Dell's Andy Rhodes
Dell’s Andy Rhodes

ROUND ROCK, TEX. – Three megatrends are driving the virtualization of the workstation space, with new workstation as a service models making workstation power and collaboration accessible to even smaller businesses, Dell Inc. executives said Thursday.

Speaking to the international press at a Dell workstations media day, Andy Rhodes, general manager of Dell’s Precision workstation business, said while workstations will also still be on desktops for many years to come, megatrends around virtualization and the data centre are fundamentally impacting how workstation-class computing is architected and delivered.

The first trend Dell sees is around compute moving from the desktop to the data centre. It’s been happening for some time with standard desktops for knowledge workers and specific use cases. It hasn’t happened on the workstation side for a number of reasons, said Rhodes – some were technological, and have been addresses by companies such as Nvidia. Others were more cultural.

“In workstations, the people that hold the budget are the people that use the budget, and there’s still a propensity for them to hold on,” said Rhodes. “Workstations are mission-critical in their environment and they don’t want to effect the status quo.”

But there are a number of reasons why virtualizing workstations into the data centre absolutely makes sense, said Rhodes. Security is a big one – rather than sending proprietary data between offices over the Internet, it can reside in a secure private cloud. Collaboration is another – people inside and outside a company can work on the same project, at the same time.

“The idea of one person completing one piece of work independently doesn’t work anymore,” said Rhodes. “If you have to move huge files around the world it’s very slow, it can be very expensive, and it can really stop the real-time collaboration for many of these companies.”

Workstation virtualization enables access from multiple devices, and it allows organizations to buy compute power for typical usage, rather than peak usage.

The second megatrend is around democratizing access to professional quality creation. You need the right tool for the right job, said Rhodes. A steak knife and a scalpel both cut, but a surgeon isn’t going to slice open your chest with a steak knife.

“We can bring in the right technology at the right price point and make it more accessible to customers,” said Rhodes. “We see a big underserved market in the mobile space for a lot of customers.”

Workstation virtualization is also being driven by the desire for fast and affordable digital prototyping driven by the rise of 3D printing.

Finally, the third megatrend is around the mission criticality of creation. There’s a need for technology to help maximize creative potential, said Rhodes. If an artists has a spark of creative genius, and the technology slows them down because it’s slow or kludgy, often the spark is lost.

“The need for higher compute and better visuals is critical for artists,” said Rhodes. “We want to get technology out of the way of their processes.”

Product cycles are also collapsing, and companies need better infrastructure to stay competitive.

“We build mission criticality into everything we do,” said Rhodes.

Dell sought to address these trends Thursday with the launch of the Dell Wyse Datacenter for Virtual Workstations end-to-end reference architectures. They’re deigned to help customers simplify and speed the deployment of high-performance, reliable and secure desktop virtualization running graphic and data-intensive workloads. Applications for Siemens PLM Software, Autodesk, PTC Inc. and Dassault Systémes are also certified for the virtual reference architectures or will be shortly.

While most SMBs won’t have their own data centres, there’s an opportunity for managed services providers to develop and offer “workstation as a service” models that can bring virtual workstations to small business clients.

“We’ve turned a corner on virtualization,” said Vajrang Parvate, director of product development at SolidWorks, a 3D CAD design software vendor. “All our products can now run on a virtual stack without any compromise in performance. We’re seeing a rapid increase in demand and interest from our customer base.”

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