We have been monitoring and measuring the workstation industry for 30 years, and have seen it transition through various processor types, multiple suppliers, and applications. With one exception, the great recession of 2008-2009, we've seen a steady rise, with a CAGR over the past 15 years of 9 percent - a figure few markets can match.
USERS’ PERCEPTIONS ABOUT WORKSTATIONS VS. PCS.
This last quarter held true to the trend and showed yet another impressive quarter of year-over-year growth for workstations in Q2 2019. But the volume isn't enormous: In that quarter, the industry shipped approximately 1.6 million units. Nonetheless, the quarter was another impressive 18.1% year-to-year growth with revenue enjoying similar gains (an estimated 19.6%).
There are 48 companies offering 590 workstation-branded products, including those from @Xi Computer. However, the triumvirate of Dell, HP, and Lenovo account for the lion's share of units, with Lenovo, in particular, making strides of late.
Workstations come in all sizes, arrangements, performance levels, and prices. A workstation can cost as little $2,000 and as much as $25,000. They can deliver from 1 TFLOPS to 20 TFLOPS.
Controversy continues to swirl about what is a workstation. Some contend it is an inflated term designed only to charge users more for what is a PC. Yes, PCs do share several similar parts with a workstation, just as an economy car shares some parts with a sports car.
To help existing and unaccustomed users recognize and specify a workstation, we at Jon Peddie Research have set up some rules, which many are referring to as the laws of workstations.
DESPITE RECESSIONS, THE WORKSTATION MARKET HAS GROWN STEADILY.
The Laws of Workstations
Must have a workstation-class CPU, such as an AMD Ryzen-WS or Intel Xeon.
Must have a workstation-class graphics card, such as an AMD Radeon Pro or Nvidia Quadro.
Should have a minimum of 32GB RAM.
Must have application-specific, certified drivers.
Must have error-correcting code (ECC) memory.
Must have Windows Pro or an equivalent Linux operating system.
Must be ultra-reliable.
Even though workstations have been around for over 30 years, and their characteristics are well defined, there is still confusion about them. JPR conducted a survey and asked hundreds of workstation and non-workstation users what they thought about the differences. The following chart shows how this lack of clarity persists, despite efforts of system and component vendors to delineate the differences.
Some key findings from the survey are:
Nearly 19 percent of respondents don't know the difference between a gaming PC and a workstation graphics card, or say that it doesn't matter.
More than 21 percent of respondents either don't know the difference between a consumer-level and a workstation-level CPU, or say it doesn't matter. Of the 69 percent who have an opinion, only 32 percent felt a workstation needed what is considered a workstation-class CPU, such as an AMD Ryzen or Intel Xeon.
Respondents largely discount the importance of ISV certification, considered an essential element of a professional workstation. Only about half of those surveyed think that certification is critical or even useful to have, while a surprising 30 percent say it isn't needed.
Fifty-five percent of respondents do not identify ECC as an essential differentiator between a PC and a professional workstation.
Extra reliability designed into workstations and the rigorous testing during the R&D process do make a difference to workstation users, but most non-workstation users think a commercial-grade system is good enough to be considered a workstation.
As a result of this confusion, several workstations suppliers break the first of the workstation laws and substitute a consumer--grade CPU for the workstation--class version. That denies the user the protection of error-correcting memory, security features, and sometimes application certification.
And, those unofficial workstations get counted in the total of workstation shipments.
The laws of workstations will continue to be broken as users try to cut costs by making changes to their machines. It's ironic, and telling. If you have a mission-crucial project, do you try to save maybe $1,000 on hardware and put the project at risk? Or, do you just want the status of saying you have a workstation and what you're doing isn't really that important or critical? One of the major reasons for the existence of a workstation is their "24/7 almost never fail capability." That's like the old days, as seat belts were being mandated and people would say, "I don't need seat belts, I'm a safe driver." A lot of safe drivers have been in car crashes and damn glad they had seat belts.
The workstation market is, and has been, growing for a reason - safety of a project.
Dr. Jon Peddie(firstname.lastname@example.org) is a recognized pioneer in the graphics industry, president of Jon Peddie Research, a Tiburon, CA-based consultancy specializing in graphics and multimedia that also publishes JPR's "TechWatch," and named one of the most influential analysts in the world.