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New Workstations Tackle Explosion of Design Data Challenges

13 Dec, 2017 By: Randall S. Newton

From Fujitsu: The flow of technical data from reality to the model, and the increasingly diverse applications of technical graphics, are placing increased demands on workstation performance.

Editor's note: Through a sponsorship by Fujitsu, Cadalyst editors bring you this feature, part of a special series of articles designed to educate CAD users and managers about the benefits of professional workstation technology.

Just when you thought it was safe to standardize workstation purchase requirements for a year or two, along comes the next wave of resource-demanding professional applications. Technical graphics is extending beyond the flat screen into the virtual (immersive graphics), the augmented (interactive graphics mixed with real-world imagery), and the physical (robotics, additive manufacturing, autonomous vehicles, the Internet of Things). Creating engineering models and media content requires significant computer resources; taking these models, objects, and simulations to the next level raises the bar on workstation requirements.

The next wave requiring workstation-class performance is not based on a new device (like a VR headset) or a new app (such as Pokemon Go, which has popularized augmented reality). New value chains are emerging that enhance all existing technical and commercial graphics content. One way to describe this new value chain is to see it as a "reality spectrum," a phrase coined by researcher Paul Milgram in 2007. Technical data now flows both ways in the enterprise: from concept to reality, but also from reality back to the model. Information that was once only consumed is now used to maintain, update, or iterate designs and operations. But such digital spectrum realities are only part of what is driving the new need for power.

The technical graphics that drive innovation are being seen by more people, and used for more tasks, than ever before. Making engineering data immersive with virtual reality allows stakeholders to share input earlier, when it can be of more value. Making engineering data interactive with augmented reality allows new opportunities for review, comment, design iteration, and ongoing operations. Making data physical — whether through 3D printing or a car that drives itself — is not just an end result, but also another dimension of feedback. Across multiple disciplines, design data mixes with images, LIDAR, sensor data, probes, video, and more to create more accurate designs and to drive real-world, real-time insight and application. And it all requires more computational power than ever before.

New Fujitsu Workstations at GTC Munich

The recent GPU Technology Conference (GTC) in Munich — only the second time the event has been held in Europe — was a showcase for new workstation use cases. GTC was started by NVIDIA in 2012 as a way for researchers, scientists, and engineers to share novel ways they were using graphics processing units (GPUs). The new uses took advantage of the parallel processing capabilities inherent in GPUs, where millions of small processors work on the same problem side by side.

GTC 2012 was mostly about visualization enhanced by physics. GTC Europe 2017 was a showcase for autonomous driving, machine learning, deep data analytics, and virtual/augmented reality. These new use cases are computationally intensive applications; the amount of data required exceeds the memory and bandwidth specs of most computers. Not every graphics card on the market is powerful enough to run this new generation of applications, and not every workstation has been designed to support this new level of computational horsepower. So workstation manufacturers like Fujitsu are introducing a new generation of workstations ready for the next generation of demanding performance.

Fujitsu Introduces Workstations to Meet New Demands

The latest models in the Fujitsu CELSIUS workstation line are designed to handle the most demanding graphics-intensive applications. Introduced at GTC Europe 2017 were the latest models in the Fujitsu M series (mid-range single processor) and the R series (dual processor).

CELSIUS desktop workstations are designed, engineered, and built in Germany, at Fujitsu's modern factory in Augsburg, just 70 km west of Munich. The end-to-end approach at Fujitsu ensures the best possible blend of aesthetics, performance, and reliability. CELSIUS workstations have gained a reputation for being whisper-quiet, thanks to ingenious thermal management.

The CELSIUS M770 workstation introduces a complete redesign of both the interior and exterior that will inform future Fujitsu workstation upgrades. The redesign starts with the motherboard. Unlike most workstation vendors, Fujitsu designs and manufactures its own motherboards. There is no need to make the chassis conform to the motherboard, as they are designed simultaneously.

One reason companies buy workstations instead of consumer-class computers is their greater capacity for upgrades. All components in the M770, including the power supply, are easy to remove or insert. The "design language" inside the M770 makes it obvious how to remove or insert components, and most storage devices can be pulled from the front of the device without opening the case.

Because security is always a top concern, the M770 front and side access doors are lockable. In addition, the power supply now features an intrusion switch which immediately flags any unauthorized access via the DeskView Desktop Management Software. The two power supply choices (450W or 1,000W) are both "smart" devices that can be monitored, bringing an "Internet of Things" predictive maintenance element into play.

The airflow design provides three separate cooling channels that route fresh air through the workstation and over key components. Fans are temperature-controlled, so they don't run when they're not needed for thermal management.

The M770 was given an introduction fitting for a conference featuring virtual reality applications — a fully immersive VR tour offering a walkthrough of the new M770, created on the M770. Visitors to the GTC VR Showcase could step inside a two-meter scale model and watch it explode into individual components. The presentation was created from 3D CAD data created in PTC Creo or scanned using APEC Visual. The resulting detailed model was imported into Autodesk VRED to create the final 360-degree animated, responsive visualization.

The CELSIUS R970 is a refresh of the dual-processor line, continuing a tradition of high-end workstation performance. Its predecessor, the R940, was rated as the best-performing workstation on the independent SPECwpc benchmark.

The R970 is optimized for the most demanding and memory-intensive multi-threaded applications. It can hold three ultrahigh-end GPUs like the NVIDIA Quadro P6000. New use cases and software products that take advantage of multiple CPU threads — such as Autodesk VRED for high-end visualization processing or ANSYS Discovery Live for real-time simulation — are a perfect match for the R970. Using an extension case, the R970 can be equipped with as many as seven GPUs, running a phenomenal 32.5 TFLOPS of processing power.

The predecessors to the M770 and the R970, the M740 and R940, were the workstations chosen to power the Autodesk VR Excellence Center in Munich, Germany. All effects shown in a video from the VR Excellence Center were generated in real time using Fujitsu workstations.

For more information about VR, please visit the Fujitsu VR website, where you can download the NVIDIA Professional VR brochure.

About the Author: Randall S. Newton

Randall S. Newton

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