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June 2018

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Page 30 of 43 29 POST JUNE 2018 WORKSTATIONS station is the assurance that it will run the most frequently-used apps as they are designed, com- monly referred to as "application certification." During the development process, workstation suppliers work closely with independent software vendors (ISVs) to ensure that the application's special features and functionality are fully sup- ported. ISVs such as Autodesk, Bentley, Siemens, PTC, and others work with the AIB suppliers like AMD, Nvidia, and their partners. They also work closely with CPU suppliers like Intel and AMD to fine-tune their software drivers for three operating systems (Windows, Linux, and MacOS), to make sure special features and func- tions in the applications fully exploit all the accelera- tion capabilities in the hardware, which are (hope- fully) exposed through the driver. In addition to three operating systems, there are three (or four) application program interface (API) standards that the workstation suppliers have to support: OpenGL being the most import- ant and, in some cases, DirectX. Two new APIs, Vulkan and Metal, are also being added. Not all ISVs offer support for every combination, but nonetheless, that suggests there can be up to 12 combinations of OS and API that must be tested across at least a half-dozen AIBs. Additionally, there are a half-dozen CPUs, which expands the potential number of certifications to 432 possibili- ties. Obviously, they don't test for these scenarios; however, testing for a dozen or two is not unusual. With all that effort to ensure the maximum, most reliable performance, the surveyed end users don't fully appreciate or understand the certification link- age and importance between the processors (CPU and/or AIB), software driver, API, OS, and applica- tion. And yet, if any one of those components in that chain fails, the system stops and it burns time and money in debugging and repairing it. The time and money aspect of production engineering design work is precisely the backbone of a workstation — rock-solid and "bulletproof," as they say in the industry. So, given how important "fail-safe operation" is in a workstation, you'd think the users, especially at the level of those surveyed, would have a deeper understanding — if not ap- preciation — for its value. Nevertheless, it doesn't appear to be part of the evaluation criteria by the managers on their purchasing checklist, and yet, it ranks number one in the decision tree chart on page 31. However, the real value is to professional IT managers, who get a guarantee that if they buy hardware that is certified with the application they are using, it will just work! The value is in the enterprise-level support that the certification process provides the base, to ensure not only a good release, but also the ability to support it for multiple years. Nvidia, for example, actually tests a majority of the combi- nations and maintains builds/regression testing across multiple OSs, versions of OSs, and multi- ple versions of the ISV app. Furthermore, they'll test and support multiple ISV apps running together on the same system. This cross-testing helps ensure the best supported workflow and not just the best supported app. The Value of ECC The highly dense, high-speed random-access mem- ory (RAM) used in today's modern computers is a miracle of technology, but it's not foolproof. Those microscopic memory cells can miss a signal, get confused by cosmic rays, thrown off by temperature and/or voltage surges, and some say even misbe- have if there's a "bad moon out tonight." All of these errors become more common as you increase the amount of memory in a system. Knowing the inher- ent fragility of RAM, circuit and system designers have developed schemes to catch, and sometimes correct, for such failures. Approaches have been developed to deal with unwanted bit-flips, including immunity-aware programming, RAM parity memory, and error-correcting code (ECC) memory. ECC memory was introduced in the late '70s and early '80s. An ECC-capable memory control- ler can detect and correct errors of a single bit per 64-bit "word" (the unit of bus transfer), and detect — but not correct — errors of 2 bits per 64-bit word. Technical decision-makers responding to the sur- vey said they saw minor advantages to ECC overall but felt it was vital to CPU-heavy workloads. Some respondents felt ECC was critical for AEC users performing rendering and senior designers/ engineers in M&E, healthcare/biotech, and energy/ oil and gas. Those who have used systems with and without ECC reported they consider the feature a critical factor for improved reliability and productiv- ity. Others think it depends on the workload of the end user. When users move to an Intel Xeon proces- sor-based workstation, they are assured they have ECC, which gives them the stability they demand for their systems. ECC memory is one of the distinguishing features of a workstation and one of the elements that contributes to its nonstop reliable functionality. The survey indicated that efforts should be made to enable better understanding of the benefits of ECC and how it helps resolve a lot of the pain points users have identified. Performance Attributes Technical decision-makers and business deci- sion-makers who responded to the survey are confused about which component contributes the most to great and/or poor performance. Keep in mind, they aren't computer experts any more than they have to be to get their primary job done, so they can be excused if they don't know where the bottlenecks are in a system. And keep in mind, those bottlenecks shift over time from memory, to software, to CPU and so forth. This does, however, indicate that the sources of information that the technical and business decision-makers are using (magazines, Web pages, newsletters, user groups and conferences) are not delivering sufficient information to them so they can make a more informed purchasing decision. Based on the comments above about ECC and ISV certification, it seems clear that price is getting a major piece of mindshare in the decision process. That is almost a complete reversal from 10 and 20 years ago: In previous studies conduct- ed by Jon Peddie Research (JPR) and others, price was never the primary decision factor; performance, reliability, vendor and certification were always ahead of it. But with the expansion of the market to the entry level, price has crept up in importance. For the high-end users, though, it is still low on the list. Running Multiple Workloads The technical and business decision-makers who focused on the workstation insofar as it would be configured and certified to run their most critical workloads indicated that sufficient memory, fol- lowed by a high-end CPU and AIB, are top work- station purchase priorities. The number one item identified in the survey was a high-end, multi-core CPU processor for multi-tasking. Some respon- dents reported to have six to seven programs run- ning at once, powering multiple workloads to boot. For a group that wasn't certain about what was the most critical part of the workstation, the ISV certification is more critical to technical decision-makers, as they configure and repair workstations. However, certification is much less important in China than in North America. ISV CERTIFICATION 30% Critical factor for selecting vendors 24% Nice to have - not critical 22% Compatibility critical, not via ISV 20% Minor consideration 4% Not critical

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