Posts by greg corke

Dell Precision R5400 rack mounted workstation review

Published 22 July 2008

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with:

In May HP rolled out its long awaited MCAD-focussed Blade Workstation solution. Drawing inspiration from traditional client/server models HP’s Blades are housed in a densely populated rack locked away in a secure data centre. Each workstation is controlled remotely by a thin client that sits on an engineer’s or designer’s desk, but rather than sending ‘CAD’ data to the client, the Blade transmits live pixel data frame by frame to the client using a high-bandwidth, low latency network. And with mouse and keyboard actions being sent back to the Blade this gives the user a real time experience just as if they had the workstation sat underneath their desk.

Today, Dell unveiled its own Rack mounted workstation, the Precision R5400. This is essentially a standard desktop workstation put into a 2U Rack form factor, and not a Blade server kitted out with workstation graphics as is the case with HP’s solution. The template for the R5400 is the Dell Precision 5400 and features virtually identical components as its desktop counterpart. According to Dell, this meant that certification from all the leading CAD/CAM/CAE vendors was incredibly easy as it had already done it for the Precision 5400.

Just as with HP’s Blade solution, Dell’s R5400 Rack workstation transmits pixel data across a high-bandwidth, low latency network. However, whereas HP uses in-house software compression technology to do this, Dell has opted for third-party hardware acceleration courtesy of Teradici. This is in the form of a dedicated PCIe card that sits inside each Rack Mounted workstation and pixel data is compressed, encrypted, sent out over CAT5 and decompressed client side.

While I say client, Dell says Remote Access Device and was keen to emphasise that its FX100 Remote Access Device, which provides the desktop element to the Rack Workstation solution, does not run an Operating system, and does not require any drivers. It’s simply connected to the Rack Workstation across a network, and unlike HP’s Blade client has no CPU, RAM or solid state memory.

Inside the R5400

Component for component the Precision R5400 is virtually identical to the desktop Precision 5400. Dual socket Dual Core (up to 3.33GHz) or Quad Core (up to 3.0GHz) Xeon processors provide plenty of processing power for CAD, simulation and rendering applications; it can house up to two 7,200RPM SATA 3GB/s hard drives (Raid 1 or 0 for performance or redundancy), and most interestingly it has capacity for two high-performance graphics cards, which it supports in its 2U chassis with riser cards.

Dell offers a full range of professional graphics cards inside the R5400 from the entry-level Nvidia Quadro FX 570, right up to the high-end Quadro FX 4600. This gives the R5400 a serious amount of graphics power, and while two high-performance graphics cards will be of limited benefit to most users, this could be an extremely interesting proposition for the future as momentum grows for offloading highly parallel simulation and rendering compute tasks from CPU to GPGPU (General Purpose Graphic Processing Unit).

Memory inside the R5400 is restricted to 4 DIMM slots. This means a maximum of 32GB of RAM when 8GB DIMMS become available or more importantly affordable, but for now a capacity of 8 or 16GB is more realistic.

Conclusion

A cynic might say that Dell only threw its Rack Mounted workstation together in response to HP’s Blade workstation, but that is probably way off the mark for a solution that is as highly flexible, scalable and powerful as the R5400. It’s impossible not to draw comparisons between the two solutions and while Dell loses out to HP in terms of compute density by using a 2U Rack it certainly has a clear advantage when it comes to graphics. Dell’s R5400 not only offers significantly more 3D power than the mobile Quadro FX 1600M inside HP’s Blade but the potential to re-route this power to augment or replace traditional CPU operations should not be underestimated, particularly with simulation and design visualisation growing in all areas of product development.

In terms of the way in which the two solutions transmit their pixel data I’m not going to be drawn into the debate over whether hardware compression is better than software compression, simply because I haven’t tested out both systems alongside each other. But what the Dell may gain in terms of taking some of the load off the CPU with its dedicated PCIe card, it loses in flexibility by having to have dedicated hardware at the client side.

What is clear is that both ‘remote’ workstations offer a compelling solution for those wishing to centralise IT support of their machines, to keep confidential data secure and easier to manage, to make the most of their workstation investment by using it as a ready-made cluster for performing overnight ocompute tasks , and to offer workstation performance in inhospitable areas such as the shop floor where dust ‘kills’ workstations. And now with high-end graphics inside the Dell Precision R5400, as long as you have a capable dedicated network in place there is very little a desktop workstation can do that Remote workstation can’t. It’s going to be an interesting few years to see how things pan out.

www.dell.com/precision

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Big Brother is watching you!

Published 11 July 2008

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: solidworks, industrial design, bicycle, strida

This post is not to do with product development technology per se, but a press release I found in my inbox this morning really quite disturbed me. Spector 360 Corporate Monitoring software uncovers Internet abuse, lost productivity, data leaks and other inappropriate activities, so says the marketing spiel. In other words it spies on employees.

It can tell which employees are spending the most time surfing the Internet, which employees are chatting the most, who is typing the most keystrokes, who is downloading music and other large files, who is taking the longest breaks, and who is leaving work early. Who knows, soon it might be able to tell who is doing the least Boolean operations per hour.

Now call me traditional, and maybe a bit naive, but what happened to good old fashioned management? What about engaging with employees on a day to day basis to encourage, and motivate and get the most out of them, rather than beating them with an Orwellian type stick if they take their hands off the keyboard for more than five minutes. It worries me.

If I was an employee at a company that utilised such technology I know I’d have real trouble relaxing, knowing that I was being seen as a mere statistic as my every action is recorded, logged and analysed by a faceless manager who lives in a box. And when I’m not relaxed the quality of my work suffers.

But never mind, eh, as long as I’m churning out my 40 words per minute I should be able to keep the Thought Police at bay - for a while, at least, until they realise I’m not actually writing about product development technology after all, and then it’s Room 101 for me and my thoughtcrimes. Bad citizen!

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Download your FREE copy of DEVELOP3D

Published 25 June 2008

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: develop3d

The launch edition of DEVELOP3D is now available for FREE download. Simply click here and if you’ve already regsitered away you go. We’ve kept it above 10MB coz we didn’t want to ruin the look of the mag with all that nasty image compression. Anyway, let us know what you think.

www.develop3d.com/downloads

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HP Blade MCAD Workstation

Published 24 June 2008

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with:

Blade Workstations are exactly like standard workstations - insofar as they run desktop CAD/CAM/CAE applications, perform complex calculations and offer powerful 3D graphics - but instead of sitting under an engineer’s desk they are locked away in a secure data centre and accessed remotely by a thin client.

To understand what a Blade Workstation is, it’s best to think of it as a workstation with very long monitor, mouse and keyboard cables. All the calculations are carried out on the Blade and with the help of HP’s advanced Remote Graphics Software (RGS) it transmits display data over TCP/IP to a thin client which sits on the end user’s desk. The thin client simply displays this display data frame by frame in real time and feeds back mouse and keyboard input to the blade.

According to HP, on most networks, even on some high-speed Internet connections, latency is not a problem and when it’s lerss than 50ms it generally gives a similar experience as if you had a workstation sat underneath your desk.

HP’s Blade Workstations are rack mounted and will happily co-exist in the same rack as HP’s Blade Servers. In fact they are virtually identical to Blade Servers, the key difference being that they include a professional 3D graphics card. This gives them the ability to work with complex 3D models and manipulate them on screen. All of the 3D graphics processing is done on the Blade so the thin client only needs a modest 2D card.

HP has just released a new MCAD-focused Blade Workstation, which is certified to run a number of applications including, Catia, Siemens NX, PTC Pro/Engineer, Autodesk AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, and SolidWorks. It carries a Nvidia Quadro FX 1600M as its flagship graphics card, which is equivalent to a mid-range offering in most standard workstations.

So there’s the technology backgrounder, but what are the real world benefits of HP’s Blade Workstation solution?

Data management: One of the biggest advantages of HP’s Blade Workstation solution is that confidential data never leaves the data centre, which not only makes it more secure, but easier to manage. The thin client only ever receives pixel data transmitted from the Blade, so intelligent vector-based CAD/CAM/CAE geometry can’t be stolen or lost, or the wrong revision used. N.B. This is why the client only needs a 512MB solid state hard drive.

While this can be a huge benefit for single engineering departments it becomes even more relevant for multi-site enterprises, or those outsourcing design or manufacture. With a low latency connection it is possible to run Blade Workstations from the other side of the world, with all your data stored and managed in a central PDM system. This also lends itself well to collaborative design review as you don’t have to transfer large amounts of CAD data in advance. With the Blade you can access your data instantly.

Blade workstations also reduce desk-side hardware maintenance as each client box just needs to be configured with a standard OS disk image, independent of individual applications.

User flexibility: When a user logs on at a client they are hardwired to a Blade. Up to four blades can be accessed by a single client giving the user huge amounts of power at their disposal for complex analysis or rendering operations. With a multi-monitor set up each Blade can be assigned a screen, but rather than having to flick a switch the user simply moves the mouse onto the relevant screen to take control of the relevant blade.

Sessions can be maintained on the blade so users can move between clients simply my logging on at a different location. This can even be done at home on a standard laptop running HP’s RGS software. For example, a user could start an analysis job at the end of the working day, log on in the evening to interpret the results and tweak the design, then start a new simulation and then have the results ready for their arrival at work in the morning.

Environmental control: Powerful CAD/CAD/CAE workstations produce a lot of noise and heat and, if you put these under every engineer’s desk, managing this can be a major headache. Putting everything in a central location makes it easier to control but the downside is you have to invest in a dedicated data centre with its own power and air conditioning system, which is not cheap.

Conclusion

HP’s Blade Workstations are a high end solution, targeted at the enterprise rather than the SME. There’s a considerable investment required to get the infrastructure in place, but it’s clear that the benefits can be considerable.

It’s taken quite a while for HP to deliver an MCAD-specific system and part of this is down to securing essential certification from all the major CAD vendors. One also wonders if there have been technical issues as despite boosting the graphics performance with the introduction of Nvidia’s Quadro FX 1600M, this is not the high-end card that you would expect to find in an enterprise class MCAD workstation.

From streamlined collaboration to ultimate flexibility for users, HP’s Blade Workstation offers something new and exciting to the workstation sector. And for defence companies, or indeed any organization with sensitive design data, it’s certainly a compelling solution.

www.hp.com/go/bladeworkstations

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DEVELOP3D coming your way!

Published 14 June 2008

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with:

So, after many a late night in the past week, the launch edition of DEVELOP3D (the magazine) finally went to press on Friday. It’s been a rollercoaster ride of tears and laughter but we’ve thoroughly enjoyed putting it together and are extremely pleased with the results! Thanks to everyone who made this possible. You know who you are.

There’s just enough time left to ensure you get hold of a copy of the first edition, so if you haven’t done so yet, click on the link to the right and register your details. And don’t forget it’s free to all those who qualify.

We’re hopeful that DEVELOP3D will turn some heads, and not just because of the unashamed use of pink throughout. It’s got a bold new look for a bold new magazine for product development technology and we really hope you like it. We’re also relying on you, the reader, for feedback, good and bad, so we can drive things forward for future editions.

Now i’m off to remind myself that there is actually an existence outside of the world of magazine editing and production. I think I might even treat myself to a pint - well maybe a half. I don’t want to overdo it now.

FREE SUBSCRIPTIONS

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Architectural tools finding new home

Published 14 June 2008

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: product design, architecture

Bentley Systems and McNeel and Associates both recently announced new modelling tools which are primarily designed for architects. This wouldn’t normally be of interest to DEVELOP3D, but there’s increasing trend of cross pollination between the product development and architectural sectors.

While major architectural firms are looking to product development technology to help generate complex models, generative parametric systems which are used for architectural form generation and dynamic conceptual modelling, are also being sought out by product designers.

With generative technology, the user scripts a framework or description of a complex shape, and the computer then generates it. Using variables and sliders, it’s also possible to drive the underlying framework to create the form.

Bentley Systems has led the field with Generative Components, which is built on top of MicroStation. However, the company has just released a Discovery Subscription that allows access to the current shipping version at a very low cost of $250.

Meanwhile Robert McNeel and Associates has also launched Grasshopper, a highly innovative visual-programming system for generating parametric, dynamic geometry which runs in its popular Rhino modelling too. Grasshopper is free to Rhino users.

Bentley recently lost its Chief Scientist and father of Generative Components to Autodesk, so expect another Generative product at some point in the future.

http://grasshopper.rhino3d.com. www.generativecomponents.com

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Biggest CAD drawing in the world

Published 05 June 2008

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: simulation, solidworks, design, nx, solid edge, spaceclaim, user interaction, ribbon, flomerics, efd.lab

They say computers stifle creative talent, but in Erik Nordenankar’s crazy little Swedish mind the computer - in this instance a GPS in a briefcase - is the driving force for design.

For his graduation project in Advertising and Graphic design Erik sent his briefcase around the world in order to create the Biggest Drawing in the World.

Erik gave DHL highly detailed instructions of where to send his briefcase and over the next 55 days tracked its journey via GPS. The information was downloaded to his computer and produced a wonderful self portrait of the man himself - his ear in Paris, hand in Papua New Guinea and student bed head tuft of hair smack bang in the middle of Iceland.

The amazing results can be seen on YouTube and Erik’s own little website. He’s not a bad looking chap. www.biggestdrawingintheworld.com

Why use a mouse for CAD when you can use a briefcase

OK, i’ll fess up. He didn’t actually send his briefcase round the world - he is a poor student after all - but what a great concept. 700,000 viewers on YouTube to date certainly seem to think so. I wonder what kick back he got from DHL. Probably not nearly enough. You can’t pay for marketing this good.

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