Can a Virtual Workstation truly provide an experience comparable to a traditional deskside machine?

Giving Boxx’s Pro VDI a test drive

Business executives and IT administrators alike have long been enamored with platform virtualization technology, and rightfully so. the advantages of hosting virtual desktops remotely in the data center are well-known and precisely the reason VDI — Virtual Deskstop Infrastructure (VDI), one but not the only example of hosted virtual desktops — has grown from nothing to a near $6 billion dollar business.

With the relatively recent advent of GPU-accelerated server-hosted virtual machines, businesses that rely on traditional workstations (deskside towers and mobile laptops) can finally join the virtual hosting opportunity. Many are in the process now of evaluating virtual workstation solutions to determine if they might replace or complement a business’s existing traditional workstation infrastructure.

But users don’t have the same interests and computing environments that executives and administrators do. Whereas the latter are concerned with security, cost, management and other business issues, the former’s concerns are only about doing their jobs effectively and efficently. And that means running their critical applications and workflow as effectively on a remotely hosted virtual machine as they’ve done it with traditional physical machines at their desk. If they can do that, great. But if they can’t, then all those promised benefits of virtualization are moot.

And that’s why we were intrigued to test a new product from Boxx Technologies, a server optimized to host virtual workstations to serve professional-caliber, graphics-intensive applications. Could it deliver a workstation experience comparable to traditional deskside machines?



Boxx aggressively exploring virtual workstation technology with multiple hardware options

A respected long-time vendor of high-performance workstations for CAD and Media/Entertainment applications, Boxx  has flourished in the face of Tier 1 workstation competition (i.e. HP, Dell and Lenovo) by pushing the envelope on technologies  and new computing approaches. On the latter front, the company is leaving no stone unturned in its attempt to be a  leader in the emerging arena of virtual workstations.

The company has introduced not one but two Boxx-branded server lines equipped with GPU accelerators and optimized  for virtual workstation hosting: Pro VDI and GRID. The GRID brand product delivers an official Nvidia GRID vGPU solution  running on Tesla GPU-based boards, while Pro VDI products a built on Quadro professional graphics boards. Why  both a GRID compliant and non-GRID product line? Well, the answer is two-fold. Some feel that dedicating a physical GPU  to a virtual machine (VM; i.e. vDGA) performs better than a VM with GRID vGPU running a dedicated (single-user) profile.

The second answer is likely the more important one: Nvidia GRID licensing. Running an official GRID solution on top  of Tesla M-series GPUs (and future GPUs, presumably) requires one of three GRID license options. The appropriate license  for professional applications is the Virtual Workstation license, and that’s substantially more expensive — expensive enough  for many to pass on GRID and stick with the existing vDGA solutions running on Quadro or AMD Radeon Pro boards.



Reviewing Two New BOXX Workstations

An excerpt from “Reviewing Two New BOXX Workstations”, courtesy of Jon Peddie Research
Click here for the full article and to see the benchmarks.

One that bends the traditional design mold … and another that shatters it

We’re not going to lie. Reviewing one workstation after another can get a bit tiresome. Machines can start looking an awful lot alike, but that’s rarely the case when we review a Boxx machine, and that goes twice this time around. The company sent us two of its newest workstations: the Apexx1 and Apexx 2. Both differentiate themselves from the typical workstation, one more modestly and one quite dramatically.

The conventional (sort of) Apexx 2.

Let’s start with the more conventional machine, although for Boxx, conventional is a relative term, as the company thrives by building products that the mainstream vendors typically aren’t building.

From the outside, the Apexx 2 doesn’t look a whole lot different, sharing the conventional convertible mini-tower (CMT) chassis; it’s on the inside where the mid-tier Apexx 2 workstation looks anything but common.

Most obvious is Boxx’s performance-focused calling card: the liquid-cooled CPU. Allowing the 4.0-GHz Core i7- 6700K to be clocked at 4.4 GHz delivers up to a 10% performance boost, which is going to have a noticeable effect for much of the single-thread code that throttles a lot of common professional applications, particularly in CAD. Beyond that we have a high-end Nvidia Quadro M5000 GPU with 16 GB of DDR4-2133 memory (this model can accommodate up to 64 GB).

Another premium performance touch comes with the Intel 800 GB SSD in a PCI Express slot. Paired with the recent advance of the NVMe software interface, the combination provides the highest performing storage system available in the industry today. Delivering the power to drive all these components is a 550-watt power supply unit (PSU), capable of 80 Plus Gold efficiency, which is quite reasonable for a machine of this class. Continue reading