Dell’s Andy Rhodes on Workstations


Andy Rhodes, the global executive director for Dell Precision workstation solutions and Steve Waskul talk about a wide range of workstation related topics in this interview from SIGGRAPH 2014.

The interview begins with Andy talking about his role leading Dell’s Precision Workstation team and how great it is to help so many creative people who work in compute-intensive fields like oil and gas, media and entertainment, engineering and manufacturing. These people are helping in many ways to change the world and Andy refers to them as the IP engines of companies.

Earlier in the day Dell had just announced a new range of workstations including models that can utilize up to 1 TB of DDR4 RAM. The models include the new Dell Precision Tower 5810, 7810 and 7910 workstations and the new Dell Precision Rack 7910 workstation which Dell says offers best-in-class remote or virtualized access solutions in a 2U form factor.

The new Tower 5810 workstation will feature a single CPU socket and the new Tower 7810 and 7910 workstations will have dual processor sockets available to accommodate the latest Intel Xeon processors.

One of the interesting things about the release that Andy mentions later is that this is one of the few times that the processor and the graphics cards are revving at the same time. This means huge generational performance gains will be available to workstation users with this new generation of workstations. So, it’s a great time for users and companies to evaluate the new systems and look closely at the cost and benefits of updating to the new systems. Also, with this particular launch, Dell has roughly 80% of the market covered with certifications which is about double what they had last time there was a launch.

As the conversation moves forward Andy and Steve talk about workstation virtualization. With many companies looking at workstation virtualization for a number of reasons Dell has stepped up to assist in the evaluation process. In both Austin and Limerick Island, Dell has set up Centers of Excellence where customers can come and play with Dell’s equipment and prove out some of their virtualization projects so they don’t have to spend their funds putting that equipment in their own data centers to see if it actually works for them.

Being able to develop a proof of concept in a structured environment with teams of Dell solution experts available can make a huge difference as Waskul.TV found during our transition earlier this year to the new Dell PowerEdge VRTX solution for the Waskul.TV platform. If you consider the expense and time involved in setting up a proof of concept for something new on your own vs. the benefits received by having an environment that is setup with all the hardware and software and expertise on not just the hardware but the software solutions as well (VMware, Citrix, Microsoft), there are a lot of benefits to be had by taking advantage of these centers.

On the virtualization side, Andy acknowledges that it makes sense for a lot of Dell customers to virtualize but that depending on the applications they need solutions for it may not make sense as well. Mr. Rhodes feels that Dell is well positioned in this market with a breadth of solutions. (Dell has everything from thin and light mobile workstations to under the desk tower workstations all the way up to rack-based solutions). Also, he points out that on the workstation side customers are mainly using them to complement other parts of the workflow. So in the media & entertainment space virtualized machines wouldn’t necessarily replace your tower and mobile workstations but might complement them. Some of the factors that come into play in the decision process include what applications would be running in the virtualized environment, how many users customers want on a particular piece of hardware and of course on the user experience wanted as well.

Continuing, Andy covers the ways Dell works with all the major ISVs to get the Dell hardware certified so that customers can be assured that their applications will be running great on the Dell hardware. One of the unique offerings Dell has is the Dell Performance Optimizer which is a free piece of software on all Dell workstations that senses which application is running and then “auto tunes” the workstation to that application. With the workstation properly “tuned” for the running application the user can enjoy a much better experience so Dell has found that users are very appreciative when they discover and begin to use the Dell Performance Optimizer.

Next, the conversation moves to Dell’s new announcements with Teradici which covered a new software application that can allow users to remote their workstation screens to any device through software so they don’t need any additional hardware. At $199 this application represents another way Dell is working to help customers get the most out of their workstations.

Moving forward Steve and Andy talk about the need to balance the system configurations in order to optimize the hardware. Dell has performance labs with people who spend all their time in the lab working on applications to make sure that Dell can publish configurations that will help customers understand what they should purchase for given applications. Of course this depends on how the applications are used but it’s a great start to know what experts recommend in terms of processor speed / video card / RAM / storage configurations for a given application. In many cases it might be that it makes sense for the user to save a bit of money by buying one level down on a certain component and then taking that money and upgrading another area. Unless you have the budget to just buy the top of the line in all areas, having this help from Dell’s performance labs can be a great starting point for customers.