How about that, remoting designer apps from the cloud datacenter

Jan 12, 2015 -- Back in 2005 I worked for a large construction company in the Netherlands. It is a large company for Dutch standards with many small offices. During that time many organizations like these started to build private datacenters for their centralized IT services. Products like Citrix Presentation Server or Microsoft terminal server played an important role in this. 

During those days bandwidth was very limited and costly. I remember people saying that in a couple of years bandwidth would not matter anymore. The future would become a bandwidth paradise where anything was possible to traverse the network.

When we started deploying what we call today shared hosted desktops to our users, the first thing we noticed were that graphical applications did not quite perform the way we would like. We did some testing with AutoCAD 2000 and 2002 on presentation server and it was awful! Even in a LAN scenario, viewing 2D drawings, the performance and user experience was terrible. The required bandwidth (about 500k) would never fit the limited WAN connections that we had. I concluded that high-end graphical applications would never be a good use case for some kind of remote desktop.

Many things have changed since then, and on the other hand many things did not. The world and the way we work with IT has definitely changed in the last 10 years. We became more mobile, got used to collaboration with people around the world and the speed of changes seems to increase every year. Product development became more and more important. Today industrial companies work with complex 3D models and prototypes to further refine their products, shorten their time to market and by that keeping ahead of the competition. The roll of IT became crucial.

But some things stayed the same. IT is still fighting the same battles, and probably is even fighting harder.  How can I let my designers collaborate on a large 3D model dataset all over the world? How do I secure my intellectual capital? How can I stay up to date with the latest software? These are the questions that remain.

This summer I had an opportunity to challenge my statement from 2005 that it would never be possible to virtualize graphical workloads and still offer a good user experience. Citrix, together with NVidia, developed new technology to build GPU (Graphical Processing Unit) capable Virtual Desktops. A client asked us to do a Proof of Concept for their designer population. I was very excited to test this new technology since I already heard some great feedback about it. Could it be possible to do this after all?

The POC turned out to be very successful. Even users working from the US East coast on a VDI in the Netherlands did report a near to local PC experience. Having high-end graphics VDI’s was a major breakthrough for this company. They did not immediately replace all their physical high-end workstations by virtual desktops but it unleashed great potential. Business demands that were complex, lengthy or costly to implement became instantly much easier. There were opportunities for data consolidation, and multiple designer groups all over the world could simultaneously work on the same model. Even subcontractors could be on board fast and easily without the need of having dedicated network connections.

I believe my statement from 2005 is now finally outdated and I am pleased with this. Since I became very interested in the concept of the “designer workplace” I decided to write my thesis based on this subject. I hope you can help me in collecting recent market data by filling out my survey. I am seeking for responses from companies that have high-end designer workstations. It will take less than 10 minutes to fill in the survey. In return you will receive the first copy of the thesis, which might give you some new insights in the developments of the designer workplace.

The link of the survey is:

Thank you very much for your help!

Sander van der Hoek
IT architect at IBM
Student at E3 University

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