Streaming Design Context

CloudsAs the utility of cloud technology accelerates, new avenues of possibility are starting to emerge for concepts that seemed rather absurd even just a few years back.   One such avenue is the use of streaming to bring graphically rich remote environments to local desktops in a seamless fashion.  And that technology has new and interesting consequences for CAD environments.

Streaming technology is exploding in the gaming industry, with technologies such as cloud-based gaming service Gaikai, which actually began by streaming top-tier graphically intensive PC games directly through Facebook.  They are now part of Sony’s streaming strategy for the PS4.  NVIDIA’s new SHIELD portable game console will have the capability to stream an environment rendered on a local Geforce GTX-equipped PC and beam it over a home network.  While these technologies promise low latency experiences, the lag is noticeable on all but the fattest and most reliable of internet pipes.

Lag is such a bummer.

Broadband infrastructure just hasn’t reached that level of reliability for most of us, especially not at affordable levels.  That stands to change over time.  But there are also, as Mr. Spock likes to say, other possibilities.  One such possibility is technology similar to what Microsoft has revealed for the Xbox One.  Despite the abuse they have received lately over the XBONE DRM, the new console can augment and enhance local game content with rendering provided in the cloud by Microsoft’s server farm.  So the local console can prioritize the immediate gameplay elements relevant to the player at low latency cost, while the cloud service can work on enhancing lighting or creating an impossibly rich depth of field.  It’s an intriguing concept.

So what does this have to do with engineering and the enterprise?  I enjoy a good round of Team Fortress 2 as much as the next person, but there’s work to be done here.

Technologies such as Citrix Xen Desktop, have made great strides in remote desktop environments specifically aimed at CAD environments; recently it was announced that PTC Creo would be available in a completely virtualized environment.  In a move mirroring the gaming industry, this is legitimate cloud based CAD with the entire application served from the cloud.  The drawbacks, however, are familiar.  While serving the app from the cloud removes the extreme demands of opening a large assembly in session and provides and incidentally adds an extra layer of security, you still pay in interface latency.  The latency is somewhat mitigated with some rather complicated server architecture – but of course that increases cost.

UI latency is everything.  It’s a key element in whether a system is a joy to use – and  I believe it to be key to an engineer designing in CAD.  So that’s where the idea from Microsoft’s new console has a suddenly new and interesting context.

Imagine individual CAD parts, edited and manipulated on the local desktop with the grander design context (i.e. the rest of the assembly) provided by the cloud.  The immediate user experience can remain unaffected, yet all the heavy lifting is handled by remote infrastructure.  Such a concept would allow engineers to design their parts in highly interactive and visual low latency interfaces with the entire context of the product visible at all times.

Now wouldn’t that be cool?