CAD Tech News (#95)

3 Oct, 2018 By: Cadalyst Staff

▶ Herrera on Hardware: CAD Workstation Form Factors 101, Part 5 — The Datacenter Workstation Addresses Modern CAD Challenges

Now that we've explored the array of local workstation options, it's time to look at the benefits and drawbacks of those located in remote datacenters.

By Alex Herrera

If I were covering workstation form factors 15 years ago, I'd have likely wrapped it up in a single column — maybe even half a column. Back then, the workstation marketplace consisted of two or three types of deskside workstation towers used exclusively at the office. But that situation has changed dramatically, fueled by the rapid diversification in shapes and sizes, maturation of enabling technologies, and the widely varying ways users are choosing to get their work done.

And as the previous installments of this column can attest, it's taking a lot more than one column to survey all of the workstation models and form factors available to CAD professionals today. (Click here to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of this series on form factors.)

We kicked things off in Part 1 with the current incarnations of the traditional, tried-and-true deskside workstation. Then we touched on the deskside's younger sibling, the now very successful mobile workstation, with forms ranging from ultra- to semi-portable workstations for pros on the go and in the field. But we're still not done, because so far we've limited our scope to local workstations — those physically located with the user. That leaves us the relatively new domain of remote workstations to explore.

Why Swap the Workstation at My Desk for One in a Remote Datacenter?

The computing landscape is changing as fast as it ever has, particularly when it comes to supporting graphics-intensive CAD. For years, users and IT personnel and procurement managers followed the same basic manual, outfitting each designer or engineer with a deskside workstation (and perhaps a mobile model for the road) … but that manual is no longer the only one to follow. Hosting graphics-intensive applications on servers is now a reality, and many are heeding the call to leverage either private datacenters or off-site, third-party clouds to solve thorny IT problems imposed by an explosion of data, physically dispersed workforces, and an emphasis on increasing security while ensuring access anytime, anywhere, and on any device.

It's not difficult to see why a single, shared workspace is attracting so much interest: It promises 24/7 access from wherever you are, by tapping a database securely tucked away behind corporate (or cloud) firewalls. With a centralized computing model, users don't have to be in the same office as their data — or even on the same continent. Storing models in one place and avoiding costly copying makes the "big data" problem far less burdensome. And since the source content doesn't leave the pre-defined cloud boundaries, it's far more secure.

Users can upload files to one central, shareable, cloud-based repository, which becomes a virtual workspace. Here, CAD team members can contribute, review, and even mark up and edit others' content — all without the overhead and version control issues that come with moving the data.

Datacenter Workstation Topology

Datacenter workstations provide high-demand visual computing on a Windows or Linux platform, with a remote server (i.e., a rack workstation, detailed ahead) performing computation and visual processing, and transmitting only the visual representation of that desktop to the user's client device. A remote workstation solution comprises three primary components: a remote workstation host (again, typically a server node in a datacenter rack), which renders, encodes, and transmits the desktop image; a remote workstation client that displays the remotely rendered image; and an IP network (LAN or WAN) that connects the two.

HP's Remote Graphics solution for datacenter-resident workstations. Image courtesy of HP.
HP's Remote Graphics solution for datacenter-resident workstations. Image courtesy of HP.

Read more »

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Cadalyst contributing editor Alex Herrera is a consultant focusing on high-performance graphics and workstations.

▶ Gravity Sketch Moves Conceptual Design into the Virtual Realm

With a focus on ease of use and an intuitive method of 3D content creation — a virtual reality interface — Gravity Sketch hopes to persuade designers to drop 2D sketching from their workflows.

By Cyrena Respini-Irwin

When they're struggling to communicate an idea or make a point, many people automatically start "talking" with their hands — not using sign language, but supplementing their spoken words with gestures for added meaning and emphasis. These physical movements can help the speaker define their own thoughts, as well as share them with others. And using the hands to mime actions, indicate subjects, and even sketch pictures in the air is such a natural impulse that many speakers don't even realize they're doing it.

But those gestures are only useful in the moment — when the conversation ends, there's nothing of their meaning left behind. Gestures made in virtual reality (VR), however, are another story altogether: A user working in a virtual design space and equipped with handheld VR controllers can sketch out lines and shapes that persist beyond the gesture.

That's the vision behind Gravity Sketch, a 3D design software tool that's used in tandem with an Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or Windows Mixed Reality VR headset and a pair of motion-tracked controllers. With this technology, designs drawn in the air can be captured as they're created, refined, and even sent on to other software applications if desired. After creating 3D models, scenes, or artwork in Gravity Sketch, users can export their work — to another design tool, a CAD application, a game engine, or a 3D print platform — or upload it directly to the cloud. Read more »

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Cyrena Respini-Irwin is Cadalyst's editor in chief.


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