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Video: BMW design expertise influences HP’s new Z Series workstations

HP tapped the design studios of the German auto manufacturer to help it re-imagine its new workstation line

Beverly Hills, Calif. – You wouldn’t think that German luxury automobiles and enterprise-class workstations would have much in common, but the latest vehicles from BMW and HP’s new Z Series workstations do have one interesting link: the engineers and designers at BMW Group Designworks USA.

While BMW Group Designworks is a global design consultancy owned by the automotive company, roughly half of its business is done for outside clients, such as John Deere, Starbucks and Rubbermaid. BMW has a long-standing relationship with Hewlett Packard (NASDAQ: HPQ), which includes designing several of HP’s newest Photosmart and Officejet printers and scanners.

BMW’s designers use the previous generation of HP xw workstations to drive their design business and Alec Bernstein, senior director, strategy, research and strategic partnering, said they were proud to be tasked to help design the new Z Series workstations.

“We’re very excited to be part of what we call a generational leap in workstations, and a product design that expresses that,” said Bernstein.

As proud as BMW is of the exterior design, which includes handles for enhanced portability and a streamlined brushed-aluminum exterior, Bernstein said they were also pleased to have some influence over the interior design of the Z series, an opportunity as designers they don’t always have.

“You really want to holistically design the whole product from the inside out and we really got to do that,” said Bernstein, resulting in a modular design unlike most traditional PC interiors that features plug-and-play components and minimal cabling. “We’d like to thank HP for such a commitment to the full execution of real design. I really like looking at it open. I did ask if there was any way you could run it when it was open because I’d like that.”

Designing a product aimed at enterprise customers is very different from designing a consumer-focused product. A product needs to reflect the brand values, said Bernstein: it needs to look, feel and breath HP.

“It should be a very clean design, I think the Workstation is a very clean design and that’s important. It’s leading edge but it’s not leading-edge in fashion, it’s leading-edge in processing technology,” said Bernstein. “One of my exercises is to put myself two or three years ahead and ask how is this going to look two or three years from now. I feel really good that it will last as a good, strong statement.”

In addition to being aesthetically appealing, the Z Series design will also mean efficiency improvements for enterprise IT managers said Terry Pilsner, vice-president, research & development for HP’s personal systems group.

“It’s very elegantly designed but very simply designed with very clean lines,” said Pilsner. “It’s the same size as before so you can still put it into a rack. Many customers embed their systems so keeping that size was critical.”

It was also a challenge though, said Pilsner, as cooling a more powerful, modern system is a problem other vendors have moved to a bigger chassis to solve. HP solved it with more efficient fans and by carefully studying airflow to enable a more efficient cooling system.

The systems are also designed in a modular system that minimizes wiring and cabling. Green touch points indicate where components can be popped-out and replacements swapped-in, including an 1100 watt power supply.

“We think it’s the first ever power supply designed to be disconnected by a customer,” said Pilsner. “You can plug it into an AC outlet and a green light comes on if it’s working. And if it’s not, tech support can ship you a new one, saving you a service call.”

The entire fan assembly pops-out to allow access to the memory to plug-in more dims, and the dual fans are independently and dynamically controlled for more efficient cooling. The hard drives also pop-out and come in screwless carriers, with pins that match the screw holes on standard hard drives.

“I can remove the entire motherboard with just these tools: my fingers,” said Pilsner. “We’re excited about this because not only did we create an incredibly-compelling and attractive design on the outside, but it represents HP’s rich design and engineering DNA on the inside.”