t h e   b u s i n e s s   o f  c a d


Issue #740 |  June 19, 2012
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In This Issue


1. Benchmarking Rendering: Desktop vs Cloud

- Desktop Rendering Speed
- First Cloud Rendering Attempt
- Second Cloud Rendering Attempt

2. How Much is a Cloud Unit Worth?


3. Out of the Inbox, and the other regular columns.


From the editor: There will be no upFront.eZine newsletter next week, because I will be away on a brief vacation driving up to my dad's farm in northern Canada one last time, as he has now sold the property. See you again on July 2!


This issue sponsored by:

Revit Technology Conference, North America 2012

June 28-30, 2012


Benchmarking Rendering: Desktop vs Cloud

One of the claims of cloud-based processing is that it is like harnessing the equivalent of dozens, hundreds of computers to carry out compute-intensive tasks, such as finite element analysis or even rendering.


I had read of beta testers impressed with the speed at which their complex models were rendered by Autodesk's cloud-based renderer, and so I tried it myself. I was intrigued when I saw Autodesk reporting on the rendering speeds of three systems: single-core desktop, a few cloud processing units, and many-core cloud processing. Naturally, the online processing was really quick. I could not find the comparison today, but went ahead with my own benchmarking, pitting my desktop computer against the might of Autodesk 360.

Desktop Rendering Speed

To set the benchmark, I ran the Render command inside of AutoCAD 2013. My desktop computer is a 3.1GHz 4-core computer with 8GB RAM, 8GB ReadyBoost, and nVidia Quadro 2000 discrete graphics (with 1GB dedicated RAM).


I choose the Oil Module.dwg file, a 2.3MB sample file provided with AutoCAD 2005 and the most complex one I have availabe -- i.e., the slowest-rendering 3D model I have laying around.

1. Enter Render.

2. Done! Elapsed time: 4 seconds, as reported by AutoCAD. (I ran the Render command twice, since the first time there is a 1-second delay in loading the rendering module.) See figure 1.

Figure 1: The Oil Module.dwg file rendered in AutoCAD Render window


While four seconds is fast for a static renderer, it is nothing compared to AutoCAD's Realistic visual style, in which the model is rendered in real time (i.e. no delay) as I rotate it in 3D space.

First Cloud Rendering Attempt

I now switched to cloud-based rendering from inside AutoCAD, as follows:

1. In AutoCAD, I entered the RenderOnline command.

2. I clicked OK to the "AutoCAD: You must save as a DWG file before continuing with Render Online" dialog box. See figure 2.

Figure 2: Save before cloud rendering

3. I entered Save.

4. Silently, AutoCAD runs the -eTransmit command to bundle the DWG file together all the support files needed online, such as fonts, materials, and xrefs.

5. Oops, a connection error. See figure 3.

Figure 3: Oops: AutoCAD can't get online.


The error probably had something to do with an earlier error message when I started AutoCAD 2013: "AcCloudManager.exe - The application was unable to start correctly." See figure 4.

Figure 4: The reason AutoCAD cannot get online.


Not being able to access Autodesk's cloud is a problem that has plagued my desktop computer ever since I accidentally installed the 32-bit version of offline help file during beta testing (instead of the 64-bit version). When I tried to run AcCloudManager.exe manually, I got the same error message. Searching Autodesk online support, I found that a solution is to update (or repair) .net framework 4.0; unhappily, this did not solve the problem on my desktop computer.


Second Cloud Rendering Attempt

The solution for me was to switch to my 2.1GHz 4-core notebook computer with 8GB RAM , 4GB ReadyBoost, and nVidia GeForce GT540M discrete graphics. On this system, AutoCAD reported a rendering time of 6 seconds, 50% slower than on the desktop computer.


I successfully rendered the drawing on the cloud, as follows:

1. I opened the oil module.dwg file, and then re-entered the RenderOnline command.


2. Several dialog boxes appeared. Most of them show up only the first time I access the cloud from a new installation of AutoCAD.

Figure 5: Initial rendering options

3. I clicked Start Rendering, and a new dialog box explained that the file was being rendered, as did the InfoCenter in AutoCAD, and an icon on the Taskbar. See figure 6.

Figure 6: Status report

4. After a short while, the status report disappeared. No email alert. No rendering waiting at rendering.360.autodesk.com; instead, the Web site showed me a wait icon that circled endlessly. See figure 7. I had experienced this problem once before in which no result was ever returned. One solution is to wait; another is to run the RenderOnline command again.

Figure 7: Some renderings are never completed

5. In my case, I waited, and the rendering was completed in 9:12, just over nine minutes.

6. When the email arrived, it was only an alert; I was disappointed that the rendered image was not attached, even though it was a mere 78KB in size. Instead, Autodesk required me return to rendering.360.autodesk.com and then download it from there. See figure 8. The downloaded file name was "-Active_2012-Jun-18-092750.jpg"; the source name ("oil module") was, unfortunately, stripped away.

Figure 8: The rendering, as accomplished by the cloud.

7. So far, the process had taken me, oh, about a half hour. The right thing for me to do would be to redo the online rendering, to get a more realistic timing -- without all the introductory dialog boxes. I started the stopwatch at the same time I clicked Start Rendering, and then stopped it when the email notification arrived in GMail. This time the waiting time for me was 15:40; Autodesk reported the actual render time as 11:11 (just over eleven minutes).

Here I stopped my benchmarking, because I had a newsletter to get out!


By the way, this cloud rendering is not limited to AutoCAD users. Anyone can sign up for an Autodesk 360 account, and then upload drawings through their Web browser at http://rendering.360.autodesk.com/step1.aspx. Choose the New Rendering tab, and then click Select File to choose a 3D model converted to DWG format.

How Much is a Cloud Unit Worth?

The ceo of Vectorworks told me that cloud storage is cheap, but that cloud processing is expensive. He plans to charge users for cloud processing, but because his service is just a month old, he does not know yet how much yet. I suspect one factor might be the amount other CAD vendors charge.


Someone who is further along is Autodesk, having announced their "360" cloud service last December. Every AutoCAD 2013 user now gets 75 "cloud units" free, up from the earlier limit of 50. Subscription customers get 100 - 500, depending on the software suite purchased. After this, people pay.


While benchmarking cloud rendering (see article above), I was curious to know what the rendering cost would be after the initial 75 units were used up. Also, I wanted to know what a "cloud unit" represented.


It took me quite a while to find the answer, because the information is not readily available at Autodesk's 360 site; indeed, the Learn More link provides only a list of benefits, not the costs. Eventually, I found the two answers:

So, CAD vendors don't know how much to charge us for cloud processing.




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Out of the Inbox

For those who remember Jake Richter, I learned recently that he passed away 1 June.


Back in the 1980s, he wrote custom display-list device drivers for graphics boards, and was outspoken on CAD issues. After he sold his business (roughly mid-1990s), he moved to Bonaire in the Dutch Caribbean, from where he worked as a patent attorney and travelled extensively. Even then, he helped me with my CAD++ newsletter. Last year, he was diagnosed late year with Stage IIIB melanoma cancer, and then moved to Boston for treatment. His wife Linda posted the details of his final months at http://www.jakestake.tv/

On our blogs
These were some of the news items that were posted during the last week at our WorldCAD Access blog <worldcadaccess.typepad.com>:

...and on Gizmos Grabowski blog <http://worldcadaccess.typepad.com/gizmos/>

Letters to the Editor
"If you know someone who wants an AutoCAD 3D designer, maybe you can give them a link to my website: http://www.3ddesignservices.com . Take care, and thanks a bunch."
      - Jack Foster



"Just started to glance through your newsletter when I caught the conference date mishap, so I stopped reading to let you know. How do you handle these things? Just let it ride, or email a correction?"
      - Herbert Grabowski


The editor replies: "You are the first to notice that the dates for Revit Technology Conference, North America 2012 are shown as June 30-28, 2012! I've corrected them in this issue."


Re: browserCAD

"What are your thoughts on the Autodesk offering in this arena? I spent a good amount of time with the AutoCAD LT 2013 minimal-install trial version and I have to say I was very impressed with the LT experience in a Web browser on a lightweight laptop for 30 days."
      - Dean


The editor replies: "LT in the browser requires huge compute resources at the server end, which is why Autodesk makes it available only as a trial version, and not for production use. The company has a number of made-for-Web products, such as AutoCAD WS and others, which I have written about in the past. The drawback to AutoCAD WS on the desktop is that it uses Flash, which is a problem going forward -- and which is why it does not support 3D on the desktop."



"That 'only 2/3 of today's browsers can handle browserCAD' may be true, but nowhere near 2/3 of today's browsers -- on the computers people are using in the enterprise -- can handle webGL. In our study, the reality is more like 25%. See http://blog.kaon.com/2012/05/11/webgl-in-the-enterprise/. To be fair, these are not CAD users, but rather field sales forces, so perhaps the situation for CAD users isn't quite so bad."
      - Joshua Smith


The editor replies: "It's true that different brands of browsers are used in greater concentrations in different areas. I read recently that IE is used the most for printing (corporate usage?), and that Chrome is used more at home."

Spin Doctor of the Moment

"A 3D-rendering drafting app."
      - Joel Mathis of MacWorld describes AutoCAD.

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Entire contents copyright 2012 by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved worldwide. Letters sent to the editor are subject to publication. Article reprint fee: $250 and up. All trademarks belong to their respective holders. "upFront.eZine," "The Business of CAD," and "WorldCAD Access" are trademarks of upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. Letters to the editor may be edited for clarity and brevity. Translations and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd.


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