Self-Sourcing a Userful Server

Introduction

This information is intended to assist Userful customers in selecting hardware under circumstances where purchasing Userful hardware is not conducive to the terms of a deal.
This guide covers different possible system architectures, recommended best practices, and frequently asked questions when selecting third-party hardware on which to run Userful On-Premise.

Summary

Userful on-premise is at its core a complete Linux-based operating system derived from Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 7. The system kernel and drivers are not significantly altered, with the exception of extra drivers included for Blackmagic capture cards, NVIDIA GPUs, and some types of network interfaces.
With this in mind, it is possible to install Userful on any system certified for RHEL 7. However, there are a number of considerations that must be taken into account when selecting a system configuration for a production Userful system. It is crucial that any system designs that are not sold directly from Userful are vetted ahead of time by a Userful sales engineer. When selecting an architecture for a system not purchased from Userful, it is always advisable to ensure that vendor support will be available through your own channels.

Server Hardware Selection

Userful is certified for x86-64 Intel-based systems. These fall into two primary categories:
  1. 1.
    Workstation-class towers: This includes the HP Z series, Lenovo P series, and Dell Precision series. It represents a mixture of flexibility and adaptability, both for internal configuration for GPU and HDMI capture options and mounting capabilities. Some vendors build rackmount-server variations of their workstation line, these have been tested and work with Userful as well.
  2. 2.
    Rackmount server systems: This includes the HP ProLiant, Lenovo ThinkSystem, and Dell PowerEdge that are tested by Userful. It is recommended that vendor support be available throughout the deployment cycle of the system to assist in resolving any hardware or configuration issues.
Userful configures and sells three tiers of systems for different price points and capabilities. This chart lists the system specifications for different tiers of Userful-sold systems, as a benchmark.
System capabilities are highly variable across tiers, and decisions on specifications should always be made in consultation with a Userful sales engineer. However, there are some rough guidance rules to follow:
  1. 1.
    Standard servers: These represent minimum functional specifications for Userful and are suited to working with smaller deployments of up to 6-10 displays.
  2. 2.
    Professional+ servers: These have upgraded video rendering and capture capabilities versus Standard servers, and are suited to systems with larger numbers of displays while managing a larger number of video feeds (HDMI capture, Signage Player).
  3. 3.
    Enterprise servers: Capabilities like storage upgrade, processing, and memory capabilities of a Professional+ server and can better manage many application sources such as web browsers, remote desktop applications, etc.

Compatibility

In addition to selecting powerful components, it’s crucial to select systems with chipsets compatible with Userful. Though much that is commercially available does advertise RHEL compatibility, the latest Userful release may be up to 4-6 months behind the latest available RHEL hardware enablement updates. This could result in the purchase of a system with non-functional network adapters or other components that can generate errors and cause system instability and failures. It’s highly recommended to have initial system specifications reviewed by a Userful sales engineer prior to purchase.

Supported GPUs

Userful leverages the NVIDIA CUDA compute platform as a core component of the system architecture. NVIDIA Quadro GPUs are used to decode and encode video media and perform transformation operations that allow calibration of video walls using any type or shape of the display, and create real-time video streams to clients. They can also be selectively utilized to 3D-accelerate certain types of application source sessions such as WebGL.
NVIDIA Quadro GPUs are an incredibly important part of the Userful solution, and it is always worth the expense to purchase the best possible GPU for the task at hand. See our Server Comparison Chart for a listing of which GPU we recommend for each type of Server. As of Userful 11.1, the list of supported GPUs is:
  • RTX 4000, 5000, 6000
  • RTX A4000, A5000, A6000
  • Any Quadro GPU (compatible, but not necessarily supported)
Regarding generic Quadro GPUs, while various cards such as a P2000/P2200 will work with Userful, their lack of CUDA core processors makes them prone to facing an overload. Therefore, it is recommended to consult a sales engineer before deploying these in production environments.

Supported HDMI Capture

Userful includes drivers and certifications to work with a select set of Blackmagic video capture cards. While we include the commercially-available Blackmagic driver which is compatible with their entire lineup of DeckLink capture cards, only certain cards are certified to work with Userful.
DeckLink Model
PCIe Version
PCIe Slot
Connection
Max Resolution
Mini Recorder 4K
2
x4
HDMI or SDI
4K60
Duo 2
2
x4
SDI (x4)
1080p60
Quad 2
2
x8
SDI DIN (x8)
1080p60
Quad HDMI
3
x8
HDMI
4K60
It is important to note that while you can easily install multiple 4- or 8-port capture cards in a system, you are limited to actively playing 24x 1080p60 or 4x 4K streams at once, and this capability requires a special server.
Though only limited testing has been done, Userful does support the use of driverless capture devices that advertise v4l (Video 4 Linux) compatibility. They can be configured by selecting the Video Capture source in the Userful manager.
It is not recommended to select video capture devices that require proprietary drivers available for download from the vendors' site to work, as these can be unreliable and there is no guarantee of ongoing support.

Supported Networking

Userful Pro+ and Enterprise systems typically ship with 10Gb network interfaces added, to address more than 12 displays at a time. If the system you are selecting does not come with an integrated 10Gb networking solution (that should be supported by the default Userful Linux kernel) then you must ensure that any components you are selecting advertise themselves as either RHEL certified or compatible with the Linux kernel 4.0 or older.
  • It is not recommended to use an add-on USB network interface.
  • It is not recommended to select network adapters that require proprietary drivers available for download from the vendor's site. These can be unreliable, and there is no guarantee of ongoing support.
  • Wireless network adapters for communicating with zero clients or uClients are not supported.

Hardware Support Policy

Userful has the following three types of systems:
  1. 1.
    Userful Purchased: This hardware comes with full support and the expectation of complete functionality.
  2. 2.
    Userful Certified hardware: It is similar to Userful-purchased hardware but is sourced externally and configured by the partner or end customer. System specifications should be shared with Userful and vetted by a Userful sales engineer prior to purchase. There is a small risk of issues with installation or BIOS incompatibility that all parties must be aware of and budget time for during setup.
  3. 3.
    Userful Reviewed systems: It represents configurations that have not been directly tested by Userful but are approved after specifications are reviewed by the Userful team.
Userful maintains a tiered policy of support for production hardware. Specifications of which are as follows:
Hardware Support Tier
Support
Userful Purchased
Full
Userful Certified
Full
Userful Reviewed
No hardware support
Limited software support
Non-Approved
None
In order to receive support, systems must pass the following criteria:
  1. 1.
    Ensure that complete system specifications are shared with and approved by a Userful sales engineer.
  2. 2.
    Vendor or OEM support must be purchased by the partner or customer.
  3. 3.
    Check if Userful is unable to reproduce any issues encountered by testing internally on certified hardware. Support for a specific question will stop.
  4. 4.
    In the event of repeated occurrences of error number #3, Userful reserves the right to terminate support for the system in favor of replacement with a certified system.
  5. 5.
    The partner understands that assistance in installing the software or navigating the BIOS/EFI to install the software is not supported by Userful beyond generic guidelines.
Non-Approved systems are not subject to support. Userful does not provide support for any hardware configuration that does not conform to the conditions mentioned above.

Client Selection

Userful has certified a growing list of devices that can serve as clients for on-premise deployments. They fall into two categories:
  1. 1.
    Zero Clients: These are lightweight, inexpensive devices that can connect to any display via HDMI. Zero clients are only available through Userful as they use a proprietary ASIC architecture that is not widely available.
  2. 2.
    uClients: uClient devices are intelligent devices with functional operating systems. These are commercial platforms that are compatible with Userful’s uClient software application. Examples of this include LG WebOS 4.0, uClient adapters, and Samsung SSSP 6+. With the exception of the Userful uClient adapter, uClient platforms can be sourced through standard channels.

Choosing the right Client

Some of the important factors to consider while selecting an endpoint are as follows:
Userful Zero Client
Userful uClient Adapter
WebOS uClient
Operating System
None
Android 7.1/10
LG WebOS
Max Resolution
1080p @ 60FPS
4k @ 60FPS
Per Device (up to 4K @ 60FPS)
Streaming Protocol
JPEG
RTSP
RTSP
Bandwidth Used /device
100Mbps
Varies (6-40Mbps)
Varies (6-40Mbps)
Max Latency Tolerance
0.5ms
n/a
n/a
Power over Ethernet
Available solutions
No
n/a
Cross Subnet Capability
No
Yes
Yes
Distance from server
Same Premises
Anywhere
Anywhere
Cloud deployments
No
Yes
Yes
Purchasing and Support
Userful
Userful
OEM
Along with the points mentioned above, additional advantages of each platform are as follows:
  1. 1.
    Userful Zero Clients: They do not have any software configuration, and can not be compromised since they do not store any information locally. This makes them popular in secure environments.
  2. 2.
    Userful-supplied devices: These work with almost any type of display available, including odd aspect ratios and resolutions. They are popular for connecting to existing displays and systems with non-standard resolutions or aspect ratios, such as DV-LED deployments.
  3. 3.
    uClient devices from LG or Samsung: These devices do not require extra hardware installed at the panel. It only requires the network runs and a software application installation. This simplifies the physical installation.
Userful Zero clients have limited maximum resolution, and cannot be installed outside the physical premise (the building or small campus) as their host server.