Virtualization, isn’t easy, isn’t cheap, increasingly necessary
JPR’s conference Virtualize evolved as a response to a disconnect seen between the companies developing and selling the technology and the latest customers on the target list: creative professionals, engineers, designers, and other people who rely on computer graphics and workstation class computers. The event was sponsored by a good cross section of vendors working this market including Intel, Nvidia, Boxx, Citrix, Dell, VMWare, AMD, Lenovo.Which can be downloaded HERE
Inspiration for the conference came after a poll from JPR, which revealed widespread interest in virtualization technologies among end users, but also some mystification and worry. Traditionally virtualization implementation been the work of IT, but many professional workstation users who may work in company divisions or small companies are used to having more control over their resources. They may often be the closest thing their company has to a an IT department. And, very often, they’re the people who will decide whether they even want these technologies.
OPENING TUTORIALS FROM THE VIRTUALIZE CONFERENCE - Shawn Bass of VMWare and Stephen Vilke of CITRIX open the Virtualize conference with introductions and tutorials on Future of Graphics Remoting and Understand the benefits of centralized compute (VDI/RDSH) Which can be downloaded HERE.
Companies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and others are building cloud-based systems that handle much of the complexity by offering pre-built resources as an appliance. But there are points of disconnect in the middle. Building virtualized systems can be expensive; it can be even more expensive when it’s being built for workstation users. Stephen Vilke from Citrix identified a major point of disconnect when he talked about the role of the IT professional in large organizations. In most companies it is the job of IT to keep the systems up, running, and healthy. It is not necessarily the job of IT to be concerned with the individual experiences of the end user all the way down the line.
There may well need to be an intermediary, a consultant or team member who understands the job of both IT and the professional software user. One of the issues that was articulated several times was that companies turn to virtualization to solve a variety of problems, there Is no one size-fits all solution. That could change as companies work on creating better plumbing and easier connections, but it’s not the situation now, and that is holding the industry back from being more broadly adopted in SMBs. Speakers Tim Lawrence from Boxx and Osman Kent from Numescent both commented on how more could be done to ease the path to adoption.
The first question that has to be asked about virtualization is what problem are you solving and who are you solving it for.
Shawn Bass outlined some of the reasons people are adopting virtualization including:
- Control/Compliance of data (security)
- Provide high performance desktop environment
- Flexibility to support BYOD and COPE scenarios
- Disaster Recovery
- Reduce costs through centralized management
- Ergonomics – Minimize heat/noise in workspace
- Allow work anywhere scenarios
- Provide fast access to centralized data
There are obviously considerable benefits to be realized from virtualization but they are not necessarily being communicated to end-users. Often companies go to virtualized resources for one reason, security, or centralized management for instance, and are astounded at the benefits actually realized in productivity when employees can work anywhere, or in a much more pleasant environment.
The St. Lawrence Academy is a Catholic school, it has built a system to offer content to students, and also to enable access advanced multimedia resources to kids studying content creation using Adobe’s tools. The school was forced to build a new system to replace its aging network infrastructure but virtualization also allowed the school to build a practical system for a school that serves kids from grade school to high school. St. Lawrence’s approach combines a number of models including BYD (bring your own device) for older students, thin clients in the classroom, and network access for homework. Dolan said the school came to use this model as they recognized that giving every kid in school a computer is far from ideal. Support and maintenance is only one nightmare, but the question of getting content to students and getting feedback back from those students still remains. Dolan says St. Lawrence contracted with industry consultants, the Knavel group in San Jose, CA to build the system. He said that project could not have happened without the help of an outside consultant for the job who could help them walk through the options. Few schools have the experience and resources required to build the kind of system that St. Lawrence built.
Saint Lawrence Academy has built a system using Nvidia and Dell remote systems components to give students access to powerful accelerated compute resources in the classroom for multimedia creation. The system also enables students to access their course work at home, to collaborate and communicate with their teachers, etc. (Source: St. Lawrence Academy)
Per Nordqvist of Toyota Motorsport had quite different objectives as he and his team built a remote workstation system for designers at his company in Germany (check). Powerful workstations generate noise and heat, and Toyota Motorsport became interested in building a better environment for workers. Ironically, Bass commented earlier in the day observed that American companies do not seem as worried about building more comfortable environments for their workers, but they often realize unexpected benefits when they implement the technology of other reasons such as centralized management, collaboration, etc.
Likewise, Nordqvist said the company has been surprised at the benefits that have flowed from building what was intended to be primarily a more comfortable environment. His team used Teradici’s PCoIP technology and think clients to extend workstation capabilities from the server room to workers’ desks. They have seen increased efficiency and better workflows as a result. It’s easier for people to share information and to work with large files.
From Past to Present Virtual 3D Graphics at Boeing: Kevin Castleman described the evolution of workflow at Boeing as a result of adopting remote graphics. (Source: Kevin Castleman, Boeing)
In a different scenario involving similar workloads, Kevin Castleman, lead architect at for the Virtual Workstation service at Boeing described a situation that had become acutely difficult as the company worked on every increasing file sizes produced by design software such as Catia by Dassault Systemes. Boeing has long had a commitment to streamlining design by adopting digital workflows and collaboration, but in the early stages work was hampered by long download times as workers tried to exchange huge data files. As they adopted virtualization technologies, Castleman said his team were able to increase frame rates that allowing more direct collaboration and communication that went beyond the simple file sharing that was such a challenge with huge files.
CUSTOMER PRESENTATIONS - To access slides from the customer presentations from Per Nordqvist of Toyota Motorsport; Kevin Castleman of Boeing and Phil Dolan of Saint Lawrence Academy please download HERE
Coming soon? Or Maybe Later?In all three of these customer scenarios, the goals of virtualization were well known and there were adequate resources to realize them. Catholic boys schools like St. Lawrence Academy might not seem like the sort of organization that can build systems using virtualization technology, but consultants Knavel were able to help by offering different scenarios to the St. Lawrence team based on who would be using the software. One of the issues brought up during the conference was the important role software providers have to play in making Virtualization more practical for more users. Dreamworks’ Lincoln Wallen said that virtualization for professional work flows will get nowhere until the software companies open up more flexible licensing options for remote computing. He points out that some software is charged for per processor so in these scenarios companies see their costs soar as they try to speed processing by adding more processors to the job. Also, some software companies tie licenses to users on a one-to-one basis, or by geography, so that scenarios where workers around the world share a license – when one side of the world is sleeping the other side is working with the software to complete work – isn’t supported. In addition, Windows licensing isn’t friendly to VDI scenarios. One speaker called it a “VDI tax,” and notes that it too is holding back the industry.
Other speakers on the panel debating the future of virtualization technologies and calculating returns on investment echoed Wallen’s complaint. They asked, where are the software companies?
Another good question to ask is where are the end users? People using workstations are jealous of their power and their data. They need to actually see the benefits of virtualization – or conversely feel the pain of unbalanced network systems where all the demand comes from the desktop and data is shared via inadequate pipelines. And each and every worker using a computer on the network wants to know, what happens when the network goes down? Because it could, and it often does even in the most advanced site.
One of the major points of disconnection at this stage of the game is communication.
THE FUTURE OF VIRTUALIZATION - CEO of Numecent, Osman Kent, Tim Lawrence of Boxx and Lincoln Wallen of Dreamworks focus on Virtual Workstations and GPU centric apps and the Future of Virtualization, which can be downloaded HERE
Connecting the dots
In the past, the plan to add networking resources, leverage remote computing, move to thin clients have been top down decisions made by IT and management for workers. But, history and experience pretty clearly demonstrate that that model won’t work for professional workstation users. They have to be part of the plan and they have to value the capabilities that come with implementing virtualization. We are now at a new stage, when suppliers and users start working their way towards each other. It’s a transition that is no less earth shattering and empowering than when the mainframes and their jealous keepers started to give way to workstations and eventually PCs.
And when PCs became universally connected to each other and the Internet. It’s hard to over-emphasize the effect of connectivity, but everyone understands it from the artist finding jobs online to engineers building spaceships, and aging hipsters sharing their favorite music on Facebook. Now, think about what comes next when everyone can have access to huge amounts of compute resources when they need it, they can work together with people all over the world as if they were sitting in the same room.
But, when it comes to the topic of Virtualization, the end users have not had enough voice in the conversation, many software companies are not doing a very good job of listening, and sometimes just building the system is more complicated than it should be for time challenged, stressed professionals. All this this represents a longtime challenge for the industry.