4-page Partner Case Study
Posted: 7/8/2010
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InterGrid GreenButton Software Developers Offer Quick Processing of Compute-Heavy Tasks with Cloud Services

InterGrid is an on-demand computing provider that offers cost-effective solutions to complex computing problems. While many customers need support for months at a time, InterGrid saw an opportunity in companies that need only occasional bursts of computing power—for instance, to use computer-aided drafting data to render high-quality, three-dimensional images. In response, it developed its GreenButton solution on Windows Azure, which is hosted through Microsoft data centers. Available to software vendors that serve industries such as manufacturing, GreenButton can be embedded into applications to give users the ability to call on the power of cloud computing as needed. By building GreenButton on Windows Azure, InterGrid can deliver a cost-effective, scalable solution and has the opportunity to reach another 100 million industry users with a reliable, trustworthy environment.


Situation
Founded in July 2006, InterGrid provides on-demand, high-performance computing solutions for companies primarily in five industries: oil and gas, digital media, design and manufacturing, biotechnology, and financial modeling. InterGrid is based in New Zealand and also has offices in the United States.

Historically, companies engaged with the Microsoft Registered Partner for computational-heavy processing jobs for several months at a time, taking advantage of the more than 3,000 computer processors available at the New Zealand supercomputer center. However, InterGrid realized that while it was easy for large companies to rent server space and compute power from the supercomputer center for large projects, it was not cost-effective for smaller projects that might require only several hours of capacity. “Companies are willing to make the investment for additional computing resources for several months at a time,” explains Scott Houston, Chief Executive Officer at InterGrid. “But we saw that companies in these industries also have the need for ad-hoc increased computational capacity; for them, it’s not cost-effective to set up an entire infrastructure that they might only use occasionally.”

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* We absolutely have to have a global, stable player in the cloud market that is behind our solution. With Windows Azure and Microsoft data centers, we have that—and it’s absolutely critical to our success. *

Scott Houston
Chief Executive Officer, InterGrid

*
For instance, the companies in the vertical markets that InterGrid serves often render photorealistic designs, such as those used by automobile manufacturers to illustrate car prototypes. Rendering photorealistic, three-dimensional designs and animations requires significant computer processing power and can take hours to process. A 20-second animation, for example, might use 500 still frames, which would take up to six hours to process using the average eight-core personal computer. While in some cases, employees can work on other tasks while rendering their animation or marketing-quality design stills, at other times they need much faster processing. “Imagine if you’re showing a client an animation of a new car prototype, and they want to see it with a different car color or a different background,” says Houston. “It would be nice if you had the option to render a new animation based on new parameters in a matter of minutes instead of hours.”

The infrastructure required to render high-quality designs requires significant capital expenditures, in addition to ongoing, costly operational expenses and time-consuming maintenance. As enticing as it is for a company to be able to render designs so quickly, it is an unrealistic business model for most, especially for companies that require that level of computational power only for occasional needs. At the same time, it didn’t make sense for customers to engage with InterGrid, because InterGrid did not have a model that supported short engagements.

In response, InterGrid developed an application programming interface (API) service that it could embed in customers’ software applications to give users the ability to access on-demand, high-performance computing with the push of a button. Thousands of users took advantage of the service, with all of the transactions processing through the New Zealand supercomputer center.

Encouraged by the success of its API service, InterGrid saw a huge market opportunity if it could reach the more than 100 million end users worldwide across the five industries it serves. However, its resources at the New Zealand supercomputer center, while robust, were limited. The physical location was nearly to capacity, and building a new location was cost-prohibitive. In addition, to offer its solution at a global scale, InterGrid would need a global data-center presence to offer high performance to its customers.

Solution
Instead of building out its own infrastructure, InterGrid decided to find a cloud services provider that it could team with to offer an on-demand computing solution for customers who need occasional bursts of computing power.

The company evaluated offerings from several cloud services providers: Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2), Rackspace, Google, and Windows Azure from Microsoft. After evaluating all of the services, InterGrid chose Windows Azure. “The choice to go with Windows Azure was a clear one, once we compared other services side by side,” explains Houston. “None of the other cloud services providers has a global data-center presence that is on par with Microsoft, and none has the level of service that Microsoft offers. Microsoft has a strong commitment to the cloud, and it’s obvious that they’re in it for the long haul—that’s what we need.”

Building on its previous concept of embedding an API into applications for on-demand computing power, InterGrid developed its GreenButton solution on Windows Azure. Windows Azure is the development, service hosting, and service management environment for Windows Azure, which is hosted through Microsoft data centers. GreenButton can be embedded in any software application user interface so that any time an engineer or other employee needs to render a marketing-quality drawing or animation of a product that might otherwise take hours to process, he or she can simply click the GreenButton icon to use Windows Azure compute power and render the image in a matter of minutes.

Once a user clicks the GreenButton icon, the job is sent to a Windows Communication Foundation web service, which is hosted in a Web role in Windows Azure. The job is sent through Windows Azure Service Bus, which is used to broadcast system information, such as how many instances are running. It is then split into multiple tasks; for instance, if it is a frame-based rendering job, it is split into individual frames with each task as a single frame. Binary job data is stored in Windows Azure Blob storage, and additional job data is stored in Windows Azure Table storage. Each task is then sent to Windows Azure Queue storage, where it is picked up and processed by Windows Azure Worker roles. Once the processing is complete, the service sends an email message to the user, who can then download the rendered image or animation file.

To conduct a proof-of-concept deployment, InterGrid engaged Right Hemisphere, an independent software vendor (ISV) whose products, such as its software application Deep Exploration, help manufacturing companies unify, synchronize, and deliver visual product and business information. InterGrid also worked closely with three-dimensional visualization solution provider and Microsoft Partner, Nextspace, to enable networking capabilities in the Deep Exploration application, and then to embed GreenButton (Figure 1). After a successful proof of concept with the Deep Exploration software application, InterGrid plans to commercially launch its GreenButton service in July 2010 at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference.

Figure 1.
Figure 1. With GreenButton embedded in Deep Exploration, users can render
high-quality stills and animation in a matter of minutes.






















The company also plans to make the GreenButton API available in the future to any developer who is creating a software application that has occasional needs for high-level compute processes. With the API, developers can embed GreenButton into their applications without worrying about provisioning the infrastructure to support the compute processes.

Benefits
On the cusp of releasing GreenButton, InterGrid is thrilled to offer a Windows Azure–based solution that ISVs can embed in their applications. With GreenButton on their desktops, software users will have the option to use the on-demand scalability and

*
* The choice to go with Windows Azure was a clear one, once we compared other services side by side…. Microsoft has a strong commitment to the cloud, and it’s obvious that they’re in it for the long haul—that’s what we need. *

Scott Houston
Chief Executive Officer, InterGrid

*

processing power of Windows Azure on a pay-as-you-go basis, giving them the ability to cost-effectively render high-quality images in a matter of minutes. InterGrid looks forward to taking its GreenButton service to more markets, with the reliability of the Microsoft brand behind it.

Increased Scalability Dramatically to Shorten Compute-Heavy Processes
By using GreenButton, which is built on Windows Azure, companies can take advantage of near limitless processing power and on-demand scalability to reduce the amount of time it takes to process compute-heavy tasks. In its first proof of concept with an ISV, as an on-demand processor of three-dimensional and two-dimensional marketing-quality stills and animations, GreenButton decreased a rendering process that could take up to six hours to just five minutes. “With Windows Azure, and GreenButton embedded in our software applications, we’re able to deliver tremendous value to customers,” explains Mark Thomas, President and Chief Technology Officer at Right Hemisphere. “The rendering process is an extremely complex task that requires tremendous computing power. With Windows Azure, we are able to give customers an option to render those complex designs in a matter of minutes—it’s amazing.”

Improved Ability to Cost-Effectively Render Designs As Needed
Software vendors, such as Right Hemisphere, not only will be able to offer the ability to quickly render high-quality drawings, but also will be able to offer the service on a pay-as-you-go model. Recognizing that not every rendering needs to happen in a matter of minutes, InterGrid designed GreenButton with Windows Azure to enable end users to make the choice of when they want to pay for the luxury of having a high-quality rendering—or other compute-heavy process—completed in a matter of minutes. “Instead of investing in server infrastructure up front, and hoping that it will scale infinitely to meet needs, customers can simply pay for rendering jobs on demand, at a fraction of the cost,” explains Thomas. “By embedding GreenButton and Windows Azure into the application, we’re giving the customer the option to pay for that extra burst of computing power when they need it.”

Delivered a Viable Solution with a Reliable and Trustworthy Partner
InterGrid, which is delighted with the progress it has made with its GreenButton service, attributes much of its success to Windows Azure and looks forward to continued success after the commercial launch of the service. “We have identified a list of more than 1,000 applications in five industries across 100 million potential users of GreenButton that could immediately recognize similar scalability and cost-saving benefits to what Right Hemisphere has seen,” explains Houston. “At the same time, we recognize that it can be a huge leap of faith for companies to take their solutions to the cloud, and we absolutely have to have a global, stable player in the cloud market that is behind our solution. With Windows Azure and Microsoft data centers, we have that—and it’s absolutely critical to our success.”

Windows Azure
Windows Azure provides developers the functionality to build applications that span from consumer to enterprise scenarios. The key components of Windows Azure are:

  • Windows Azure. Windows Azure is a development, service hosting, and service management environment. It provides developers with on-demand compute, storage, bandwidth, content delivery, middleware, and marketplace capabilities to build, host, and scale web applications through Microsoft data centers.
  • Microsoft SQL Azure. Microsoft SQL Azure is a self-managed, multitenant relational cloud database service built on Microsoft SQL Server technologies. It provides built-in high availability, fault tolerance, and scale-out database capabilities, as well as cloud-based data synchronization and reporting, to build custom enterprise and web applications and extend the reach of data assets.
To learn more, visit:
www.windowsazure.com


For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
www.microsoft.com

For more information about InterGrid products and services, call (281) 378-1320 or visit the website at:
www.intergrid.co.nz

For more information about Right Hemisphere products and services, call (925) 355-9300 or visit the website at:
www.righthemisphere.com

Additional Resources:
Training: Channel9 Windows Azure Training Course 
Download: Windows Azure Training Kit 
Download: Windows Azure SDK 
White paper: Security Best Practices for Developing on Windows Azure Applications

Solution Overview




Partner Profile
InterGrid develops on-demand computing solutions for companies that require occasional bursts of power for complex, intensive computing processes. Based in New Zealand, InterGrid has 14 employees.

Business Situation
The company wanted to give software developers the opportunity to embed on-demand computing options into applications, and it needed a reliable, trustworthy cloud services provider.

Solution
InterGrid developed its GreenButton solution using Windows Azure, giving software users the option to use cloud computing in an on-demand, pay-as-you-go model.

Benefits
Increases scalability Reduces costs for compute-heavy processes Delivers reliable solution

Hardware


Third Party Software


Software and Services
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Microsoft Azure Platform
  • Windows Communication Foundation
  • Microsoft Azure AppFabric
  • Microsoft Azure Service Bus

Vertical Industries
  • Professional Services
  • IT Services

Country/Region
United States

Languages
English

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