Can Nvidia's Kepler Processor Revolutionize Virtual Desktop Hosting?

Nvidia recently demoed its long-awaited Kepler graphics processor with no less than a simulation of two galaxies colliding. On a practical level, though, the technology could answer many questions about virtual desktop hosting and, in the process, fill glaring holes in BYOD policies.

By Rob Enderle
Thu, May 17, 2012

CIO — The Nvidia GPU Technical Conference (GTC) has evolved from an event largely focused on graphics into a massive forum for the future of high-end and personal computing. Among this year's major initiatives was Nvidia's new Kepler processor, which was developed to work in specialized servers that host PC desktops. The demonstration on stage was a single, floor-mounted ATX-sized server hosting 100 Windows 7 desktops that were running graphically intensive applications while using Citrix hypervisor technology.

In a BYOD world, this approach is compelling. By hosting the desktop, IT owns a virtualized generic hardware environment yet can supply that environment to a variety of hardware devices—smartphones, tablets, Linux PCs and even smart TVs, which could be used more readily for high-end, off-site conferences in rented facilities or as a cheaper alternative to more expensive conference room solutions.

Kepler's Promise: Supplying Tomorrow's Cloud Services

Like most of Nvidia's presentations, this one from CEO Jen-Hsun Haung was visually stunning, covering the company's new high-end GeForce GTX 390 graphics cards and boasting of tenfold performance improvements.

To demonstrate this prowess, the company rolled out legacy technology, which was able to render the birth of the universe, and then ran Kepler to render the collision of two galaxies, our Milky Way and Andromeda. The power required to render this destruction was the proof point to Nvidia's 10x performance claim—and, as you might imagine, it was powerful and a little humbling. (Don't worry, it's not due to occur for about 3.5 billion years, so you have plenty of time to pack and ponder the insignificance of human life.)

The big news for the enterprise, of course, isn't the graphics performance increase for an individual user. Rather, it's the fact that the Kepler processor is designed to supply cloud services, is branded VGX and includes a gaming counterpart called GeForce GRID. This means it's been tuned to provide virtualized desktops—and to do so efficiently.

On stage, Cisco showed its server based on Kepler technology. As a networking vendor, Cisco is uniquely positioned to provide a system that will require not only specialized servers but tuned networking hardware that can function with low enough latency and sufficient bandwidth to scale to enterprise levels. Vendors not on stage, but with their own plans to have hardware or services tied to Kepler, include Dell, IBM, HP, Supermicro and Amazon. In addition, Citrix, Microsoft, VMware and Xen plan to release supporting software. These are some of the most powerful names in technology, which suggests that change is in the wind.

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