Design and Manufacturing solutions through Digital Prototyping and Interoperability

Let me Frame it for you: A review of fra.me

At this years DEVELOP3D Live Conference (in March) the company formally known as Mainframe2 officially relaunched as Frame.

Who is Frame?

Never heard of Mainframe2? Me neither, but this is not because they were not successful, but that their previous target market was the software vendors, not the end user. Demand from users (and companies) for a hosted site where they could put their apps, and not just apps from one vendor, lead to the Frame relaunch and their new offerings.

This is a different spin on using the cloud. Unlike cloud based applications like Fusion and Onshape, think of Frame as an online computer. Using Frame you put your software, applications, and related tools in the cloud and access it through a web browser, anywhere, on just about any device.

Frame_PR-logo

Here’s what the brochure says

“Frame is a software platform for the cloud that delivers Windows desktop applications through a browser. This means users can access any Windows applications from any device (PC, Chromebook, iPad, Kindle, Macbook, iPhone, etc.) without installing anything locally, and administrators can manage all their users, applications and environments from a single location. Even high-end, graphically-intensive applications including CAD tools run great on Frame since each user’s session can be backed by powerful GPUs”

Need proof that the technology works? Siemens has been (and  is still using) the technology to host their SolidEdge trials.  Other apps that run within frame include Solidworks, Solidedge, Siemens NX, Creo, Vectorworks, Ansys…. with many more soon to be announced. I also proved that both AutoCAD and Inventor run just fine within the application. [They are really looking for Autodesk, Autodesk Resellers, and Autodesk Users for proof of concepts… if you know of someone, or are someone, reach out to them]

So, Why would I use Frame?

The flexibility of working from any location, only requiring an internet connection and a browser. Think sitting in Starbucks, kicking back a Pumpkin Spice Latte, working on your Inventor / Solidworks / 3DSMax / Photoshop / <insert application here> without trucking around your big heavy workstation-grade laptop. And… Unlike moving to Fusion or Onshape there is no need to change your software.

Another benefit of using the Frame technology is the ability to ramp up and ramp down with the change in staff size / project load. As a monthly subscription you can easily add and remove licenses. You can also scale up the hardware as you need and you only pay for the time that you use.

When you have applications that because of cost or infrequent usage you can not / do not want to deploy individual licenses is a real sweet spot for Frame. This is especially true when the users are distributed across multiple locations. In this scenario you could load up a system with the applications and when the user needs the application they launch the Frame system. Nothing needs to be installed on their local system, yet they have access whenever they need.

Frame - All-in-one-IT

Frame is available in a few “flavours” which for individuals and commercial business really boil down to Frame for Personal (1-user to install their apps) and Frame for Business. Frame for Business is a single administered “sandbox” published to a pool for users to access. A bonus is that it really is “IT light” in that your software only needs to be installed and setup one time and then can be accessed by any number of users from the Frame Launchpad (in a browser).

Frame in Action

I was very fortunate to get a live demo of the offering from Carsten Puls and Jared Conway. It was very clear right from the beginning that there has been a lot of thought put into the offering, really focussing on what the end-user needs. Frame is easy to use and you will literally be up and running in a few minutes.

Even the little things, like putting a task list right into the Windows wallpaper, were added to streamline the learning / implementation process.

Frame - Desktop Tips

In the background Frame is using 9 regionally based datacenters. Upon your first login it suggests the closest center, which becomes your host. [They are planning to have dynamic server selection in the future, for the traveller that travels to multiple continents.].

You now have a system, an “online PC”, which you actually power on like a real (physical) system. You then install the application you require onto the virtual system, as you would with your own system. You are running Windows in all its glory.

System Starting

The basic Air system contains 1-CPU, no GPU, and 4-GB of RAM, but this can be quickly kicked into higher gear with the Pro system, which has 4-CPUs, 1-GPU, and 16-GB of RAM. With this flexibility you can use the Air system for “lighter” type work and consume less credits.

Subscription is monthly which gets you an amount of credits. The amount of credits consumed switches on the fly. For example, you can use the less credit consuming Air system to work with things like MS Word, a browser, etc and then ramp up to the Pro system when you need 3D CAD modeling.

Frame - Desktop

The system initially contains 45 GB of disk storage, which boils down to 20-GB for the OS and 25 for applications. If you hit the wall, you can request an increase.

The intention is not to store data on the Frame system, but to your cloud storage. Frame currently provides support for Dropbox and beta support for Google Drive and Box. Connecting the drives was as easy as clicking the button and entering my username & password.

 

Frame - Add Drives

 

Drive - Mapped Drives

The status bar provides quick access to the Frame clipboard and Upload file option. Use the clipboard to paste items from your local clipboard into your Frame session clipboard. Use the upload file option to add files from your local system to the Frame system. When you are done with the file in the Frame session, either save it to your connected cloud storage or move it into the download area within Windows Explorer.

In the Frame for Business mode the user system defaults to stateless, meaning when the system is rebooted, it goes back to the default. This is unless you implement the option of storing user settings and configurations in their connected cloud storage.

The Administrator in the business option is provided tools to track usage and to install & manage both applications and web apps. The administrator installs software in the sandbox, publishes it to the production by the user, and sets up the environments UI with the applications they can access.

Remember how I mentioned they thought of everything? The Utility addon provides a general purpose Windows 2012 Server to host license managers, databases, and perhaps even a small Vault (PDM) database. Basically it’s an area to put things that are accessible by all systems under your Frame umbrella.

Another interesting feature is Elasticity, which is used to scale for peak usage. Say, for example, between the hours of 8 to 4 you set five max instances with 1 buffer. The buffer is up and running constantly, so that one system is ready to go. When the first person logs in and consumes the buffer system the next system boots to become the buffer. Once the buffer is exceeded then the next user has to wait for the system to power on.

The bottom of the Frame window provides real time statistics of your connection including the speed, distance to the Frame server, and latency. The more green circles you see the better your connection is. The requirements are not extreme as the minimum suggested for CAD modeling is 5mb/s and latency less than 100ms.

Frame - Stats

 

As mentioned earlier the process is to launch the Desktop and install the applications as you normally would. When the application is installed you will be prompted to Onboard it. When an app is onboarded it is accessible as a standalone application that can be run without first starting the system session. Great feature

Frame - Onboard

 

Fraem - Onboarded Apps

 

For my initial trial I used the Personal plan. I adjusted the Google Chrome start pages and installed AutoCAD and then Inventor. With both installations I just used the 30-day trial option from the Autodesk website.

AutoCAD installed without a hitch, but I ran into errors after it was dashboarded. However, as instructed by the error message I send support an email and within 15-minutes they replied in that it had been fixed… talk about customer service! I worked with AutoCAD both 2D and 3D on both the Air and Pro system states and honestly could not tell the difference between my locally installed AutoCAD and working within Frame. I will however always use the Pro system state when I’m working with AutoCAD 3D.

Frame - AutoCAD

Inventor was a bit different as initially I could not get it to install without the Frame system timing out. After a suggestion from Jared, I switched into the Pro mode and Inventor then installed without a problem. Jared has seen some CAD programs that without the graphics (GPU) in the Air instance, the installer stalls.

Since I was in the Pro mode Inventor worked flawlessly. I didn’t load it up with any extremely large assemblies, but worked with a couple 3000ish part assemblies and the performance was great.

Inventor in Frame

My Thoughts

I tried Frame on various connections and received mostly acceptable results. In fact on my work connection (+20mb/s, ~70ms latency) you would not be able to distinguish the performance between the local system and the Frame system. I did however get the dreaded singular red circle performance rating on my crappy wireless home connection (which according to http://www.speedtest.net/ was less than 4mb/s). The biggest hindrance on this connection was the graphics which became extremely grainy and slow to respond… but, it was actually still somewhat workable, but not something I’d want to use for extended periods of time. [NOTE: I found out after that this issue might have been related to using Google Chrome and that a fix is on its way]

I will admit that browsing the internet in a browser embedded in a browser caused me some grief in that I was constantly using the wrong address bar and toolbars!

I did not request a bump in disk storage so in my trials I downloaded each software installer to the virtual PC, but then had to remove them immediately to make room for the next software installation media. A suggestion I have for future versions is for the ability to create a temporary connection to a local drive, similar to how you can with virtualization systems like Oracle’s VirtualBox. I would use this  for software installations where I already have the installers (local media) and / or deployments ready to go. When I was done installing or powered off the system the local drive would be disconnected.

In Conclusion…. like with most “cloud” based services if you sit in the same spot, using the same system, day-in and day-out, there is going to be little advantage to using Frame. However, if you move around a lot (meaning you require remote access) I would seriously look at Frame.

I also see benefits when you have applications, that for cost reasons, you want to share amongst a group of users…. especially when that group of users is distributed across different offices in multiple locations (of course providing you comply with the software vendor’s licensing terms).

The Frame offering was well thought out creating a good user experience which will get you up and running in little time. The connection to cloud storage truly does provide the ability to log in anywhere, anytime, and continue right where you left off.

Promotion

My new friends at Frame have extended an exclusive offer just for Design & Motion readers. For the first 50-readers to sign up with Frame, enter the code DESIGNMOTION2015 for $25 off Frame Personal or Frame for Business (expires 10/31/2015).

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