Dell Pushes Workstation Virtualization Vision

The company is unveiling reference architectures and opening a new Center of Excellence for workstation virtualization.

ROUND ROCK, Texas—Dell officials plan to leverage the company's Wyse desktop virtualization technology and partnerships with the likes of VMware and Citrix Systems to push the concept of workstations-as-a-service.

On the first day of a two-day workshop for journalists at Dell's campuses here and in Austin, Texas, company officials on March 6 announced the first of the company's Dell Wyse Datacenter for Virtual Workstations reference architectures for VMware's Horizon View and Citrix's XenDesktop virtualization technologies.

At the same time, the company also opened its first Workstation Virtualization Center of Excellence, giving end users and software makers a place to evaluate workstation virtualization and see how their applications run in such environments. Software developers also can use the new center—which is being co-sponsored by Intel and Nvidia—as a place to get their applications certified to run on virtualized workstations.

Jeff Clarke, vice chairman of operations and president of client solutions at Dell, spoke about the company's history in workstations, a business he helped start at Dell in 1997 with the launch of the Workstation 400. According to Clarke, that history includes being the first vendor to launch mobile workstations, dual-socket workstations and—in May 2013, in a move that is now helping push the workstation virtualization approach—the first rack workstation, the Precision R7610.

"That put workstation capabilities into the data center," he told a group of more than three dozen journalists and analysts.

Dell executives see the PC business—including workstations—as a key part of the now-private company's continuing efforts to expand its enterprise solutions business. In an interview with eWEEK, both Clarke and Pat Kannar, product marketing director for Dell's Precision workstation business, said the client systems are still the vendor's best avenue for gaining new customers, and that workstations—after several quarters of flat growth or declines in the market—are now seeing sales grow. At the same time, Dell, which has put a new emphasis on workstations over the past couple of years, is gaining share in the space, which Kannar said is worth more than $6 billion.

Dell competes with Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo, among others, in the workstation market. Clarke and other executives said the key differentiators for Dell are the software the vendor offers—such as Reliable Memory Technology for improved uptime, Dell Precision Performance Optimizer for greater application performance and CAS-W for caching—and the close work it's doing with ISVs and other partners.

In a post on the company blog last year, CEO Michael Dell said the workstation represented the onset of the company's efforts around offering customers solutions rather than simply selling them hardware.

"It was the first product line we designed for a specific customer segment, with their unique requirements, obstacles and goals in mind," Dell wrote. "We even partnered with independent software vendors (ISVs) to ensure our workstations were not only compatible but optimized for the critical applications these customers require. … These machines are workhorses engineered specifically for some of our most compute-intensive customers—engineers, software developers, video editors, animators and architects, to name a few."

Dell officials said that organizations at times will try to run these compute-intensive applications on less expensive high-end PCs. However, Andy Rhodes, executive director of Dell's Precision unit, said the workstations offer technologies that the PC's can't, such as Intel's Xeon server chips and better graphics features. In addition, Kannar said the company is continuing to make strides in closing the price gap between high-end OptiPlex desktops and Precision workstations.