Work-From-Home Workstations

Configuring the right workstation when engineering leaves the building.

Configuring the right workstation when engineering leaves the building.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way many of us work. According to an April 2020 MIT survey, 34% of respondents said they had transitioned to working from home in the previous month. When you consider the 15% who said they’d been working from home before the pandemic, the study indicates that nearly half the U.S. workforce is working remotely to some degree.

For engineers, that transition could be challenging. Engineering software puts high demands on computer and network resources. The office has the workstations, servers and network infrastructure to properly support engineering. When those engineers leave the building, they can't just log into their applications from the family laptop. 

In the early part of the year, many firms reacted by sending desktop hardware home with their staff, but without much planning. “When this started, you had people leaving the office with trunks full of computer equipment, or downloading as much as they could and taking the files home,” says Gary Radburn, director of VR/AR and client virtualization at Dell. “Nobody considered the safety of the data or whether you are all going to be able to work from the same model revision. Things can get very out of kilter quickly.”

Mobile Workstation Fix

For organizations considering a remote work fix for the long haul, an investment in mobile workstations is a key step. Modern mobile workstations provide the connectivity and compute power necessary for most engineering, design and simulation applications.

While there are a variety of remote work options, including the use of virtualization or remote solutions that allow you to access a desktop system remotely using a mobile workstation, those have to be planned for and implemented before an emergency. 

The most seamless approach is to move from tower to mobile workstations, which now have enough computing horsepower to match the performance of tower and desktop systems.

These workstations can be easily customized and configured to optimize specific workflows (CAD functions, finite element analysis simulations or photorealistic rendering, for example), providing enhanced performance in a multi-CAD environment.

When equipped with NVIDIA Quadro GPUs, there are workstations available that have been certified for many of the leading design and engineering software packages that leverage GPU acceleration to greatly improve performance. Ansys Discovery Live for instance, leverages the NVIDIA CUDA infrastructure for massively parallel computing to enable real-time simulation. 

A mobile engineering workstation with a multi-core processor can handle single-threaded CAD tasks, along with any other work the engineer may need to do. With the addition of a modern GPU, the increase in available cores can enable parallel intensive tasks like photorealistic rendering and simulation.

Mobile Configurations

Mobile workstations like those available from Dell can be configured with a range of powerful NVIDIA Quadro GPUs, along with enough CPU power and RAM to handle most engineering tasks. The specific configuration that is for you will depend on your workflow.

“If battery considerations are important, buy the biggest battery and don’t buy more than a four-core CPU,” says Allen Bourgoyne, a senior product marketing manager at NVIDIA. “Heavy graphics users need top-of-the-line CPUs and GPUs [graphics processing units]. These systems are wildly configurable. Every engineer can get exactly what they need.”

Updating to the latest multi-core processors and GPUs (in conjunction with upgrading your simulation software) can generate a 4X to 9X improvement in simulation speed. There are a few general guidelines for equipping a mobile workstation with enough features to handle typical design and engineering scenarios.

GPU: Most of the major CAE simulation software packages are now taking advantage of GPU performance to accelerate performance. The NVIDIA Quadro RTX series (3000, 4000, 5000) are certified for many of these applications, and (depending on the software and the model) can cut solve times in half in some instances.

CPU: Many standard CAD and CAE packages are not multi-threaded, so users that work exclusively with those tools are best served using a processor with fast, single-thread performance. For simulation and rendering, Increasing CPU core count can increase performance; those benefits are compounded when combined with a fast GPU.

RAM: Smaller data sets may be handled with 8GB to 16GB of RAM, but the general rule of thumb is to invest in as much RAM as you can afford. This is especially as the size and complexity of models is increasing. Some simulation tools may also require much larger amounts of RAM to ensure optimal performance.

Storage: Solid-State Drives (SSDs) provide up to 10X faster performance compared to a standard Hard Disk Drive (HDD). With prices coming down, an SSD is well worth the investment.

The newly released Dell Precision 7550 and 7750 are good examples of mobile workstations that offer optimal configurations for engineering applications. Both models are available with 10th Gen Intel Core and Xeon 8-core processors with up to 128GB of 2933MHz memory and 6TB of storage. They can be equipped with up to NVIDIA Quadro RTX 5000 GPUs, and support virtual reality, 3D CAD, data science and AI applications. 

Remote work requires more than just a well-built mobile workstation. Some use cases may require remote access to workstations located back at the office. Dell works with Teradici, maker of PC-over-IP (PCoIP), a display protocol that encrypts and transports pixels to user devices. Existing rack-mounted and deskside workstations are equipped with a PCoIP card; the remote user then connects directly to the required computer.

Dell Precision workstations include Dell Optimizer for Precision, which leverages Artificial Intelligence (AI) software to learn how users work and then adapts to optimize system and application performance. For organizations with a large remote workforce, having a remote management system in place to handle security issues, updates, and software licensing is a must. If engineers can't bring the devices back to the office for updates, a management tool allows IT staff to cnetralling update software and install patches for an entire fleet of workstations at the same time.

To learn more about mobile workstations and remote engineering scenarios, download the new white paper, Engineering From Home.

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