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AMD and NVv4 instances: Education

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Microsoft’s announcement of its new NVv4 virtual desktop instances got me thinking about the many industries that may benefit from expanding virtualization. With fractional GPU functionality built on AMD Radeon GPUs, NVv4 suddenly makes it feasible to apply Desktop as a Service (DaaS) to use cases previously burdened with compromises. So, over my next few blogs, I’ll explore some of those industries, beginning with a favorite of mine, Education.

IT Managers in education work magic, forever balancing technical progress, rising user expectations, and, above all, cost. Microsoft Azure NVv4 is exciting because it addresses the breadth of those challenges. By making it possible to share GPU resources in a third-party, cloud-based managed data center, NVv4 enables education IT to:

  • reduce the need to invest in, manage, and upgrade expensive private data centers
  • define and scale virtual data centers to deal with the evolving demands
  • optimize usage of computing resources
  • deliver a custom-fit, great user experience to the differing needs of students and faculty
  • increase security and accessibility on- and off-campus

DaaS--The Right-Sized Approach to Education IT Needs

DaaS shares the appealing capabilities of on-premises VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure), but with the massive added benefit that a third-party provider like Azure now designs, procures, deploys, and manages all the necessary hardware and VDI software. Education facilities instead rent cloud-based services on a monthly basis. 

IT operations can switch from a rigid CAPEX spending model to a flexible OPEX model, paying for only what they use. This may be the answer to the reduced demand of summer holidays, term breaks, and variations in teaching and learning hours. 

Device Flexibility

Virtual desktops are accessible from students’ own devices, regardless of technical specifications. This is possible because all performance and data are in the Cloud. Only the final info needed for display is sent to the user. This can extend the life of devices and make it possible to support affordable low-power PCs, Chromebooks, or tablets without the concern of performance or application compatibility issues. In fact, students can generally choose between Macs, PCs, or Chromebooks for courses without compatibility concerns. IT administrators can be freed from maintaining physical PCs and workstations while centralization also simplifies the management of software licenses. 

Fractional GPU with AMD Changes the Equation for Education

Until NVv4 it was only possible to choose between expensive full-GPU, high-specification VMs or non-GPU VMs. Configurations without any GPU don’t meet the demands of even a basic modern web browser. While a full GPU made sense for high-end workstation applications, that level of service was costly overkill for users of basic productivity software and collaboration who require only a small portion of a GPU to enjoy a great experience. 

GPU partitioning in  Azure NVv4 instances allows IT administrators to fit the needs of application and course requirements. For example, initial undergraduate courses using SolidWorks are unlikely to have the same demanding requirements as professionals in CAD/CAM industries. An NVv4 option with 4GB of GPU is usually sufficient to provide a high-quality experience at a lower cost for many engineering applications as well as Windows 10 and video streaming. Larger GPU options are also available to support heavyweight users and researchers doing more intensive CAD work or sophisticated CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) simulations.  

The Tools for Great User Experiences

Remote display application and protocols are key to good user experiences with VDI/DaaS in the Cloud and the NVv4 does not disappoint with Windows Remote Desktop (RDP) 10, Teradici PCoIP, and Citrix HDX 3D Pro for remoting flexibility, regardless of the intended use case. The AMD Radeon GPUs also support native graphics APIs like DirectX 9 through to 12, OpenGL 4.6, and Vulkan 1.1 ensuring a true graphics experience in the Cloud. AMD Radeon Pro professional graphics drivers are included license-free with all AMD GPU enabled Azure instances, with no restrictions on the number of users for multi-user Windows Virtual Desktop and Remote Desktop Session Host, providing IT departments with administrative freedom. 

Addressing the Modern Education Environment

Data Security
Virtual desktop environments are essentially sandboxed and centralized, with Azure running the Hyper-V hypervisor. IT administrators no longer need to worry about the security patching of BYOD laptops and can be assured that educational resources are not abused for gaming, bitcoin mining, or accessing inappropriate material. Azure’s regions and data controls are already proven and trusted for handling sensitive research projects and data in collaboration with military, government, and industrial collaborators.

Increased Access with Virtualized Classrooms, Labs, and Distance Learning

Students can work anywhere--in libraries, residence halls, off-site, or around the globe. NVv4 helps schools overcome weather, distance, time, and increase their capacity to remove barriers to access through online programs. Curricula can be rapidly refreshed, centrally deployed, and managed to enable universities and high schools to provide online courses, and to deploy new course materials and resources instantly. Azure’s high-availability guarantees and regional data centers to provide low latency access globally.  Courses in other time zones may also rely on Microsoft supported infrastructure avoiding not only the need for hardware but also out of hours IT support. 

Support demanding graphical, collaborative and processing-intensive curricula

The new NVv4 instances are powered by the 64-core AMD EPYC 7742 CPU and the AMD Radeon Instinct MI25 GPU, with GPU sizes between 2GB-8GB available and full AMD Radeon Pro professional graphics drivers. By removing the need for students to be tied to high-performance workstations, even design, engineering, animation, and visual effects courses can be supported virtually and use professional 3D software applications including Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks and Catia; Autodesk, PTC, Siemens NX, and Adobe Creative Cloud.  NVv4 similarly delivers a great foundation for modern collaboration applications with rich media. 


I believe that NVv4 has the potential to dramatically reshape the IT landscape for education. It creates remarkable new opportunities for IT managers to better balance what have been competing demands for up-to-date technology, security, cost management, and great user experiences for faculty and students.  

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George Watkins is a Product Marketing Manager for AMD. His postings are his own opinions and may not represent AMD’s positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third party sites are provided for convenience and unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such linked sites and no endorsement is implied.