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.

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.

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?