead or alive is taking place (drum roll please) on and within the cloud! By the way, my data is shared via the Internet (cloud), but stored in-house where we can ensure tertiary backup and no disputes regarding access."
- Randy Thompson, president
AgeWave Solutions, Inc
"I am amazed at the many negative comments regarding the cloud. I will be turning 65 this month and have experienced firsthand through my 46 years of drafting and design work the migration from board drafting to mainframe storage and terminal CAD drafting to PC CAD. I can proudly say I never looked back and questioned why we perused this path. On the contrary, I lead the pack in training and embracing the move towards PC CAD.
"Aren't we all dreamers with the expectation of advancing our careers by being the best at what we do? That means embracing technology and looking for ways to use it to improve upon that which we do. The ways we act towards it will dictate how fast and in what direction it will go. If Steve Jobs or Bill Gates and many others entrepreneurs reacted the way some of my colleagues do, where would we all be today.
"As [Jim Quanci's] chart illustrated, it took 15 painful years to advance PC CADD to the point where it basically did away with board drafting. Yes, our firm is one that will not too eagerly embrace the cloud at this point for numerous reasons, but I am enthused by its existence and look forward to figuring out its usefulness and how to employ it in a way that further improves the way we communicate and work. Maybe I won't be around in 15 more years if that's how long it takes, but I for one don't have time to sooth the thoughts of the nay-sayers. Let them eat cake!"
- Robert J. Melusky, senior technical specialist
Alfred Benesch & Company
"With the cloud concept (really just re-fried mainframe / terminal model), Autodesk is simply making an effort to stop piracy. Period, end of story. The side effect is that users are yoked more closely to the vendor, who can now connect more directly to the funds: If the funds are not available from your account at 12:01 am on June 1st, we shut you down cold.
"And does Autodesk care at all about any user's local uptime reliability? How can they guarantee that? Of course, their claim will be that it's not their responsibility. If they choose to lock us into using that infrastructure, they need to provide some sort of back-up as well."
- Peter Lawton
"I love that 2030 prediction. Never mind that no human can predict the next week, yet we're so quick to forecast decades ahead. Stock market crashes, disease outbreaks, earthquakes, unemployment, wars, politics, etc. Even asteroids and solar flares. Who knows. Good article, though!"
- David Stein
"Blah blah yack yack. Cloud is wonderful. Tech-neanderthals don't get it, but kids -- 50% of whom purportedly refuse to to work for companies that will not allow their time-wasting social media devices at work -- do, and will get it. They are certainly the ones I would plan my life around! In 20 years, it may be wonderful, but strangely enough that does not count for now. So I am supposed to gamble my business on unproven technology? It is, after all, just this, and there has been no major CAD real world success anyone can point to.
"When you dig into who loves this stuff, you find the vast majority are software companies, VARs, software creators, kids on payroll (not writing checks or worried about profits), or IT types salivating at future income from a whole new wave of additional problems to fix. Sounds like a vote of confidence to me. Beyond that for minor niche cloud products there appears to be greater approval or at least a desire to see and try new stuff.
"The proof is in the pudding: not one of the CAD-on-the-cloud proponents is confident in what they offer to the point where they will make promises to me, like I have to make to my customers. You know, those pesky little security and functions as promised things. How am I supposed to trust these cloud products when every company who pushes this stuff refuses to stand behind it -- in writing, with ironclad guarantees?
"The only ironclad guarantees I see here are the bills will be due for this stuff, and all liabilities in every area fall on the customer like a ton of bricks. Please any of you 'clouwnds' show me where this is not true. Put up or shut up, and quit wasting our time with pre-beta buggy and impossible-to-deliver-as-promised over infrastructure you do not own or control.
"CAD on the cloud is indeed dying right before us, with none yet to deliver. Twenty years from now workstations will be so powerful that very few will need the power of a server farm, so it will be a moot point."
- Dave Ault
"Given the hornet's nest you stirred up recently re The Cloud, I think that in future you should stick to relatively non-controversial topics, such as religion and politics."
- Bill Fane
"Thanks for the years of intriguing content."
- Steven Papke
"Shove your fondleslab [tablet], we want a keyboard."
- Liam Proven, The Register
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