Do you hear what I hear?

Industry conversations and feedback about Virtualized CAD

When new technology emerges in an area that’s been watched for a while, it’s not surprising that it generates interesting conversations and questions about capabilities, costs, and business implications. That’s what I’ve been hearing lately about virtualized CAD (Computer Aided Design).

What is virtualized CAD? Also known as Hosted Workstation, 3D Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, or Hosted Virtual Desktop, it offers the ability to run CAD applications and render 3D graphics centrally in the data center, with compressed pixels for the rendered images sent across the network to a user’s device for remote display.

Considered in totality, this isn’t exactly new capability. However, with the emergence of virtualization in the GPU adapter itself by NVIDIA and Citrix (NVIDIA GRID™ vGPU™ –, the tight integration with the virtual desktop environment from Citrix (, and the hardware, resource and workload management technologies from IBM Technical Computing ( and Platform Computing (, this is now an area to consider regardless of previous experiences.  As CAD venders begin to support certification of their applications and offerings in virtualized environments, as PTC and Autodesk have been doing with Citrix, NVIDIA and IBM, it takes the discussion and consideration to a new level.

As background, I blogged two years ago on this topic and shared what it means for microprocessor and ASIC chip development at IBM. That blog: Talk the talk, walk the walk, covered many of the core messages that continue to hold true today.

More recently, I had the opportunity to speak about this at PTC Live! in Stuttgart, Germany at a session titled “Virtualized CAD – a key to unlocking the future” I heard what industry players wanted to know about current capability and how they hoped to use it.  Regardless of engineering or IT title, regardless of the size of the design shop, overwhelming, they were looking for ways to break through the barriers in current operations.

Specifically, this is what I heard there, and have been hearing across the past several months:

  • Engineers are looking for a paradigm shift in design mobility and performance. They want the same look, feel, access and experience of today’s fixed workstation environment without being tied to a location or the hassle of managing a mobile workstation and continually loading and unloading content from it. As a result they are asking about the reach, range and performance of virtualized CAD environments – which is exactly what IBM, Citrix, and NVIDIA are working to demonstrate and improve over time. Engineers get excited when they hear about the ability to improve collaboration and the potential to leverage their skills on projects in other locations – expanding their technical vitality. The potential to access newer technology for CAD applications than permitted today by their workstation refresh cycle, and to access greater amounts for computing power for larger models or more design iterations – all possible via shared technical computing resources in the data center – adds to their interest. They asked about the cost of acquisition, but moving to a virtualized CAD environment is not the same as new workstation purchase. The answer depends on model size, type of user, ability to share compute and graphics resources and other factors. Fortunately, efficiency is about sharing and vGPU™ capability and IBM resource and workload management technologies enhance sharing potential.
  • Design managers told me they like the advantages of providing design desktops from a shared pool of resources and the potential to run design analysis when there is idle capacity. They are also looking for ways to improve collaboration and gain access to key skills in other locations. Often they are looking for ways to safely bring design partners into their design environment, providing secure access to the specific content and tools necessary for the partnership. With a concern for design intellectual property, keeping data in the data center and not having to move it out to the workstation environment both secures and protects it with data center security and backup policies. On-boarding new design skills into their teams is also a concern when it takes weeks to order and install new equipment, load with applications, assign IDs and connect to projects and data.
  • IT Specialists and Directors of IT say they are sometimes locked out of the engineering environment because it is viewed as too unique and specialized to allow corporate IT to manage and maintain it. Those who do manage and maintain the environment, including personal workstations, say they often see a proliferation of applications with little say over what gets installed and many challenges migrating users and applications to new technology. They are looking for ways to provide standardized images that have been pre-tested with the latest level of selected applications for common deployment across their environments. This includes what gets loaded into a virtualized CAD desktop, based on the type of user and their role in the project. This kind of standardization and pre-testing leads to the kind of new user on boarding that design managers are looking for.
  • Finally, Vice Presidents of Engineering and IT both say they are looking for ways to realize global operations that are more efficient at reduced cost and expense. Silo’ed resources, whether engineering IT, skills, applications or the underlying data reflecting the design undermine these operations. They tell me they see the efficiencies of centralizing and sharing engineering and IT resources – as long as you can make assignments based on project and schedule priorities. They say that centralized storage and data management are key aspects of these improved efficiencies, and the ability to attract key skills and partners to projects via remote access removes physical location as a limiting factor. Engineering VPs are also asking about the ability to rapidly stand up new project environments, in addition to new users, and they speak highly of IT organizations who are working with them to jointly realize this need.

Through all of this I’m hearing that successful product development companies are transforming both engineering and IT environments and discovering new synergies in the intersections between them.  Virtualized CAD is one of the keys to unlocking this future and the latest announcement on vGPU™ capability and the pairing with IBM technology makes this more compelling to understand the fit to specific needs.


3 thoughts on “Do you hear what I hear?

  1. Hi David, My name is Ian Mulcaster, I am a tech startup, with a background in CAD. 4 years ago I left my contract job to carry out my idea… Design on Demand…. We have just completed a POC streaming Autodesk Apps from a DC out to the users on a WiFI connection in the UK and Europe … The results where very impressive…!! We have been working with Citrix and Autodesk, Nvidia + our data centre partner…

    Check out our beta testers results on our Youtube channel…

    Here is a guest blog we wrote for citrix blogs:

    Look forward to hearing your thoughts.


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