Josh Peterson on HP Z Workstations, Virtualization & DreamColor

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HP’s Director of Worldwide Product Management for HP Z Workstations Josh Peterson joins Steve Waskul to talk about workstation performance, features, virtualization and HP DreamColor Professional Displays.

The interview begins with a look at some of the ways HP works to build reliability into HP Workstations. For the users of professional workstations, lost productivity is not acceptable and Josh demonstrates that HP understands this and acts to provide workstations that give the highest levels of reliability. With over 30 years of experience in the workstation business (longer than anyone Josh tells us) HP understands how to leverage their facilities located in Fort Collins, Colorado to perform rigorous testing to verify performance under extreme conditions.

It is well known by users that HP workstations are designed and built for mission-critical workloads and 24 x 7 operation. That’s why you’ll find that in many cases they use the same components as HP Servers like Intel® Xeon® processors, ECC memory, and enterprise-class storage options.

Josh explains that the testing HP performs goes well beyond normal testing of usage models. HP used to make their own processors, had their own operating system, graphics cards etc. and all the labs that were required for this are still there in Fort Collins and they are still functional. Certainly the industry has changed a lot and now HP uses industry standard components. But, the labs and the teams with decades of experience are still hard at work specifying, testing, analyzing and deciding upon the designs and components that will become part of the next generation HP Z Workstations.

HP has PhD Material Scientists on site in the Workstations Material Science Lab, shake and shock chambers, ovens and a 10 meter chamber located in Fort Collins. So, throughout the design process any issues that are discovered can be addressed right there with the engineers on site. Steve asks Josh specifically about the shake and shock chambers and is told that HP uses several tools to shake and drop their workstations to simulate shipping and real world usage events. He explains that a 6G shock to a workstation with a heavy graphics card installed that might weigh a few pounds can put tremendous stress on the motherboard. But, it is very conceivable that this could happen when someone accidently bumps into a table etc. while carrying a workstation. The shake and shock tests are part of HPs efforts then to help protect users from these “accidents” and to ensure its systems can hold up to a combination of stresses like this.

Overall, the current HP’s current platforms undergo roughly 95,000 hours of extensive testing and validation. In addition to the shock testing noted above this includes functional, electromagnetic, vibration, acoustic, temperature, humidity, environmental compliance and compatibility and integration testing.

Moving on, Steve asks Josh about HP memory and the validation process. Josh says that HP spends a lot of time carefully qualifying not just memory but many components that are selected for their enterprise-class reliability and performance. HP has a qualification process that begins with industry-standard tests and benchmarks but then relies on their 30+ years of experience and custom validation tests to make sure the all components will interact properly within the operating environment.

Next, the conversation moves on to the HP Z Turbo Drive. Josh begins by explaining that for years one of the biggest bottlenecks to workstation performance has been storage. Over the last few years users have been very excited about SSDs because they provide huge performance increases over hard disk drives. One issue now, he explains is that the NAND SSDs have become so fast that when you start placing them in an array their combined speed can quickly saturate the SATA bus. So, the limiting factor for bandwidth becomes the SATA connection to the motherboard. That’s where the HP Z Turbo Drive steps in with its ability to directly connect to the PCIe infrastructure. The card is offered in both 256GB and 512GB versions with the lifetime endurance being greater for the 512 GB version. Current list price for the models is $499 and $899 respectively which Josh explains represents a great price for the performance you get. As the technology evolves, HP plans to keep the card up to date with the latest capacities and technologies available. The HP Z Turbo drives can also be configured in RAID arrays for even faster performance and data redundancy.

Thunderbolt™ 2 technology is a huge step forward in performance taking two 10Gbps bi-directional channels and combining them into one 20 Gbps bi-directional channel. Josh confirms that Thunderbolt™ 2 is now available in all HP Z Workstations. He explains that this technology is a game changer for teams working with video where the files continue to get larger and consume more bandwidth as resolutions and frame rates increase. With Thunderbolt™ 2, users can transfer 4K video from an external drive to a workstation while at the same time allowing connectivity to a 4K display. For a detailed discussion of Thunderbolt™ 2 technology see our interview from the 2014 NAB Show with Intel’s Jason Ziller.

HP DreamColor Professional Displays are the next topic of conversation. Josh starts with a quick overview of how HP developed the DreamColor Professional Display line many years ago in collaboration with their studio partners like DreamWorks (who the display is named after). At the time DreamWorks was using large CRT monitors but they had a problem because the manufacturer was going to discontinue them and this is what they used for their color reference monitors. DreamWorks wanted to make the move to flat-panel technology but the cost of pro quality color-critical models was prohibitive. So, HP worked with DreamWorks and other studio partners to develop the DreamColor Professional Display that has been available for years. This year, in the NAB Show StudioXperience, HP just announced two new versions of the DreamColor Display. The 24” Z24x at $599 and the 27” HP Z27x at $1499.

One of the great features Josh mentions about the HP DreamColor Z27X is HP’s integrated calibration engine in addition to 4K input support and 10bit color. Monitor calibration is as simple as connecting a probe to the monitor and pressing a button. So, no client device is required for calibration. The DreamColor Display offers 100% coverage of sRGB, 100% of Adobe RGB, 100% of BT. 709 and 99% coverage of the DCI-P3 color space according to HP.

Moving back to workstations, Josh says that HP spends a lot of time talking with their customers in different vertical segments. As expected, everyone wants the best possible performance they can get. But, different industries can have very different specific needs. So, on a regular basis HP meets with their customers to go over roadmaps and design concepts to make sure that they are in tune with their customer’s needs. For HP workstations the media and entertainment space represents one of their biggest and fastest growing opportunities – especially as some customers are migrating from other platforms to windows & Linux.

The men next look at the breadth of the HP Workstation portfolio. For those who need the best possible portability there’s the HP ZBook 14 Mobile Workstation featuring Intel® Core™ Processors. If you’re looking for a desktop replacement that’s still mobile HP offers the Zbook 15 and the HP Zbook 17. The HP Z1 is the industry’s first and only all-in-one workstation that features amazing serviceability and technologies wrapped around a 27” IPS LED LCD display. And, on the tower side HP has workstations ranging from the Z200 series all the way up to the Z800 series. So, Josh points out, regardless of what your needs are for a form factor, HP has you covered.

The final topic of conversation for the interview is the move for some companies toward virtualizing the workstation and remotely accessing workstations and virtual workstations. HP Remote Graphics Software or HP RGS is covered in this discussion. Version 7 was released this year and with 10 years of history behind it, Josh explains that it was really designed for no latency and tremendous responsiveness. The software is somewhat operating system agnostic as well and is starting to integrate things like touch for windows tablets etc. The receiver is free and the sender is licensed and comes with current workstations or can be downloaded from HP.

This interview was conducted just ahead of the release of HP’s newest workstations the HPZ440, HPZ640 and the HPZ840 which feature the latest Intel processors and GPU solutions from NVIDIA and AMD. We are looking forward to seeing how these new platforms perform as all of these areas are “revving” simultaneously this year which is very exciting.