HP takes workstations out from under the desk

HP adds the Blade Workstation to its ProLiant line of servers

Financial traders at a London company wear shorts to work because heat from workstations under their desks is so bad. Hewlett-Packard has invented technology to take the workstations out from under the desks and replace them with blade-style computers tucked away in a separate datacenter.

HP's Blade Workstation, to be introduced Thursday, is an addition to the company's ProLiant line of servers. While end users still have a monitor, mouse and keyboard at their desks, the CPU (central processing unit) is now in the datacenter. This configuration shares similarities with the "thin client" architecture that has been available for a number of years, in which end users are connected by a network to remote servers. And while some of HP's competitors offer blade style replacements for personal computers, an industry analyst says HP's is the first known product that replaces desk-site workstation hardware with a blade at a remote location.

"HP has kind of caught the other guys napping with regard to really applying this technology to a workstation," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group, a technology consulting firm.

The Blade Workstation is designed for environments where end users need a lot of computing power at their desks but don't want the CPU generating excessive heat, said Don Olsen, worldwide business development manager for HP's Blade Workstations.

People on the trading floor of the London financial firm operated with as many as three to five workstations under their desks that fed multiple monitors displaying all sorts of financial data, Olsen said, declining to identify the firm. Although the room was air conditioned, it was still as hot as 86 degrees Fahrenheit below the desks.

"Some of these guys were wearing shorts on their lower half because it was so warm under their desk but a jacket on top because the cold air was coming out of the ceiling," Olsen said. By moving to a new trading floor in which the under desk workstations were replaced with blades in a remote datacenter, the temperature below the desk fell to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

Moving the workstations to the data center makes it easier to cool the computers, as excessive heat can affect performance, and also improves data security, he said. The Blade Workstation setup also includes HP Remote Graphics Software (RGS) that delivers the robust graphics required of end users in such high-computing environments as financial trading and computer-aided design. End users who still need those multiple monitors can't afford to have latency problems. While similar to Microsoft's Remote Desk Protocol for delivering images to monitors from a remote data center, RGS is designed for the high-demand graphics environment, Olsen said.

Pricing for the blade hardware starts at $6,400 although if purchased in volume, it starts at $4,900, HP said. The equipment on the client desktop starts at between $600 to $800, though it drops to $450 to $650 if purchased in volume.

Hitachi Data Systems and ClearCube Technology offer blade replacements but only for personal computers at the desk, not workstations, Enderle said.

Although impressive, the HP Blade Workstation may be limited to new construction, he added. "It’s somewhat difficult to retrofit. Where this makes the most sense is ... where you are talking about a new building."

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