Data Centers

Coming soon to your data center... freaking huge workstations!?

Dell has released a new centrally managed workstation that consists of a full PC and a remote access terminal. Is there a market for this? Will Dell start to contribute to further sprawl in the data center? Scott Lowe ponders these questions.

I take a bit of pride in trying new things when it comes to technology. I very much enjoy the thrill that comes with discovering something new that could seriously improve computing all around.. So when I look at something that just hit the showroom floor and think "There's a market for that?" I know that it's something a bit different.

Case in point: Dell's new Precision R5400 rack workstation.

This 2U workstation mounts nicely into a standard 19" rack and is a complete workstation capable of supporting dual quad-core processors, dual graphics boards, multiple hard drive and a whopping 32 GB of RAM. Loud and power hungry probably wouldn't begin to describe this behemoth.

Dell R5400

Here's where things get interesting. When outfitted with a remote access host card and an add-on dubbed the FX100, the R5400 can sit in your data center while the user computes along using the thin-client-looking FX100 remote access device. The R5400 and the FX100 communicate with one another over a standard IP network using what Dell calls the PC-over-IP® protocol. Dell indicates that PC-over-IP is completely operating system agnostic meaning that the R5400/FX100 combination is supported for just about any use. PC-over-IP both compresses and encrypts traffic over the wire, thus achieving the goal of a thin device at the desktop with the processing brawn sitting in the data center.

FX100

Pretty cool on paper, but here's my question: Is there a burgeoning market for this?

When I looked at it, my first thoughts were:

  • Hey! One computer for the price of two!
  • Hmmm... "green" advocates will really hate this.

All kidding aside, I can see this being a niche. Dell indicates that the R5400/FX100 combo is great for trading floors where additional noise and heat aren't welcome. I can buy that. I can also see some instances where doctors requiring high-level computing power might benefit, but I can't see a huge market for this solution.

We've seen blade-based computers on the market for a long time. ClearCube comes to mind pretty quickly with their blade/user port solution. But with ClearCube, you get 112, 56 or 70 blades in a 42U rack depending on what blade model you select. With the R5400/FX100, you get 21 systems in a rack. The space requirements alone for this solution would be incredible if the solution needs to scale at all. Sure, the R5400/FX100 combo will blow ClearCube away from a performance standpoint, but how many organizations need that kind of centralized computing power?

I can see this solution being beneficial in organizations where desktop availability is supreme. After all, with the desktops running in the data center, failure becomes less likely form things like power glitches, tripped over cables and other things.

I'm not asking the previous questions rhetorically. Someone educate me on this! When I first saw the update on Dell's site, I thought that I was looking at a cool-looking new thin client device. In a way, that's exactly what I saw, but not exactly what I need. I'd love to find out where a product like this really fits with organizations. Is it a niche? In these days of desktop virtualization servers and terminal servers sprouting up in data centers everywhere, are single-user monster machines like this still welcome in the data center?

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

37 comments
SBLBPOSERVICES
SBLBPOSERVICES

Thank you for the specification of products Regards SBL - BPO Services

chansen
chansen

We're heading this direction, virtualized desktops running virtualized applications. I need to do some testing then setup a proof-of-concept system and dual monitor support is a requirement. I'm looking at NeoWare/HP but would like to hear what others may be using.

morristl
morristl

I manage the infrastructure group for an aerospace company. We are currently performing some proof of concepts with the similar product from HP called RGS. Although theirs is in the from of a blade chassis the whole "workstation in the data center" concept still applies. Using the HP solution we can, but are not forced to, use a thin-client at the users end. We see huge potential for these new remote solutions. So far the performance running Catia high-end CAD solutions have been incredible. We are beginning tests to see just how far we can stretch the client end and still achieve acceptable performance across the WAN. All studies thus far indicate that the products can operate very efficiently at latencies of

Deacon Z
Deacon Z

At my company we are already running WYSE terminal thin clients. We have 4 ESX servers (Dell R900's) hooked to EMC Clariion storage. The thin client just RDP's to their VM. No latency or problems whatsoever.

bigjohn99999
bigjohn99999

I can see where something like this could be useful for companies who do a lot of high end design work with applications such as AutoCAD, inventor or SolidWorks which have a lot of high end graphics needs or studios like Dreamworks or Pixar for CGI. I'm the network\systems admin for a manufacturing company that uses high end design software that I mentioned above and we could use a product like this if the video at terminal is as good as if you were connected directly to it

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

If this is indeed a one-to-one solution, then Dell has indeed dropped the ball. Cloud computing is the future and I see more and more large companies taking the desktop out of the office and putting it in the data center. Half of your security problems will be solved. But if this solution implements desktop virtualization where you can have a one-to-many relationship where one server hosts multiple VMs then Dell is on to something, but if not, there are better solutions out there like ClearCube. I believe that cloud computing is the future--especially in the consumer space where hardware illiterate people just pay a subscription to use a virtual computer in a data center miles away using RDP. There's no worry about upgrading, hard drives crashing, viruses and back ups. You just use it like your cellphone. For $50 a month, most people would pay for the convinience.

Contradiction
Contradiction

Can someone explain to me what is the difference between this system, and a windows 2003 application server with 50 thin clients connecting to it through terminal services?

HavaCigar
HavaCigar

Oh come on, can't anybody see this being used in high security situations? You have just removed all physical access to the machine itself. Not just stopping an ubunto boot on a usb but also stopping it (and all it's parts) from being stolen, and the communication from the keyboard/monitor/mouse to the host is encrypted, and your data is only travelling around in your server room, nobody can snoop your DB connections. It's obviously not going to replace the desktop PC, but it's a great solution for appropriately minded CEOs, CFOs (and even HR) and security officers, especially as more and more businesses go to wireless.

gypkap
gypkap

Regular PCs are already centrally manageable. Check out the systems used in any office with a workstation and minitower on every desk. Centrally managed, upgradeable from a central console, connected to central servers, etc.

hodgese
hodgese

In fact, they will probably buy a lot of them. They need lots of computing power, and because they have so many computers per trader, they need to put them in a back room somewhere, out of the way.

Jaqui
Jaqui

I see these as more an entry level server for high availability services, like a small webhosting company data center. instead of starting with a 20,000 rackmont system [ even though much more capable ] a startup could use these and avoid the issue from being cash strapped and needing good server units. the remote access component could make it easier to keep the systems maintained, without having to be in the server room, or having the overhead of running remote desktop support, with possible security issues from that support.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

But other than my own personal greed this looks more like kit looking for a market....

NaughtyMonkey
NaughtyMonkey

I could see using these for our Paris office. There are 5 computers and 2 servers there. This would allow the workstations to be maintained locally, instead of remotely making them last longer and have complete control over them.

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

I'd love to hear more about your environment...

rflii
rflii

I agree 100% that this is not the best solution. Unfortunately, Dell still needs to make nice with MS therefore won't develop anything that will take money from Redmond's kitty. Digital Equipment made this mistake when it started selling the Shark chipset to NCI. It was the only way NCI would have been successful. But Bill mentioned to Ken Olsen that he could lose the licensing of Windows NT port on the Alpha chip and DEC thought that was a bigger market. From my experience the thin client concept only works when the client has the graphic processing and network bandwith to support the user experience. Too many efforts have gone cheap and lead to users wanting their PC back on their desk.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I couldnt' resist, but seriously.. There are ways to do this already from Windows terminal servers on through to the Linux thinclients the size of VCR tapes; this seems closer to the latter. Based only on the article; - may use a stronger encryption between terminal and tower - requires absolute minimal local software probably entirely by firmware image - platform independent so you can plop them down for watever the applications requires underneath it probably also allowing one terminal to connect into different processing towers depending on platform need I'd personally rather put in a rack with some blades in it split out further as VMs but I'm thinking of how to host multiple platforms and seporate instances which removes the remote client node part of the puzzle.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

With the latter, Dell doesn't make a dime! LOL!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

As others have already pointed out other, less costly solutions have been available for several years.

ian_jones_harwich
ian_jones_harwich

If they offered a laptop version of the remote access device I think there would be a fantastic market for it. It would be secure ? stolen or lost your data is secure. Robust ? no hard drive /DVD drive etc so less to get damaged. Longer battery life ? less processing power needed. Less bandwidth needed ? only keyboard input and screen images are transmitted.

lcashion
lcashion

Geophysist workstations, Trader workstations, Our VP of Secondary marketing (like a trader), IT for monitoring remote data centers, and so on. Yes, it is a niche product, but not everyone needs the standard cut and dried selection.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

we need to add 1GB of RAM to all our Workstation PC's. Still central are they????

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

That's a rather limited market. Out of interest, what applications do traders run that require a lot of individual horsepower? I would think all the data is in a database, and the front-ends to the data would be server based. Just wondering.

k-mac
k-mac

I would feel much better off using Clearcubes solution with Teradici's blades. They have been in this market for a long time and their product is already being used on market trading floors.

victor.gutzler
victor.gutzler

Our field crews currently use Windows Terminal Server to remotely run ArcGIS, which is very demanding of resources and processing. We are considering converting maps to web applications, but this requires a lot of backoffice processing for creating caches of images at predefined scales and forces a lot of compromises in geoprocessing. Maybe we could avoid this by having field crews remotely connect to these monster workstations....

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

Would you have enough bandwidth to support it?

Contradiction
Contradiction

so the difference is licensing? is that it? I still don't see what the big deal is.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

You could build the same solution in house booting from a liveCD also. Have the minimal local boot fire a client connection back to the central server. You could even use rdesktop to connect into a Windows terminal server if you wanted. I don't think you'd need anything more than the networking, X, rdesktop and ssh to do it; probably less since there are already thinkclient builds available.

ToR24
ToR24

A lightweight, portable, secure yet powerful solution. It would make something similar to the MacBook Air actually usuable.

jns_45K
jns_45K

Seems like this is a return to the early days of computing, a server and dumb terminals.

Howard Holton
Howard Holton

My question would not be - is there a demand for a better preforming citrix type application, which brings me to VMWare VDI, but how many of my users would need a machine with this much processing power, and yet not throw a fit when it is not under their desk? If the organization has a security policy in place I can understand a bit, but the last thing I want is to add some yahoo's desktop to my server environment - I do not want to add single user issues to an environment where I am managing issues for the whole company. If a desktop engineer maintains the responsibility for the "desktop in a rack" then I have someone possibly without the requisite experience who now has access to my Data Center. Also - the Data Center space is the most expensive space in the entire company and now I have to have dedicated space for a bunch of desktops, which were fine on the floor in a cube some time ago? I do not see the logic. I can see the use with a quick glance, but in reality the more thought I put into it, the worse it is. I hope I never have to deal with any of them.

lcashion
lcashion

Been there, Done that, have the scratches on the fingers to prove it.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

In the (admittedly, very limited) investment offices I've seen, the actual trades are done through a real-time OS hosted ticker and trades terminal. Each trader gets the market terminal along side there local desktop. I can see heavy processing power needed in the market back end but the client nodes should be pretty light I'd think also. Bah, now I'm curious too.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

it would use less than a traditional LAN or WAN, all that is getting transferred are the pictures and in some cases (not all) USB device data!

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

central mainframes and dumb terminal nodes gave way to local processing stations and network chatter which starts to be replaced by centrally managed processing and remote thinclients again.. The pattern even seems to repeat within subgroups as generations of programs drift back and forth between server-side and client-side processing. IT structure even joins the dance between central and decentralized staffing. In the end, the natural darwinistic evolution of technology marches forward.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

You are still transmitting the same screen data no matter what, no?

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

We'd need to see what's included in the network stream. If you're looking at huge graphics stuff, that would add up to a lot of data.

Editor's Picks