Dell is looking at how to deliver a ‘workstation as a service' cloud computing offering in future, whereby users will be able to remotely access demanding applications running in a data centre rather than on a workstation box sitting under their desk.
The move was disclosed in a V3 interview with Rik Thwaites, Dell's head of business development in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, as Dell unveiled its new mobile and desktop Precision workstation models based on the latest Intel Haswell Core chips and Xeon processors.
Thwaites warned that this is a long-term project, and that Dell is carefully looking to build up a picture of how best to deliver such a service through 2013 and 2014 before it is likely to see the light of day.
"We're looking at enabling ways we can move performance from under the desk and into the data centre. We're not saying this is the only way to go, because there are always going to be people who want to have a workstation at their desk, but there is a growing interest because of the benefits of centralising applications and data," he said.
"We're building a good picture of who is able to use that type of technology, and that will probably set the scene for who we may be able to offer the cloud-type workstation as a service to. There will be certain markets and user types that are going to lend themselves to it more readily than others, and as we go through 2013 and 2014, we will build up a picture of how we are going to enable it," Thwaites explained.
Dell already offers a portfolio of solutions known as Dell Desktop Virtualisation Solutions (DVS) that enable enterprise customers to build their own virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) offering desktop as a service (Daas). These are typically used to serve workers with business applications running on a hosted Windows desktop.
The problem with remotely running workstation workloads the same way is that they tend to have diverse requirements, with some applications calling for high-performance 3D graphics while others benefit more from massively parallel number-crunching capabilities.
"It's not quite the same as offering Daas, which is very horizontal and all you need is a CPU and integrated graphics does the trick. With workstation applications being so diverse, a little bit more thought needs to go into it in terms of addressing certain markets," Thwaites said.
"We have some great building blocks with our server, storage, and networking offerings, and we are building lot of experience in virtualisation generally, plus a lot of experience in workstations, but we have to try and marry that all together in a way that is meaningful to the customer," he added.
Getting support from the software vendors that produce workstation applications is also proving to be an issue, according to Thwaites.
"There's a lot of discussion and work to be done around how we interact with our software partners because there's Autodesk, which fully embraces virtualisation, and Siemens with NX, which are good to go, but a lot of companies like Dassault are a little bit more resistant, shall we say," he said.
Thwaites did not specify what stumbling blocks Dell is meeting in discussions with software vendors, but these could be due to licensing issues or concerns over application performance in a virtualised environment, the latter of which he acknowledged as a challenge.
"We are learning from partnering with Citrix and Teradici on what sort of levels are acceptable in terms of response times and quality of service," he said.
"The next step is to really drive virtualisation where it makes sense and where customers want this. It certainly won't replace tower and mobile workstations in their entirety," he insisted. "It's still in the planning stage and not something we're suddenly going to throw out there and do in a rush."
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