Although companies like Apple have been discontinuing their rackmount options as time goes on, Dell is adding whole product categories. Traditionally the realm of servers, Dell has taken the form factor and added a whole new use case: workstations. Enter the Precision R5500, their newest model yet.
The R5500 takes the internals of some of Dell’s most powerful desktop workstations and crams them into a smaller, more efficient and more secure package. That latter is perhaps the biggest selling point of the R5500. Dell mentioned that while there is a definite plus to the easier deployment and manageability of a rack-mounted workstation, a big sticking point for enterprise customers is security – both of the data and of the hardware itself.
Workstations, traditionally large boxes that would grace every desk of users who needed them, can now be centralized within one area. Although they don’t support multiple concurrent use, a rack system does allow for easier access by multiple users at different times of the day.
Another upside to going remote with high-performance computing is that it pulls the computer (and sometimes the user, too) out of what would otherwise be a hostile environment for sensitive electronics. Situations like a factory, which can be dangerously loud, full of dust and constantly vibrating can wreak havoc, both on users and computers.
The magic comes in via PC-over-IP compression tech. Dell pulled a smart move here and licensed the technology from a company known as Teradici, rather than trying to go it on their own. Teradici licensed the protocol and hardware to Dell, who puts one chip into the R5500, and a second into their Precision FX100 Zero Client. A zero client is like a thin client box, except it runs no software whatsoever – instead, it streams the A/V content from the R5500 to a user’s station.
Dell claims that over Ethernet, the difference between remote and local workstation experiences is not only negligible, it’s entirely unnoticeable. Going out over the public Internet means that things won’t be quite as rosy – but users can still access the workstation via VMware View running on notebooks or desktops. That means that even remote employees can have access to some pretty powerful hardware without their employer worrying about letting one go off premises.
While the remote solution is nice, running on a local network provides a number of extra advantages – despite being located in a different room entirely, the FX100 supports dual monitors as well as other USB peripherals. Dell’s product manager mentioned that designers rendering software would be able to perform actions such as panning and rotation without lag.
Inside the R5500 is a lot more than Teradici’s hardware compression chips. Dell slots in single or dual Intel Xeon CPU configurations, dual hot-swappable power supplies and double-wide GPU spots. Those big GPU slots means that despite being a rackmount server, the Precision R5500 can support very high-end graphics solutions. Customers can also configure units with up to 192GB of RAM and five 2.5-inch SATA hard drives or six 2.5-inch SAS drives.
The new workstation is available today all across the globe. Since it does incorporate a number of extra features over a traditional workstation desktop, Dell charges a premium. In this case, the R5500 has a starting price of $2,551. Pricey, perhaps, but businesses will pay a lot for peace of mind, and good security brings an awful lot of peace.