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This week at NVIDIA’s GPU Technology Conference, I listened to two talks—one from NVIDIA and VMware and one from Dell on their new joint project the First ISV-Certified Virtual Workstation Appliance Solution. Called the Dell Precision Appliance for Wyse, it is basically a very special server appliance that can provide high-end, cloud-based workstation-like performance on a phone, tablet or thin client computer.
This product showcases just how wrong Oracle and Sun were nearly two decades ago with their ill-conceived thin client offering. I also think it spells the end of PCs as we know them, but they’ll be replaced by PCs and workstations in the cloud that will be so much better I doubt we’ll miss them.
Most companies have a unique purchasing process for workstations. Engineers typically specify the kind of performance they need, and then the company that makes the software they use certifies platforms that work. The two efforts come together in what is both an expensive and high-value solution. In areas like pharmaceutical research, defense, architecture, aerospace, rendering, and medical research, time is of the essence, and performance often trumps cost.
In a way, I think this is the way all personal computer purchases should have always been handled because good craftspeople generally get some say in their tools. The best mechanics, for example, own their own high-end tools which they take from job to job.
Recently, the growth of file sizes has begun to stress networks. This and the fear of a Sony-like hacking event have combined to encourage companies to start looking for a different solution particularly when workstation users are geographically far apart. It can take hours to move massive files between locations, and during that time, they can get out of sync if two groups are working on different versions of the file at the same time. That results in the need to go through some kind of a regression process to sync up again, adding days and months to a process that generally is already too long and expensive.
These firms needed a product that put the processing next to the data and while still allowing the engineers to be remote. This arrangement would eliminate the problems of file transfer and offer better security. If you don’t need to copy a file, IT can reasonably block that function making theft of these files far more difficult.
Dell, NVIDIA, VMware
Dell, which took over thin client market leadership from HP (HP has lost a lot of leadership positions since Meg Whitman took over), got together with NVIDA and VMware and came up with something amazing. The Dell Precision Appliance for Wyse is a full on, no compromise, centralized engineering platform which massively outperforms anything else in market tied to large files. They simply jumped on the file transfer bottleneck and pounded it to death collectively.
The end result is virtually unheard-of engineering-class performance that can, with a good low latency network connection, provide high-end workstation class performance on a thin client, tablet, or even a cell phone. As long at the device has a strong enough network connection and can output a video stream of high enough resolution, you have what is basically a high-end workstation that, in theory, you could carry in your pocket.
Cost vs. Performance
The kind of company that needs this kind of performance will pay almost anything to get it, and this solution isn’t cheap. However, the costs are in line with deploying a more traditional workstation solution, so it isn’t priced out of range either.
In short, for the cost of a workstation refresh, companies get something that will outperform those workstations, is more secure than those workstations, and is far easier to maintain and manage (one of the core benefits of thin client computing) than those workstations.
Like every technology, the cost per desktop will start to drop from here at a very rapid pace, suggesting that in five to ten years we could all be running most of our stuff on a similar cloud-based variant of this incredible idea.
Wrapping Up: Thanks Musk and Jobs
Interestingly, this is the application of a model demonstrated by Steve Jobs of Apple and Elon Musk of Tesla Motors. Both men realized that if you wanted to drive change it was far more lucrative to go after the high end of a market and focus on what that high end buyer most wanted: an experience like no other. This Dell, NVIDIA, and VMware effort is another example of how well that concept works. They have gone after the most elite of engineers first, and firms are lining up by the hundreds (actually 500 of them) to get the first chance at deploying this amazing new technology.
The PC is dead; long live the cloud PC.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.