Dell Precision – SIGGRAPH 2017 and Democratizing Visual Computing

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Compute performance is expressed most often in terms of benchmark tests, and the resulting gains new systems offer over previous generation solutions. But such analysis can benefit from situational details, like a ruggedized system’s ability to survive extreme temperatures, humidity and vibration/impact.

There are also cases where the work that solutions perform best defines their value. A good example is in the workstations and systems used to create or render visual computing workloads, like the computer-generated imagery (CGI) effects in popular films and interactive games. The fact is that visual computing has revolutionized and essentially reinvented the film and game industries, along with related businesses of every size and kind.

These points underscore the new Dell Precision solutions announced this week at SIGGRAPH 2017, the annual conference hosted by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) in Los Angeles.

The revolution in visual innovation

You could argue that the CGI revolution began in 1982 when special effects mavens at Star Wars creator George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic (ILM, now owned by Disney) developed the first completely computer-generated film scenes (the “Genesis sequence” in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan).

Dell Precision SIGGRAPH 2017

Over time, vendors like Silicon Graphics (now SGI, and a part of HPE) helped make CGI synonymous with Hollywood blockbusters. In fact, Silicon Graphics systems were used in all of the films nominated for Academy Awards in Visual Effects from 1995 to 2002. Those included Oscar-winners Independence Day, Titanic, The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings.

However, eventually the script for CGI was rewritten by commodity systems that democratized the market for visual computing. Those solutions which leverage Intel Xeon-based hardware running Windows or Linux, and NVIDIA and AMD GPUs, continue to dominate sales today. In addition, like every other form of commoditized technology, steadily improving performance coupled with regular declines in cost enabled thousands of visual computing entrepreneurs and innovators to enter global markets.

Along with major players, like Disney’s ILM and Pixar and NBCUniversal’s Dreamworks Animation, the current CGI market also supports hundreds of visual computing specialists, including Double Negative, OLM Digital, 30 Ninjas, Cinesite, Rising Sun Pictures, and KRU Studios. They and others in related fields are the beneficiaries of the democratization of visual computing that paralleled similar commoditized technology developments in high performance computing HPC) and supercomputing.

Dell Precision – Then and now

Dell entered the visual computing and CGI markets in 1997 with the first entries in its Precision workstation portfolio. The company sold just 700 units in its first quarter but grew sales by 10X to over 7,000 Precision units in the second. By 2000, Precision contributed over $1B to the company’s annual revenues and Dell enjoyed a solid market leadership position.

More importantly, paralleling Silicon Graphics position in Hollywood films in the late 90s and early 2000s, Dell Precision is the platform of choice for many of today’s biggest Hollywood films and Oscar winners. For example, Dell customer Double Negative, took home the 2016 Best Visual Effects Oscar for Ex Machina, surpassing other blockbusters like Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

With that win, Dell has now been central to five of the last seven Academy Awards in Visual Effects, including Inception (2011) and Hugo (2012), and Gravity (2014), and Interstellar (2015) (which were both Double Negative efforts), as well as numerous other Oscar nominees.

Dell at SIGGRAPH 2017

The new offerings launched at SIGGRAPH highlights why Dell Precision is critical for so many leading-edge visual computing efforts. Those include three new, completely redesigned Precision Towers (models 5820, 7820 and 7920) and the Precision 7920 Rack.

The Precision Towers leverage Intel’s latest Xeon high core count CPUs, along with next gen AMD Radeon Pro and the highest performing NVIDIA Quadro professional graphics cards. In addition, the new Precision Towers offer customers Dell Reliable Memory Technology (RMT) and Dell Precision Optimizer (DPO) to improve memory and overall performance.

Precision Towers can also be customized to support high performance workloads, including machine learning and deep learning for artificial intelligence (AI) applications, virtual reality (VR) environments, computer aided engineering (CAE), and editing/rendering applications, like Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe After Effects.

Dell’s Precision 7920 Rack can support secure remote environments, a critical capability for companies leveraging offshore resources and contractors. Along with protecting valuable intellectual property (IP), including CGI projects and special effects technologies, the 7920 Rack also provides remote workers and teams the same power and scalability they would enjoy with Dell’s highest performing Precision 7920 Towers.

Finally, Dell announced the commercial availability of its new Canvas workspace solution, and a 20th anniversary edition of its popular Precision 5520 mobile workstation featuring a brushed metallic finish in a new color (Abyss) and two high-end configuration options.

Final analysis

Dell entered the visual computing market as previous generation, proprietary technology players, like SGI were heading for the exits. You could say that Dell and its customers were simply beneficiaries of the same visual computing democratization trends that were impacting the rest of the industry. However, that oversimplifies Dell’s achievements and its innovative Precision portfolio and other visual computing solutions.

The new Precision Tower, Rack and mobile offerings announced at SIGGRAPH 2017, as well as the Canvas workplace solution clearly shows that Dell is not simply a follower of industry trends. Instead, as it has since 1997, Dell is leading the continuing democratization of visual computing. That revolution certainly benefits the company and its customers but it is also substantially revitalizing and remaking the entertainment and gaming industries.

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About Author

Charles King, Pund-IT’s president and principal analyst, has deep communications expertise that makes him a valuable and trusted asset for clients. In addition, Charles regularly speaks with the mainstream and technical media on topics from emerging IT products to continuing market trends.