While virtualization technologies are all the rage on the server side, vendors have been hamstrung from delivering the performance and graphics acceleration in a virtual machine necessary for resource-intensive design tool applications, according to Bruce Blaho, an HP fellow and chief technologist for HP's workstation line. "You could virtualize, but it took an order of magnitude performance hit if you tried to run anything graphically intensive," Blaho says. "That essentially ruled out a virtual machine for CAD and CAE â it was a non-starter."
Having a virtual machine capable of running multiple applications simultaneously has enormous appeal to engineers and designers, according to Blaho. For highly technical users, the ability to run two application stacks and environments at once means they could run an MCAD program in Windows while a CAE analysis application churns away on Linux running on the same physical hardware. "An engineer could be preparing a part in an MCAD system and then hand off the part to an analysis application running on the workstation in a virtual machine and start working on the next part while that analysis is crunching," he says. "By ping-ponging back and forth, you could double the productivity of mechanical analysis."
A number of new technology platforms have coalesced to make this kind of virtualization possible on a workstation. Intel's new Xeon 5500 series processor in concert with the Parallels Workstation 4.0 Extreme workstation virtualization solution and NVIDIA SLI Multi-OS-enabled Quadro FX graphics boards are the technology building blocks along with HP's new top-of-the-line Z800 workstation. The system leverages key virtualization technologies from Intel, including VT-x for accelerated virtual CPU performance, VT-d for direct high performance NVIDIA FX graphics card and NIC assignment and Extended Page Tables (EPT) for improved performance in memory management.
The HP Z800 Workstation with NVIDIA Quadro FX 3800s and Parallels Workstation 4.0 Extreme is available now; a version with Quadro FX 4800s and FX 5800s graphics boards will follow next month.