Social Networks and Cloud Computing are probably the two hottest trends in IT today. And while we like to think that HPC is all about the leading edge, it seems to me that the High Performance Computing is missing out on the party. That may have changed today with the launch of Marechi.com, the first social network for 3D Scientific Visualization.
I caught up with Prasad Mandava, CEO of VCollab, to talk about Marechi and how the company’s 3D collaboration software enables global teams to work together on complex CAE models and virtual prototypes.
insideHPC: What is Marechi.com all about?
Prasad Mandava: Today’s Social Networks are about sharing two-dimensional media. So, if you think about how sites like Flickr let you share photographs or YouTube allows you to share videos, Marechi lets you share your 3D models/simulations and socially network with like-minded engineers. This should be of particular interest to the HPC Community because now they can easily reduce, publish and share not only the static 3D data but also the interactive simulations from their scientific computations/discoveries. Marechi uses the state-of-the-art VCollab solution as the foundation for publishing 3D content and also to visualize the physics/simulations thru the free interactive VCollab 3D Viewer.
insideHPC: Wasn’t this kind of sharing always possible by just posting links to the simulation data on a web site?
Prasad Mandava: Certainly, but the problem with shared visualization in the CAD/CAM/CAE arena is two-fold. First, the file sizes can be very large, even up to multiple Terabytes in some cases. So often it isn’t practical to just “download the file” and view it like you would a PDF, an image, or a WORD document. That’s where Vcollab software comes in with it’s ability to shrink these models/simulations down by as much as 99 percent. So suddenly these files can be made small enough to share in an email, Powerpoint presentation, or a web site like Marechi.
Now, the second problem with shared visualization has to do with the onerous requirement to have the right equipment and software license in order to view the data. Large product development companies use hundreds of different engineering software packages to solve the physics, so that is no small task, especially in cross-discipline collaboration. Plus, some of these software packages are extremely specialized and are very difficult to use, so an exec or a downstream user like a designer or test or service engineer would have no idea how to view or manipulate the model/simulation.
VCollab solves these problems with a batch converter program that runs on remote HPC servers/clouds and turns the complex 3D models/simulations into a lightweight CAX format that users can then look at through 3D VCollab Viewers. This way, all one needs is a lightweight VCollab viewer application on the other end. This is similar to the need of having Flash plug-in to view Flash files. VCollab also enables the MS Office and WEB integration of the Simulation data using these viewers. By publishing CAX files into Marechi, one can easily achieve the WEB integration. Marechi provides engineers with codes to embed the published 3D simulations from Marechi into their blogs. One can easily embed the CAX files with simulations into MS PowerPoint slides or WORD documents for 3D presentations or create 3D reports.
insideHPC: So how was this accomplished before the development of VCollab technology?
Prasad Mandava: Well, consider a case where a CAE manager has to conduct a design/analysis review of a car model. After the slow, painful process of transferring the large files electronically from HPC to local systems, the CAE manager asks an analyst to capture some jpeg images and .avi videos that represent the simulation. Then the manager puts them in a PowerPoint presentation and takes it in for an analysis review. But what if somebody at the design/analysis review asked about an aspect of the model that wasn’t depicted in the images/videos? The whole communications process gets very cumbersome. That’s a big drag on the productivity of the engineers.
insideHPC: So moving forward to today, how does a typical customer use a product like VCollab for their workflow?
Prasad Mandava: Our customers use VCollab to reduce, visualize, publish, share and communicate 3D product simulation data with their global teams and to improve 3D collaboration with down stream users as well as suppliers. For example, designers can now receive 3D simulations as portable CAX files and they can study the simulations and provide feedback to the analysts. Suppliers / CAE service providers can share their simulation work with their customers as 3D CAX files and get the customers feedback easily.
HPC Cloud service providers and IT departments can use VCollab solutions to reduce the large simulation results files on the HPC/Cloud servers before sharing them for visualization, reducing the large file movements, saving bandwidth costs and most importantly improving the productivity of engineers. Engineers no longer need to wait for long hours to receive the data and visualize the data from the HPC/Cloud. They might also use VCollab to combine results from aerodynamics simulations and structural dynamics of an aircraft into one CAX file on HPC server before sharing. We’ve also seen customers using the software to visualize large engine simulation results, archive automobile crash simulations, and integrate all modeling and simulation data into a 3D virtual prototype for product demonstrations and for design/analysis reviews, resulting in measurable cost savings and productivity gains.
As for analysts, they can improve their productivity and can do more work in less time with smaller files. Analysts can embed 3D simulations into PowerPoint slides and explain their work more easily to others during analysis reviews – leading to more productive design/analysis reviews and effective decision making. In a similar way, teachers can embed the 3D simulations into Powerpoint and demonstrate interactive physics to students, in the class rooms. Marechi also empowers Universities, teachers, students or even the skilled individuals to publish interactive physics / 3D simulations into Marechi and share this knowledge across the globe. This could immensely help students to understand physics/simulations and to improve the quality of science and engineering instruction. There are many such possibilities.
insideHPC: So how did the idea of 3D collaboration come together with Social Networking?
Prasad Mandava: Our company works a lot with universities and research institutions. We already have partnerships with many Universities across the globe and we intend to develop more partnerships. We wanted to provide an easy way for them to share 3D simulations/results, and today’s students are very much comfortable with the idea of Social Networking. So the idea was to provide a virtual space where today’s brightest young minds could begin to interact with practicing engineers and work together on collaborative projects. VCollab software gets the technology out of the way and puts the right tools into their hands. We also believe that Marechi.com could be significant to the Universities that are working in the FEA, CFD and other scientific areas as they can now share their knowledge with the rest of the world to significantly impact the way students can learn science and engineering.
insideHPC: Is the Marechi.com Social Network is open to anyone?
Prasad Mandava: Yes, we are launching it as a private beta implementation as of today. Anyone can sign up for an account, so I’d like to encourage your readers to register for an account and try out some of the models that are already posted.
insideHPC: How can Universities publish data into Marechi?
Prasad Mandava: Interested universities can contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how to get the publishing tools from VCollab.
insideHPC: Where can we learn more about VCollab and Marechi?