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Lincoln Wallen on Cloud Computing and Parallelism

Posted: Nov.30.2012
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We were thrilled to be joined today by Lincoln Wallen, the Chief Technology Officer of Dreamworks, for today's lecture in the Inventing the Future of Games series.

Dreamworks is a huge animation studio. They release 3 movies a year, with 8-10 in production at any given time. These films are released in over 100 markets worldwide. Each film contains roughly 120,000 individual frames, each frame including thousands of assets. All in all, this adds up to a massive amount of computing. Terabytes are created daily, with over 17,000 processing cores working hard to manage all of it.

As CTO, this information has presented a constant challenge as the demand for more efficient and dynamic computing power increases within Dreamworks. The solution, Wallen has found, is to move away from sequential computing and move towards paralellism; having many systems running alongside each other.

Classically, most networks use Network Filing Systems(NFS) to manage data transfers within the company. For Dreamworks, however, this model had to be set aside. Simply too much data is being transferred around for it to be efficient. Dreamworks uses a sophistocated cloud computing system that allows any individual computer to utilize as much processing power as it needs to bake simulations, fast. This solves another major problem that his company has faced in recent years; as you increase the processing power of each individual core, you often have to change your software. This is undesirable for a huge company that uses a lot of software, because it creates more labor. When you simply increase the number of cores used rather than improving the individual cores, you circumvent this problem.

Video game designers have always been limited to developing games that fit the game platform, be it a console or a handheld device or a PC. Cloud computing, however, offers incredible possibilities for games to extend beyond the means of an individual user's computer. Synced to a game company's cloud, the games of the future could be run using extremely powerful computing hardware owned by the developers themselves.

This new mode of computing by threading nodes together running simultaneous tasks is the future of computer technology. Dreamworks is an excellent example of the potency of utilizing cloud systems, and the limitations of past systems can no longer be ignored-not by companies like Dreamworks, not by game developers, and especially not by students looking to innovate.