Before Dell bought AlienWare I had a long meeting with them to explore something I'd run into that I'd found curious. Large groups in enterprise-class companies and national government were buying lots of gaming machines and servers from AlienWare.
These weren't AlienWare's spin on workstations; these were high-end gaming machines like you would see well-funded gamers use in competition. This would be like dropping in on UPS and finding a bunch of Ferraris mixed with their regular delivery trucks with all of the goodies, except the special paint jobs. I was fascinated.
In this short week, let's talk about this weird phenomena and why the new HP Blackbird, rumored to be officially announced this week, may be the best machine for this use.
Gaming PCs in Government and Enterprise
Traditional workstations are expensive because they are focused on both a high level of performance and accuracy. Most are used for things like CAD/CAM, where tolerances are very tight and errors can result in serious problems. These systems are well worth the money, given the trade off, in those roles.
Gaming machines trade off accuracy for price and pump performance. High-end machines used advanced cooling methods that mostly don't exist in workstations to get levels of pure performance that is unmatched in anything else.
Given that they are designed for gaming, this performance is focused on creating virtual worlds with ever-increasing degrees of realism. Advancements are on creating better game artificial intelligence, physics and an ever-more immersive environment.
In short, these are the most powerful modeling engines on the planet and, for the money, are a vastly better investment than their more traditional workstation counterparts. They excel where tolerances aren't tight and were the goal is to model or create things that may not have to exist in solid form in the real world.
For government, this means simulations, whether that is military (which increasingly are actually using game engines), population modeling, traffic modeling, disease modeling (pandemic), or intelligence analysis. These things are high value where speed is vastly more important than extremely high accuracy.
In business, the trend is much the same, but drifts into the marketing side where these things are often used by graphics or advertising departments where images are created an manipulated, often at very high speed to make deadlines for TV ads, billboards, package art, or architectural images. They are also increasingly used for creating virtual architectures, so people can experience the flow of a building long before they are actually built.
The problem has been these things often come from gaming companies, and explaining to the CFO why you need a couple of hundred grand for the latest hot gaming rig is likely a big problem. In addition, the products tend to have a gaming look to them. One of the reasons I think AlienWare is doing so well here is that it can provide a "black box" that doesn't jump out and scream "I don't belong here" in an enterprise setting. (And by writing about this I get to use Pwned in a sentence).
HP's Blackbird: Industrial-Class Gaming
There are a lot of things that make the HP box fascinating, from the way it came to be to what it became. I won't spend a lot of time on the back story. In short, an HP employee with a lot of passion for gaming cornered a couple of HP executives and infected them with his passion. The result was the purchase of Voodoo, a gaming PC company, and the introduction of the Voodoo owners into the HP labs, where they were like two kids in a very large toy store.
The Voodoo guys pillaged ideas from servers and workstations, created a case design that could only be built by an automotive company, and ended up with the highest level of technology in a PC (or workstation) on the planet. This became the Blackbird.
Looking at it, it is very understated when compared to your average gaming system, and it comes from HP, not Voodoo, making it vastly easier to get through the CFO. It looks good in an office or government setting. Still, it has the most advanced cooling I've ever seen and should perform well throughout its duty cycle and, unlike a lot of gaming boxes, it is very quiet so it won't drive employees nuts.
The fit and finish are at automotive levels, which means where they are used, which are often showcase departments, they will not only not scream gaming, they will add to the image of an advanced working group which should appeal to many of the specialists who use them, and any PR folks who want to showcase the organization.
In short, for those that need a high-end gaming class system for government and enterprise use, this could actually be the best product, by a significant margin, for you.
As I finish this (and I'm about to leave on vacation), I'm thinking that I know a lot of IT types that would kill for a system like this and are wondering how they would justify it. Well, you have to do network monitoring, space planning, intrusion detection, traffic monitoring, a lot of the new wireless monitoring and management tools are graphical in nature. And if your graphics, modeling, or architectural groups are going to want one, shouldn't you have one so you can better do break/fix support?
The reality is these systems are coming in; it is probably wise, regardless of the vendor or product, to put some rigor behind the selection of these expensive solutions and accept that they have legitimate purposes. And, when the systems are retired, you might even want to get in line to get one for yourself (some companies do still sell obsolete hardware to their employees, and the cycle time for performance-oriented products is typically measured in months).
And for anyone who can't seem to find an employee to take one of these off your hands when you are done, give me a yell, I could always use another myself.