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What is Workstation-Centered Computing?

By Steve Robbins

What is Workstation-Centered Computing?

Supercomputers are in the news with thousands and thousands of cores and teraflops of performance. They have names like Roadrunner, Nebulae and Jaguar. These machines may be the cutting edge of computing, but how often does the average design engineer get access to that kind of power?

Most of us use workstations, and most of us have to face the compromise of power vs. price. Sure, we would like a supercomputer on our desk, or our mobile workstation to finish a massive computational application in seconds flat, but we are faced with the limitations placed on us by our employers’ budgets or our own bank accounts. 

From doing a basic structural analysis to a full-blown multiphysics simulation, we are asking our workstations to accomplish more and more in a shorter length of time. When our workstations aren’t performing fast enough, we long to access the multiple CPUs in our companies’ servers or data centers.

The Need for Speed
Speed is often cited as the biggest obstacle to innovation. What’s the solution? Workstation-centered computing is one answer. With engineering workgroups using multi-core workstations configured as LAN clusters, the performance of analysis, simulation and visualization applications improves exponentially. Hardware installation and software adaptation are easier on standard CPU systems. Working on large, complex assemblies, parametric edits can be regenerated quickly, without having to decouple them into sub-assemblies. This also means fewer errors. The CAD model’s geometry can stay intact while computations move at blazing speeds.

Using unused cores on your engineering team’s workstations scales well to workgroups. If your location has 20 workstations with dual processors, you have up to 240 cores available and the there are no major electrical or cooling issues. With a high-performance interconnect, computational speed will be even faster. As a design comes closer to completion, virtual prototyping becomes reality, shortening the product’s time to market. The average time to build physical prototypes can be six month or longer. If more computational power is needed at this stage of the design process, workstation-centered computing makes it easier to use the processors outside of the workgroup.

Back to the Core
When we launched DE 15 years ago, workstations were just powerful enough to run 3D CAD models. Analysis was still the dominion of the analyst. Over the years, this has changed. Applications started taking advantage of all those cores in the data centers, already earmarked for other enterprise software applications.

Now, tremendous power is moving back to your desktop, and we are excited about it. We are planning significant editorial coverage on this topic over the next few months, including articles that explore the return on investment and how to implement your own workstation-centered computing system.

Steve Robbins is the CEO of Level 5 Communications and executive editor of DE. Send comments about this subsect to DE-Editors@deskeng.com.

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