Who loves office space? Dell does: Virtualization to banish workstations from under desks
Engineer, 3D modeller: there's a rack slot waiting for you
Dell, along with partners Nvidia and Intel, has opened a new center at its Austin, Texas, headquarters to make it easier for customers to deploy virtualized-workstation installations, and for ISVs to certify their software running on such setups.
"We know this all comes down to dollars and cents," Dell's general manager for the Precision Workstation line Andy Rhodes told reporters gathered for the ribbon-cutting of the immodestly named Dell Workstation Virtualization Center for Excellence.
Rhodes wasn't referring to those dollars and cents accruing to his company's bottom line, although that surely is a key Dell goal in operating the center. What he meant was that the center would enable customers to benefit from the time-to-market, efficiency, and collaboration gains enabled by virtualized workstations.
Virtualization has, of course, become commonplace for more traditional PC-centric workloads, but Dell is now betting that the technology and the market are both ready for virtualizing more-demanding workloads such as engineering and manufacturing, media and entertainment, oil and gas exploration and simulation, and economics and financial services.
The Reg has told you about Dell's workstation-virtualization efforts before – specifically the Dell Precision R7610 Rack Workstation, which as its name implies, is intended to live in a server rack in a data center, not under a content-creator or engineer's desk, as do traditional high-octane workstations.
But if a workstation lives in a rack, and is accessed remotely by the worker, what makes it a workstation and not simply a server? Answer: its innards. As Dell's director of workstation product marketing Patrick Kannar told us at the R7610's rollout, it's the combination of the "highest-performance CPUs and highest-performance GPUs available" that enable it to run workstation-class workloads.
Also – and at the core of Wednesday's Dell announcement – a rack of R7610s, or for that matter, garden-variety Dell servers equipped with hefty Nvidia Kepler or AMD FirePro cards – can support virtualized workloads, a capability that when coupled with data center consolidation can offer workgroups a number of benefits.
Security is easier in a locked-down bit barn
Security, for one, Rhodes said. Data centers, with controlled card-access access and stingy IT-admin management, can be made far more secure than a gaggle of under-the-desk, office-resident, standalone workstations. In addition, having all of a workgroup's valuable files in a central location — architectural models, feature films, automotive designs, whatever – can significantly reduce that aforementioned IT admin's anxiety.
Another benefit of workstation virtualization is the ease of collaboration, Rhodes said. For example, if an engineer in the UK wants to share a gigabyte-size model with a colleague in the US, centralized data stores obviate the need to transfer massive files back and forth over the interwebs, a practice that not only loses time but also introduces versioning headaches.
'I'm waiting for my build to finish' won't cut it anymore
And then there's the benefit of allowing multiple devices – from executives' tablets and consultants' laptops to company PCs running digital projectors in sales suites – to have timely access to the latest versions of the projects being worked on by engineers and content creators. Those comparatively low-powered devices, of course, don't have the oomph to render complex projects, but they certainly have the capability to display pre-rendered models or view edited video.
Finally, there's the matter of workflow optimization. As Rhodes noted in so many words, if you're a content creator who's waiting for a CGI effect to render, you're not a content creator anymore – you're just a lump taking up space. If, however, you can switch over to another workstation VM, your productivity doesn't stall.
Or, for example, distributed workloads can run simulations in parallel rather than sequentially. As Autodesk senior software architect Ben Cochran, also speaking at the Wednesday event, suggested as an extreme business case, sometimes it's preferable to use 10,000 computers for one second rather than one computer for 10,000 seconds – and if the up-front investment has been made, the runtime cost is a wash.
And that's where Roche's comment on dollars and cents comes into play. The more productive each worker can be, and the swifter that a task, rendering, or simulation set can run, the more time can be saved. And as we all know,
time == money.
Come for the barbecue, stay for the engineering talk
And that's what the new Dell Workstation Virtualization Center for Excellence is all about, Roche said. Before investing a shedload of cash in a virtualized workstation setup, a customer can use the center to test its workloads in different configurations – and the center includes a large number of different setups upon which to test those workloads, some of which are more appropriate for some use cases, others for others.
That Dell customer, by the way, doesn't have to partake of Austin's famous barbecue to use the center – the virtualized workstation installations can be accessed remotely. If, however, customers want to enjoy the offerings of the nearby Rudy's Texas Bar-B-Q, they'll also have the advantage of one-to-one, real-time interactions with the Dell engineers manning the center.
The center will also be available to ISVs so that they can qualify their software offerings on multiple platforms, and to channel partners so that they can wrap their minds around the concepts behind workstation virtualization, and to get a handle on its implementation and management.
With the proliferation of low-power mobile devices and the increasing encroachment of cloud services, big ol' boxy workstations are rapidly becoming one of the last chunks of personal iron in the tower form-factor. The Dell Workstation Virtualization Center for Excellence offers customers who need top-notch CPU and GPU performance the opportunity remove those individual workstations from under desks, and give their engineers, designers, and content creates a bit more legroom. ®