File Sharing/Publishing

The Promise of Virtualization: Secure Remote Access to 3D Data

2 Oct, 2014 By: Yvonne Dresser

Technologies such as XenDesktop are designed to centralize 3D apps and data while preserving visual performance.


Design and manufacturing companies must adapt quickly to the demands of an increasingly global and competitive economy. To decrease time to market, they must be able to collaborate and manage design lifecycles effectively with offshore, mobile, and remote employees. At the same time, they have to maintain security and control over intellectual property even as their workforce becomes more mobile and more widely distributed, and their computing environment becomes more diverse.

To achieve these goals, companies that rely heavily on collaborating and exchanging 3D models and 2D drawings need to overcome several key challenges. Product and design data residing on users’ workstations is difficult to secure and to share with other team members, partners, suppliers, and customers. Indeed, the most common ways to exchange design data are e-mail, FTP, and physical media such as USB thumb drives — all cumbersome and asynchronous methods that fail to support real-time 3D collaboration. Data synchronization across global design centers becomes less efficient with each passing year as file sizes grow at a faster rate than network capacity. It is far too difficult to access designs from the factory floor or the field in order to make simple edits or analyze a change in real time. Security has become a critical problem as well: Sharing product and design data among partners and suppliers increases the risk of intellectual property theft.

Benefits of Centralized Delivery of 3D Apps and Workstations

One strategy for addressing these challenges is centralization. Workstations, applications, and data are moved from desktops to servers in the datacenter, where they can more efficiently be managed, maintained, and secured. Desktops and apps are virtualized — that is, disassociated from the underlying hardware — and executed on server-based virtual machines. Users interact with their familiar applications via their endpoint device, but all computing processes and data storage take place within the datacenter. This makes it possible to deliver desktops and apps on demand as a service to users anywhere, providing an experience that looks, feels, and performs like a traditional workstation no matter how people access it or what kind of device they use to do so.

Companies of all sizes, from global manufacturing organizations to smaller design consulting firms, can benefit from delivering 3D apps to any location from a central datacenter. Endpoint deployment and management costs are reduced, even when there is only one office. These benefits are typically realized in three areas: security, mobility, and time to market.

Security. As organizations expand their collaboration with contractors, business partners, and outsourcing providers, they need more effective ways to safeguard design and customer data across this virtual workforce. Many choose to lock down the corporate network and provide remote access via virtual private network (VPN) solutions, but this approach is actually counterproductive, because it extends the secured network to unsecured remote devices which can be lost or stolen. By hosting apps and workstations in the datacenter, and sending only pixel display data to the endpoint device through a secure remote delivery protocol, organizations can eliminate the need to poke a hole through their firewall with a VPN.

Mobility. The rise of mobile devices in the enterprise is especially significant for design and manufacturing companies, making it possible to pull up design documents and 3D models right on the shop floor, on a job site, or in a customer's office. This accessibility can greatly accelerate design and production, and can help companies communicate more effectively with customers to better meet their needs.

However, most 3D applications are Microsoft Windows–based, optimized for a full-size screen, and reliant on right-click inputs for full functionality. For tablets to fulfill their potential in design and manufacturing, they must be able to provide the full functionality of these apps through touch-screen inputs with a satisfying user experience. By centralizing 3D apps in the datacenter and delivering them to the endpoints, companies can leverage mobile optimization capabilities built into the remote delivery protocol to intelligently touch-enable Windows-based application controls. Users gain the ability to work with drop-down boxes, enlarged controls, and automatic keyboard pop-ups when touching a text field — without the need for source code changes.

Time to market. Follow-the-sun development cycles and geographically dispersed teams make it possible for work to continue around the clock—provided a company can enable real-time, remote collaboration on design data. By centralizing data in the datacenter and making it available to other teams in real time, application virtualization empowers development teams to hand off projects to collaborators in other time zones. This saves time and effort over the traditional approach, which forces users to transfer 3D model data in bulk over the network on a daily basis.

In addition, hosting workstations in the datacenter is a highly cost-effective way to let multiple users share the same resources concurrently, even from different locations, and to provide the same workstations to users in other time zones as the day progresses, resulting in significant hardware and software savings. For example, one large aerospace company saved $23 million in hardware costs alone by reducing the endpoint cost from $2,500–6,000 to $1,200–$1,500 during its first year of using a centralized solution.

Implementing Virtualization Technologies

One example of a company that has moved to a virtualization solution is Knightec AB, an engineering consulting firm in product and production development. The firm’s 350 engineers collaborate from locations throughout Sweden, combining technical skill with business development expertise to create new solutions for Knightec's customers.

Knightec uses XenDesktop, a virtualization solution for 3D apps from Citrix and NVIDIA that's accessible on any device, including tablets and Mac and Windows laptops. The solution provides graphics acceleration technologies designed to deliver graphics-intensive apps and desktops using deep compression technologies that significantly reduce bandwidth requirements, and boost application performance by as much as 300% over low-bandwidth, high-latency networks.

Prior to deploying XenDesktop, Knightec engineers shared design data residing on their local workstations via e-mail and USB thumb drives. Traditional remote-access tools were visually sluggish with design apps including CATIA, PTC Creo, and ANSYS, preventing users from making even simple design edits outside the office. Since Knightec's implementation of XenDesktop in 2013, however, engineers can work and collaborate from any Internet-enabled location. The company is now setting up new projects in two weeks — one-third of the previous average — thanks to centralized application delivery.  

Another company that has adopted virtualization is Wiha Premium Tools, a German manufacturer of precision hand tools for use in industry and skilled trades. The company comprises more than 850 employees who produce in excess of 4,000 precision tool styles, working in manufacturing facilities in Germany, Switzerland, Poland, and Vietnam. In order to collaborate across these locations, Wiha uses XenDesktop to support remote locations securely, while enabling a mobile workspace for CAD users. Prior to using XenDesktop, collaboration between offices was based on nightly bulk transfers of large data sets over the network, which was costly and overburdened network capacity.

Conclusion

Early adopters such as these two companies have already realized the benefits of datacenter hosting for graphics-intensive 3D design and PLM applications and workstations. Now, with recent technological innovations and falling hardware costs, centralization is quickly becoming a mainstream strategy for the design and manufacturing industries. Advancements in deep compression of graphics have improved delivery over low-bandwidth networks, and new graphics processing unit (GPU)-sharing technology for hosted and virtualized environments enables a rich experience for even the most demanding graphics apps.

Centralizing the delivery of 3D professional graphics apps and desktops in the datacenter is straightforward when companies have a good understanding of application usage, current and expected workflows, network conditions, type and size of the image files, and resource requirements of design apps.. Following the technology vendor’s recommended hardware and software implementation guidelines can help ensure a successful rollout. Problems with application performance spanning many users can arise when these parameters are not clearly defined before beginning a deployment.

If companies prepare carefully for implementation, however, this approach to real-time collaboration, follow-the-sun work cycles, and mobility can help users accelerate time to market, while centralizing desktops, apps, and data improves security for intellectual property and customer information.


About the Author: Yvonne Dresser


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