In the CAD and PLM industry, the cloud has been a major storyline over the course of the last year. Interestingly, there’s been a stark contrast between the options of running a software application on the desktop or remotely on a server somewhere. That story, however, is getting more refined. New options to those diametrically opposed approaches are emerging. Virtualization from CITRIX is one of them.

This post goes into the  capabilities offered by XenDesktop, a virtualization solution that specializes in 3D intensive applications. I offer my perspective on the positives and negatives of such a solution. I think this will be a fun topic over time. I’m looking forward to the discussion in the comments section. Let’s get started.

Capabilities of CITRIX’s XenDesktop

So what exactly does this thing do?

More specifically, XenDesktop offers a third option for running software applications. The first is the traditional installation on a desktop, where the compute resources reside in the computer in front of you. The second is running the software application in the cloud, such as Fusion360 and Solidworks Mechanical Conceptual. This third option, XenDesktop, allows you to run the software application on a server in your company’s data center and pipe the display to the device you are using. Basically, it is on-premise, unlike cloud uses, but also remote instead of local.

To be even more specific, when I state ‘device’, I don’t just mean your desktop. Such a display could be piped to anything with a display, including your smartphone, tablet, laptop, and yes, your desktop.

As my tweets hint, this approach has been tried before. Actually, numerous times. The fundamental challenge has been getting the display to update in real time after low bandwidth networks. The problems that would usually arise are similar to those you find when you don’t have enough compute horsepower in a desktop running locally. The display gets jumpy and lags in responsiveness. Obviously, that’s an unproductive situation.

It seems that, however, that the CITRIX folks have been and are putting their development dollars behind this effort. They boast that the solution is productive over lower latency networks, down to as little as 2MPS bandwidth. And that’s commendable.

All in all, the XenDesktop solution works with any 3D intensive software application. That includes CAD and simulation technology, but also 3D visualization and BIM software as well.

Commentary and Analysis

OK. So what exactly does this mean? Let’s take a look.

Accessing More Compute Power

The first point of value behind a solution like XenDesktop is the access to more powerful compute resources. Instead of putting incredibly powerful desktop computers in every cube, this lets the organization put more compute resources into the on-premise data center. That allows more resources like diskspace and RAM to be used as necessary by the application.

Also, what’s interesting about that is that the available compute resources are flexible, meaning a intensive set of activities could theoretically grab more cores. The problem with that, however, is that few of today’s CAD and CAE software applications are built for multi-threading. But when they start to make the transition, a solution like XenDesktop becomes more attractive because it maintains the responsiveness of application.

Supporting BYOD

Another advantage to such a solution is its support of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) IT initiatives. Essentially, these 3D intensive applications can be accessed from any device, including employees once they are given access within the firewall. But furthermore, remotely running these applications from on-premise data centers provides more compute resources than those residing on the device.

Another advantage of note is that the data in the files created by CAD and CAE applications can be quite large, which could quickly outstrip the resources available on a device. Again, running one of these applications remotely on on-premise servers addresses that problem as well.

The one concern I have in this scenario is how these applications are brought to mobile platforms. In many other software types, the application had to be rethought for the mobile. Because of multi-touch interfaces and lack of a keyboard and mouse, the experience needs to be different from that on a desktop. To date, none of the CAD or CAE software providers I know have taken that challenge on.

For Those Not Quite Ready for the Cloud

A different area where XenDesktop provides some value is the alternative it presents compared to the cloud.

Whether it is founded or not, some companies still have big concerns about putting their design and analysis data into the public cloud. Recent security breaches in major retailers and cloud services companies have executive skittish. This allows organizations to take half-measures in stepping towards the cloud, reaping some of the benefit, yet protecting their engineering data by never letting it leave the firewall.

Higher Performance for CAD to PDM Interaction

One more benefit of something like XenDesktop lies in putting the CAD or CAE application right next to the solution that manages that engineering data, whether that be a PDM system, PLM system or something else. Because such softwares can sit on the same server, or at least within the same data center, the engineering data is moved around much faster for check-in and check-out activities.

A point of note, however, is that this does nothing to support the ongoing revolution occurring with PDM. As CAD is moving to the cloud, software providers like Autodesk and Dassault Systèmes are tightly integrating PDM functionality into the CAD application. This has resulted in several advances in PDM interaction, including automated saved changes and even the implementation of fileless approaches. To be clear, XenDesktop does not change that interaction at all. You will still be checking in and out files in a manual fashion.

Recap and Summary

  • XenDesktop is a virtualization solution from CITRIX that specializes in 3D intensive software applications.
  • XenDesktop allows CAD and CAE software applications to run in a on-premise data center, serving the display to any device, including smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops.
  • CITRIX has invested development dollars into overcoming the traditional challenges of virtualizing 3D intensive software applications.
  • The advantages to such a solution includes:
    • More compute resources, residing in the data center, can be accessed compared to those residing on the local device.
    • Support of BYOD IT initiatives. However, desktop applications often need to be rethought to run on mobile platforms.
    • For those not quite ready for CAD in the cloud. This alternative allows organizations to reap some advantages associated with the cloud without moving their engineering data outside their firewall.
    • High responsiveness between CAD and PDM, although the interaction is still manual.

Alright folks. Those are my thoughts. Time for you to weigh in! Does it seem like this solution from CITRIX offers some advantages over cloud solutions? Sound off and let us know what you think.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.