Designed for a quiet life
Design engineers, quite rightly, care about the workstations that they work on. Apart from making sure that it is capable of running your software, there are other factors that can be looked at when drawing up your workstation spec.
Workstations are still perceived in IT environments as being complex beasts. IT managers are unlikely to have much experience of high end CAD applications and, as it is the software that will dictate what hardware is required, workstation users frequently specify their own equipment in a way that users of ordinary office desktops might not be allowed to.
Dom Webb handles sales of professional workstations for Fujitsu and his focus is very much on the design and 3D CAD market. “The reason I am fascinated [by this market] is because there is resonance between what we do from a company viewpoint, and what most designers in engineering companies do. The reason we say that is because we are the only manufacturer who designs and builds [in Germany] for Europe. Everyone else designs in the US or in Asia and then builds in Asia.”
This engineering led approach will appeal to companies who have engineering excellence at heart, claims Webb, and these companies tend to be small – only a handful of engineers each. “To me, that is a really interesting market, and actually, that's what I think we have in the UK now.”
The first consideration always has to be the software environment and the leading software vendors certify hardware to ensure its suitability, although there will obviously still be differences between what runs adequately and what runs optimally.
But if we are to assume that software compatibility has been taken care of, there are other considerations. For example, how does it fit on your desk. “Within the last few months we launched a new workstation form factor for us, which is small form factor, so it's like a small desktop. It can be orientated either on its side or on its bottom, so it even looks like a desktop. Because the typical workstation isn't very thick, you can only put a very limited set of graphic cards in it. Very cleverly, what the German engineering team did run the PCI slot in a new orientation in the lid, so you can put a full-size card in. It's unique.
Another feature is that the new workstations are relatively quiet. Rather than pumping out heat and fan noise they are pitched at around ambient levels of room noise. Even if engineers are not constantly designing, they are likely to be using the same computer as their general PC, so they will be sharing desk space with the same bit of equipment all day. If that bit of equipment is non-invasive then so much the better.
“The reason we can do it is because we use our own piece of software to design the internal chassis - we use fluid dynamics analysis within the boxes. So we are already designing the box to be quiet whereas I think a lot of people design the box and then try and make it make it quiet.”
The actual components are not necessarily that much different from other solutions, although it does feature solid state drives, but what is important is the way they are positioned and the way the air flows around them. “These are the subject points I want to talk to our customers about, because this is what customers are doing with workstations,” continued Webb. “So they understand the message, that we're not just another workstation manufacturer who takes a PC and puts a big processor in it. We are actually engineers.”
The biggest recent contract for Fujitsu in the UK and Ireland was with the Irish Government to deliver 24 of its W series workstations to each of 428 schools in Ireland. Webb said: “Each school has a CAD department, and each CAD department runs the latest version of SolidWorks. The students are trained and even take their exams on SolidWorks. And it's just brilliant, because they're training the engineers of the future. Often students come out of either secondary school or college and they can just use an education piece of software, where with this program they're coming out and they using one of the leading pieces of software available.” The whole project is costing the Irish Government around Euro 6.5 million.
Back in the UK Webb is in discussion with Reading University Technical College. “They're an Autodesk user already, and they're looking to equip a classroom to train the students who attend the UTC, but it will also be to train the wider community. One of the remits of the UTC is to be involved in the wider community.”
It’s a good project but perhaps reflects a more piecemeal approach to engineering education in the UK compared to Ireland? “Yes, it’s a problem,” observed Webb. “It's just a bit of a different viewpoint of investing in engineers of the future.”
Virtual move for workstations
HP is collaborating with NVIDIA to deliver workstations to create visually engaging and immersive virtual reality experiences.
New HP Z Workstation configurations are NVIDIA VR Ready systems, equipped with NVIDIA Quadro professional GPUs. The new configurations are claimed to provide the performance necessary for content creators to deliver a seamless and accurate VR experience. Each configuration is tested with optional HTC Vive head mounted displays. The ‘ultimate’ content creation configuration features dual NVIDIA Quadro M6000 24GB cards with availability planned this quarter.
"We are embarking on a new frontier that will change how content producers and artists develop the most immersive, visually stimulating content available," said Jeff Wood, vice president, Worldwide Product Management, Workstations and Thin Clients, HP Inc. "HP Z desktop workstations with NVIDIA graphics are the ideal combination for this new content creation era."
"VR is expanding beyond gaming to revolutionise fields across everyday life - like medicine, architecture, education, product design and retailing," said Bob Pette, vice president, Professional Visualization, NVIDIA. "Our VR Ready initiative makes it easy for professional users to adopt VR technology to make better, more informed decisions and perform their best work."
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