Infinite Computing: Bah, Humbug!

At Autodesk University, Autodesk CEO Carl Bass introduced the term “Infinite Computing” in an attempt to define Autodesk’s perspective on “the cloud” from a unique angle. I think the term is a brilliant and effective use of terminology because it focuses an otherwise nebulous concept and it radiates a sense of real and immediate purpose.

Infinite computing is not really infinite, of course, and it’s certainly not infinitely accessible. However the metaphor is apt, because like the physical universe, as long as the virtual universe keeps expanding it is essentially infinite. [I can’t resist having some fun and taking the analogy a little bit further: at some point, Moore’s law will encounter relativistic effects, and we’ll realize that every transistor warps the virtual space-time continuum in proportion to the square of its clock speed.]

So why am I bearish on the prospect of infinite computing?

Let’s say you buy a computer with multiple processors for, say, AutoCAD. Two processors can produce a nice performance boost, because AutoCAD can utilize 100% of one processor while the operating system uses the other. But what happens if you quadruple your capacity to eight processors? Unless you’re running independent programs that can use the extra processors, they offer very little benefit and are essentially wasted.

The moral of the story is this: an infinite computer is ineffective and inefficient unless it has an infinite number of simultaneous tasks to perform. It costs computing power to manage parallel tasks, so the practical limitations of “infinite” computing make it obviously unrealistic for all but highly specialized tasks. Even if we give it a more accurate name like “massively parallel computing“, such a system is hardly “sustainable” (to use another modern term of art) due to the inherent inefficiencies.

A compromise is necessary. There are new ways to look at old problems that enable a more parallel approach to finding solutions, and I have no doubt that many engineering problems can be restated in a way that makes them amenable to parallel processing solutions — but that’s hardly a revolutionary concept, and it certainly does not require an infinite computer for its implementation.

In the final analysis, “the cloud” is going to be about individuals connecting to each other and to their data seamlessly and in a location-agnostic way, and the “infinite computer” will be what they use to do it. Nothing more, nothing less.

Autodesk Discussion Group Facelift Offer

My participation in the Autodesk discussion groups has been severely curtailed since the notorious “upgrade” a few months ago. One of the many problems introduced by the upgrade is the loss of formatting. It’s now virtually impossible to post messages that include inline AutoLISP or ObjectARX code without them being reformatted into unreadable garbage. Even attaching the code as a file is difficult (the “solution” is to rename files with a .txt extension!) As a result, many queries for programming help go unanswered. Autodesk has made an attempt to provide a fix, but a survey of the posts in any of the programming groups shows that it’s not working*.

* [Thread has been removed by Autodesk, so link was changed to point to archived thread.]

The recently announced layoffs and related cost cutting measures at Autodesk have dimmed my hopes for a resolution. Therefore, I’ve decided to offer my services to fix the problem. Autodesk, I’m offering to donate my time to fix your discussion group software. Just give me access to a development and testing platform, and the right to modify or rewrite the code.

Readers, can I get an “Amen”?


I’ve heard the word “brutal” used more than once during conversations with Autodesk employees about the Autodesk sponsored discussion groups. It’s true that raw unfiltered feedback can be brutal, and it can also hurt your ego if you happen to be the target of criticism. The trick is to learn how to interpret the feedback. If you can master that skill, that raw feedback is a fast, unbiased, low noise-to-signal-ratio predictor of the future.

I’ve seen many recognizable Autodesk names come and go since the days of Autodesk’s original online discussion group, the CompuServe ACAD forum. Oftentimes, they came espousing the virtues of such a vibrant community, only to wilt away after they got singed a few times in the inevitable flame wars. Some Autodesk names (Art Cooney comes to mind) have been around forever, and still take it all in stride. Personally, I view the discussion groups as one of Autodesk’s biggest competitive advantages, even while they go largely untapped.

This week saw too issues erupt into what could fairly be termed brutal feedback. The first was caused by the Autodesk University registration site failing under the load of opening day registration. Several threads (“Dear Carl Bass” and “AU2007 Registration is now open!!!”) called Autodesk to the carpet for blowing it again, after a similar fiasco in 2006.

The second event occurred when AutoCAD product manager Eric Stover announced a new “bonus” tool called CommandComplete. I pity the poor guy or gal that wrote this tool (on their own time, I’m sure), all excited to see how it is received, only to become the victim of a flame war. Okay, not really a flame war in this case because Eric employed his finely tuned flame retardant diplomacy skills to prevent it from getting out of hand — so let’s just call it a “venomous reaction”.

There is a moral to this story. Some companies would kill to have access to this kind of critical, unfiltered, instantaneous feedback from the unwashed masses. I hope Autodesk recognizes the goose that lays the golden egg.