We normally release new beta agents without any fanfare, but 3.20 is worthy of some special attention. First, to get the beta agent, there will be a link to download/install it in the News column on the left-hand side of the Home tab. Windows agents will download, install, and re-launch themselves when you click the link. Mac users will need to download the update, drop it in your Applications folder, close the released agent, and open the beta agent.
The first thing you may notice is that the agent is more responsive in most scenarios and tasks. Launching, quitting, and managing jobs are all a bit snappier now. Even in cases where the agent doesn’t have Internet connectivity, or is otherwise blocked by a firewall, it will inform you of such much faster.
We’ve noticed a number of situations where users submit jobs that require the uploading of files that are open in other applications. While this is certainly less than ideal, we’re now reporting when there were file upload errors. Agent notifications at the end of the upload phase will tell you which files had issues. For now, we’re not making this reporting process stop the job from progressing to the rendering phase. We wanted to start making more people aware of what they are expecting the agent to do, along with the reality of what it can’t do.
Another quirk we’ve noticed over time is that some users seem to lose one or more of the connections to the farm without the agent or the farm-side communication software being aware of the disconnect. We believe this to be caused by NAT or firewall session timeouts, wherein the customer Internet gateway decides to drop connections because it believes they are no longer in use. Agents 3.20 and forward will send tiny bits of traffic over each session, every few minutes, in order to keep all of the established sessions alive. This will help agents maintain maximum throughput when downloading frames that are spread apart by a chunk of time. It eliminates the session renegotiation that previous agents have gone through to re-optimize session count for bandwidth.
Speaking about sessions, we’ve noticed a few people have extremely restrictive firewall policies that only allow a single session to an external IP address. Well, agent 3.20 can now do all of its work over a single session if need be. This will never be ideal from a data throughput perspective, but the old “something is better than nothing” adage applies here.
Possibly the most impressive of the agent improvements, however, is that downloading and extracting output frames have been separated into their own threads. In essence, both can now happen at the same time. We noticed a number of scenarios where users had very large (hundreds of Megabytes) output file archives. Older agents would download the archive, but then switch to extracting that archive. This required more overall download time if there were additional archives ready for download on the farm. With 3.20 and on, the agent will be much more aggressive at downloading results and not have to be distracted by extracting them after download. Major throughput win!
We’ve run some tests of 3.20, and we think it’s ready for you to give it a spin. Give it a try, and let us know how you like it.