MCAD is running like heck from the desktop. The possibilities of where CAD data is accessed from and where you are when you access it just keeps on growing I tell ya. First you have laptops coming out sporting the AMD Turion X2 Ultra to integrate processor and graphics card capabilities. That equals more power, anywhere.

Now you have HP bringing thin-client workstations to MCAD, workstations that move that box right off your desk and into the depths a server room.

That’s right, all the 3D CAD data is accessed, not from your hard-drive, but from a data-center somewhere else. Can it possibly work? Lets take a look.

The first look
HP has been developing their Blade technology for quite some time. What’s new about it now is updated support for CAD programs like Dassault’s V6 and options for Dual/Quadcore processors with nVidia graphics cards. Greg Corke at Develop3D takes an in-depth look at the benefits:

  • Data Management – confidential data never leaves the data centre, which not only makes it more secure, but easier to manage.
  • User flexibility – When a user logs on at a client they are hardwired to a Blade. Up to four blades can be accessed by a single client…
  • Environmental Control – Putting everything in a central location makes it easier to control.

He includes you’ll have increased cost for infrastructure and conditioning your new server-farm, but the benefits could solve many typical problems within large collaborative engineering and co-located environments.

Image from HP Blade Station Overview PDF (279kb)

The feasibility of accessing data remotely?
Now, considering if this will actually be faster than loading a model straight off your hard-drive may seem a whole other mystery. What magic is HP doing? What the HP Blade system uses to get your models to you quickly is “Remote Graphics Software” (RGS). This crunches that 3D down into super-compressed pixelized data that can be read super fast over high bandwidth lines which the workstations readily accept. This is the key ingredient for a system running thin-clients to be usable in the least.

There’s plenty of case studies on the HP site that this technology has provided better collaboration. It’s great to see the use of thin-client, remote-access computing becoming more feasible within 3D CAD environments. What I’d really like to see however, is RGS-type technology used by the CAD companies to speed data access regardless of server location or type. Then we can really rule our CAD.

More info at the HP Blade Site


Josh is founder and editor at, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.