Magnar and Thomas unveil the Oculus Rift - resulting in a slightly queasy looking participant from the audience; 220ms latency to a data centre in Norway 8000km away and the results literally moved those who tried it at Citrix Synergy 2014

Well this is what Magnar Johnsen (community Citrix guru) did on his journey back from Citrix Synergy this month. Whilst most attendees were partying away to the post-show ImagineDragons gig, Magnar was YouTubing himself doing just this…. I can only imagine what the guys in the neighbouring seats thought!

It wasn’t the Oculus Rift’s first outing in Synergy week. This year at Synergy 2014 we were expecting CTP Thomas Poppelgaard to show something eye-catching and boy we were not disappointed. In Thomas’ session we saw he and some high end 3D application on his NVIDIA GRID vGPU powered Citrix XenDesktop and XenServer have been have taking some rather exciting road trips together around his native Scandinavia. We saw:

  • On speed boat bombing around Scandinavia on via a satellite link on a laptop, see here
  • On a laptop driving at night along a Danish motorway next to a speedo pretty much hitting the speed limit
  • Thomas joined on stage by Magnar who proceeded to whip out an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset…. What was going to happen…. An unsuspecting victim volunteered from the audience…. Magnar and Thomas hooked him up….. 3-D roller-coaster ride running in Magnus’ datacenter 8000km in Norway on 220+ms of latency and so the ride began…. The visuals were pretty smooth and judging from the swaying and twitching of the victim certainly moved him. The demo seemed a little too overwhelming for participant as he grabbed the table to steady himself and pulled off the headset. (Later Dane Young and Thomas brought Magnar’s gear down to the HDX booth for those at the expo to try!). The rest of the HDX and I pulled apart our demo showing a variety of gaming and CAD applications and let them and the public play (see the photos, and these twitter comments).
After Thomas Poppelgaard's talk, he and Magnar Johnsen and Dane Young trap a new HDX product manager in a corridor, get her to try their awesome demo... then tell her that the HDX booth should be more exciting and ask to redesign it! Security guard in corridor looks on laughing head off!

So is this insane?

NVIDIA with whom we’ve partnered on a lot of our graphics and GPU technology advancements recorded this very good overview of their Synergy demos. They and the HDX booth featured Photoshop, Autodesk and Pro-Engineer etc . but also gaming applications. If you listen to the video they cover why the high demands of gaming and showing how good NVIDIA and HDX 3D Pro technologies perform demonstrate our scalability and robustness for traditional enterprise.

My speciality in HDX 3D Pro is as product manager for Graphics. As an ex-CAD engineer and application architect I work not only with graphics technologies such as H.264, compression algorithms and GPU acceleration, but also with the enterprise level peripherals and hardware that real users demand. OK maybe not many XenDesktop customers have a commercial need to do Virtual Reality demos on a plane! BUT our users do need me to ensure our technologies embrace the limits of these technologies and I and my colleagues lay out development plans to ensure similar enterprise features are supported such as:

The HDX engineering team enthusiastically rip the HDX demo booth apart and think installing the Oculus Rift is a great idea.... At this point Rachel is getting nervous.....
  • The next generation of tablets and client devices; people want to work everywhere on devices and OSs of their choosing, ensuring we can support more than web based graphics so they can work as if on a high-end graphics workstation
  • Haptic devices, the Oculus Rift is just one of a number of devices we can support including 3D space mice, printers. Our demos showed 3-D space mice and gaming controllers. We’ve also seen Leap Motion integrations. Companies like Virtalis have a vast range of haptic controllers and making sure our USB technologies and virtual channels support accelerometers, special buttons, Lync optimised phone interfaces etc. is crucial for VDI to replace workstations. In the future with the recent unification of XenApp and XenDesktop we hope to extend the VDI options to allow a seamless continuum of options with common peripherals. Taking our virtual channel and USB support into the wider Citrix portfolio.
  • Key business and enterprise peripherals such as printing, HDX 3D Pro is for enterprise and serious business needs – there are a lot of cloud streaming graphics solutions but most serious businesses need to print expenses forms – it might sound dull but reliability and support for the next generation of printers and their features is something we have to focus product management planning on
  • Security – sharing your screen, CAD parts etc is one thing but doing it securely with maximal protection for your data and intellectual property and auditing that this is done by process is all part of the HDX remit. Allowing users to control who can print, record, cut-n-paste when sharing is something you don’t get with less enterprise focused solutions
  • Speeding around on a boat/plane or on the motorway might sound a bit crazy but there are lots of commuters on trains and these scenarios help us harden the technologies meaning your regular train commuter can gain a few hours back by being able to work as if in the office even if he has need of highly demanding graphical applications and/or wants to work on a tablet/iPad/smart phone rather than haul a bulky laptop across the London Underground system
  • High latency and flaky networks: we’ve a long history of working with customers who don’t have the option to optimise their networks e.g. limited budgets, users that can’t be relocated e.g. ESA – Educational Services America who provide special needs pupils with home schooling desktops (we can’t put kids in care or orphanages!!! So our technologies need to work with the realities of poor rural internet service and similar), disaster zones and developing countries (Citrix proved itself in the aftermath of Fukushima and the Colarado floods where infrastructure was wiped out; we also have a lot of architectural and BIM customers using us where there is no infrastructure yet – they are building it!).
  • If technologies e.g. compression algorithms evolve that satisfy highly demanding gamers, we need to watch and adopt them too to ensure our business and enterprise users get the best available
Thomas and Dane - Am I going to get our senior engineering architect BACK???

Pushing our technologies forward

It’s very important to us in HDX product management to keep up with the cutting edge of graphics technology and to ensure we scale and improve long-term. Our holistic strategy means we keep our fingers in many pies and invest, for example:

  • We are investing heavily in new technologies such as Framehawk to eliminate flaky wifi issues (read more here)
  • We maintain a hypervisor agnostic approach allowing XD and HDX 3D Pro full choice (we support AWS (including GRID GPU EC2 support), Citrix CloudPlatform, VMware  vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V and Citrix XenServer, as well as via a large number of Citrix Cloud Service Providers) and “anyness” to keep up with the full market of technologies and offer the broadest portfolio of graphical and GPU acceleration options at a range of price-points (see Andreas Groth’s independent vendor neutral analysis, here)
  • We get involved in projects such as the XLcloud OpenStack GPU integration, although this project has no plans to use HDX 3D Pro at the moment we value the knowledge sharing to ensure they could and to keep out technologies competitive for cloud and the future and to avoid our own technologies becoming incestuous.
  • When we release new technologies we use our support forums to listen to feedback and suggestions on technologies such as GPU usage, HDX products and XenDesktop releases, our users are smart and understand their needs and often have fantastic ides, so our support and development teams regularly get time to read real user ideas, bugs and experience.
  • We allocate time to joint support with partners, our engineers regularly assist on joint development, feature requests and enquiries with partners like NVIDIA to ensure support is provided for whole solutions across multiple vendors and we look at what their users yet to use our solutions say too!
  • We work closely with partners such as Intel, AMD, NVIDIA, Dell, HP and IBM and listen to their experience to ensure hardware is optimised and their user needs are included in development – concentrated high quality feedback!
  • And yes if a third party turns up with an amazing demo – we will rip apart our Synergy demo stand and let our users dictate our boundaries, with lovely results!
  • Our HDX team recruits from the CAD and 3D industries and regularly attends user events such as Develop3D LIVE! (read my review here) and Autodesk university, we need to understand user workflows and the architecture of applications, and we work closely with vendors and products such as Adobe Photoshop to help them optimise and certify on Citrix XenDesktop
  • We look at extreme scenarios and technologies to handle them, way beyond the limits average real users should encounter. Working with NASA to enable desktops in space (bad latency – even Citrix can’t beat the speed of light!) and tier 1 large scale engineering, HDX 3D Pro evolved out of research with Boeing starting 7 years ago to enable the Dreamliner projects!
And the users loved it!

Final thought: I had similar thoughts when Alexander Ervik, skipped Bon Jovi at Citrix Summit earlier this year to film another amazing XenDesktop video on hotel wifi over a remote 4650km to run architectural software securely in the data centre (Henry, one of own sales engineers took the principle a little bit further using his iPhone as a wifi hotspot remoting over a similar distance on a 3G network, read about it here)….. Are the CTPs and community experts trying to tell our events committee something about our choice of rock bands!!! Or is HDX 3D Pro just an addictive, game-changing technology that gets you hooked 😉