The vast majority of our students now have Apple laptops. This is a challenge in an engineering school where heavily used applications such as Solidworks are Windows only. Additionally, some engineering applications are difficult to install, or are too resource intensive to work on an older laptop.
We offer a number of Windows labs with every application under the sun, but this is a limited resource, one that is often at capacity with a class or students trying to get a project finished. Our buildings are at capacity so adding additional labs is not an option.
We’ve guided students to install Boot Camp or a virtualization solution on their Mac (Virtualbox, Fusion, or Parallels) but it is a time consuming endeavor, both for us and the student.
We’ve long wished that we could allow students to run these big engineering applications remotely on our server infrastructure. However, we had concerns about being able to scale and user interface latency. How many servers would we need to accommodate a class of students? Would the app feel sluggish when rotating a CAD model? Until recently, the available solutions didn’t look promising.
However, with the latest release of Horizon View (VMware’s Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solution), and NVIDIA’s GRID GPU, DirectX and OpenGL graphics operations can now be offloaded to a dedicated video card. We were intrigued. After our colleagues set us up with a non-graphics-accelerated demo on their VMware View server, were were sufficiently impressed to proceed with a pilot. We couldn’t find any solid information with estimates of how many users we could support on a single server. So we decided the best way to proceed was to buy some equipment and do our own benchmarking.
Our testing is just under way. We’ll follow this post up with our pilot set up and our findings on whether running resource intensive applications remotely is really feasible and cost effective.