Going Virtual with the BOXX ProVDI 8401R-V

Virtualization has enabled companies to host multiple users running business office applications on a single server. But until recently, these virtual machines lacked the power to meet the graphics-intensive needs of designers and engineers.

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is a recent variation on the client-server computing model. It hosts a desktop operating system – such as Microsoft Windows – on a centralized server. That desktop image is then delivered over a network to an end-point device, most often a traditional PC. The user then interacts with the OS and its applications as if they were running locally.

This approach can have many benefits. Because little actual computing takes place at the endpoint, you no longer need a powerful workstation at your desk. With the applications and user files all residing on a central server, data is stored securely in the data center. You can login remotely from anywhere with a LAN or internet connection. And because everything stays in the server room and runs on the server, users don’t need to transfer large files – only keyboard and mouse input is sent to the server and pixels streamed back to the user.

 
BOXX Breaks New Ground

BOXX has been quite active in the VDI arena for many years, having previously released both PCoIP- and GRID- (GPU virtualization) based solutions. Last fall, BOXX introduced its ProVDI 8401R-V, the world’s first overclocked VDI system. BOXX claimed that its new ProVDI solution provided enough power to fully support graphics-intensive 3D modeling applications. By overclocking the CPU, the BOXX ProVDI hardware significantly boosts performance over that of competing VDI systems. And by relying on individual professional-grade NVIDIA graphics cards rather than GRID technology, the BOXX ProVDI solution delivers faster frame rates on the endpoint device while eliminating the licensing costs associated with GRID software.

At least, that’s the promise. To see for ourselves, we undertook one of the most intensive hands-on reviews ever conducted at DE, extending over several months. BOXX initially configured a ProVDI system for our use at their headquarters in Austin, TX. We logged on to this system remotely and ran an extensive suite of tests, including industry-standard benchmarks as well as several mainstream CAD applications. BOXX then shipped the hardware to our offices where we repeated all of those tests a second time to compare the difference in performance caused by latency. We reasoned – quite logically – that performance would improve when accessing the virtual machines over a LAN with the server sitting a few feet from the clients rather tha over the internet to a server located more than 2,000 miles away. The results surprised us.

 

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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.

 

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Overclocked VDI For Power Users

Pro VDI™ is BOXX’s philosophy towards virtual desktop infrastructure which focuses on optimized configurations that preserve critical application performance for users of graphics intense applications.  This article focuses on our new overclocked 8401R-V and its unique, industry leading price/performance advantages over traditional VDI products.

Introducing the new 8401R-V, a 3U overclocked rack mount server engineered by BOXX to exploit the benefits of VDI while matching the performance of bare metal workstations. Continue reading