Harnessing the Cloud for CAD: The Case for Virtual Workstations, Part 421 Sep, 2017 By: Alex Herrera
Herrera on Hardware: With virtual workstations, the infrastructure between the client and the cloud can make or break the user experience.
Whether choosing a hard or soft option, cloud workstation adopters will want to pay attention to specific requirements in display performance and I/O capabilities. Not every client will be capable of the display and I/O requirements a user might demand, so care should be taken to determine how many displays can be driven, and at what frame rate and resolution. Similarly, and of particular importance in CAD, potential adopters should ascertain whether the combination of protocol and client can support any critical peripherals.
Dell’s Wyse 7030 PCoIP Zero Client can support as many as four full HD displays, but not all clients can. Image courtesy of Dell.
Not all peripherals come natively supported in a cloud-hosted virtual workstation solution, or any remote solution, for that matter. This is typically for one of two reasons: either the peripheral’s bandwidth requirements would interfere with display performance, or the peripheral isn’t commonly used, and a provider simply hasn’t gone through the effort to support the peripheral yet. The former issue doesn’t apply to the vast majority of peripherals of interest in CAD workflows, which are mostly input devices for pointing, control, or even sketching. But for some peripherals that aren’t in use outside of CAD environments — a 3D mouse or Wacom tablet, for example — the latter issue may need to be resolved by the provider, who might be able add the necessary support, depending on the device, protocol, and use case.
The Cloud Is Ready, but It’s Not a Default Destination
The option of virtually hosting workstation-caliber desktops in the cloud has arrived. Traditional, physical workstations may continue to be the norm — and justifiably so — but they are no longer the only game in town. Cloud providers now rent virtually hosted workstations, capable of graphics-intensive workloads. By co-locating the computes, the visualization, and the storage, cloud-hosted workstations can address the technical, geographic, and logistical problems that traditional approaches just can’t.
Over the past four installments in this series, we’ve covered a lot of ground in this new frontier of virtual workstations in the cloud. We’ve looked at the benefits of virtual workstations, while considering if and when it makes better sense to go virtual or stick with tried-and-true, traditional approaches. Among virtual workstation solutions, we weighed the pros and cons of hosting in the two basic environments available, VDI or cloud, along with possibilities to leverage the public cloud or contract for private cloud support. We explored some of the key cloud providers and the infrastructure and virtual workstation instances they offer today, along with value-added third-party providers customizing solutions for professionals, especially those in CAD markets. And finally, we’ve touched on the need for the right network, protocol, and client infrastructure between user and cloud to ensure an effective and productive “like local” experience.
Above all else, when it comes to adopting virtual workstations, as with any disruptive technology, trust your own assessment of your business’s particular needs and assets. Because in the end, there’s no one right way forward. The best approach for your business depends on who you are, what you do, how you do it, and even non-technical issues like financial goals, corporate philosophy, and long-term strategy — whether that’s sticking with familiar physical client-side workstations or moving to virtual workstations (and to what degree). The same applies when it comes to choosing which models and types of virtual workstations to pursue, as the tradeoffs of building your own infrastructure (via VDI) or outsourcing to the cloud differ, depending on the ultimate goals and capabilities of the business.