What do Bon Jovi and the world’s fastest supercomputer have in common? Presently, they both rely on GPUs. Bon Jovi has partnered with Animoto on a fan-video contest for each city on its current tour — which kicked off last week — a possibility made possible by Animoto’s transition to Amazon Cluster GPU Instances. Any story that combines Bon Jovi and cloud computing is cool enough, but this one also stands out as an example of how broad an effect GPUs in the cloud might have.
Animoto became the classic Amazon Web Service success story after its application went viral in 2008 and needed thousands of additional servers in a hurry. In essence, users upload their photos to Animoto, which then turns them into video slide shows set to music. According to Animoto CEO Brad Jefferson, Bon Jovi decided to use Animoto for its “Livin’ On a Prayer: Hometown Video Tribute Contest” because it wanted to create fan interaction via a video contest, but realized user-created videos would vary drastically in editing quality, with most probably trending toward the poor side. Animoto levels the playing field, because anyone using the service can submit photos and create a professional-grade video that won’t look terrible on the big screen.
Animoto’s very recent switch to Amazon Cluster GPU Instances didn’t hurt either. Not only do the videos looks a lot better on the big screen thanks to being presented at 720p resolution — an option only available after the GPU switch — but fans can participate in the contest without it taking exorbitant lengths of time for Animoto to render the videos. Jefferson said while it used to take six minutes to render a standard-definition video, GPU instances have cut that time to 45 seconds. HD videos still take a few minutes, he explained, but that’s a fraction of the time it would have taken previously. GPU Instances also resulted in lower costs for Animoto customers: The price to produce an HD video now costs just a dollar more than the previous cost for a 480p video. Right now, though, only the platform for “The Animoto Original” style video has been transitioned to GPU Instances, so it’s the only style available in HD, but the rest will follow over the next few months, Jefferson said.
From a business-model perspective, however, the most interesting part of the story is how Amazon’s GPU Instances let companies of all ilks access computing power once only available large companies with huge IT budgets and demand for HPC resources. Jefferson explained that Animoto knew it had to transition to GPUs eventually, which almost meant moving away from its entirely cloud-based infrastructure. It already had located and priced co-location options when AWS let it know that GPU Instances were on the way. Because the costs between building a GPU farm or renting one from AWS were “competitive,” Jefferson said Animoto went with Amazon to continue avoiding the hassle of managing its own servers. Although its server count fluctuates regularly, Jefferson said Animoto generally runs hundreds of machines per day, but “as a company, we still don’t own a single server.”
Amazon’s Cluster GPU Instances have only been available since mid-November, and already they’re being used for a Bon Jovi tour, which begs the question of what new use cases we’ll see for them as companies begin thinking about how they might utilize this type of power at their fingertips. From consumer cases like this all the way to advanced scientific research, I have a feeling GPUs in the cloud — whoever is providing them — will revolutionize what we once thought possible in the worlds of video and visualization.
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