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My First Use of 3D Printing: My foray into the world of 3D printing with a Nutanix block as my model.

By Jason Langone

I work for arguably the hottest infrastructure startup since the dawn of time (or Sun Microsystems, 30 years ago, or whatever), a company called Nutanix.  90% of the Nutanix story I tell customers involves the value of our software: the Nutanix Cassandra ring, the Nutanix Distributed Filesystem, and our ability to scale-out in a linear fashion. Yes we use enterprise grade TAA-compliant hardware, but our value is in the software.

Nevertheless, some people just want to SEE the Nutanix virtual computing appliance. We have this concept of nodes and blocks. For most models, four NODES fills one BLOCK. A year or so ago I looked into 3D printing a small ~6″ model of our solution but the price was far too expensive. As we all know, 3D printing prices have come way down, so I decided to reinvestigate.

For my environment, I used the latest version of VMware Horizon View with vSGA (GPU sharing). For more information on GPU and Horizon View feel free to checkout GPUAuthority.com‘s free e-book, “GPU for VDI: Buyer’s Guide, First Edition.” The platform under the covers of my Horizon View + Nvidia GPU environment was the newly released Nutanix NX-7000 series product.

Below is the back of a block with the four nodes slid out and the power supplies in the middle.

I was able to get my hands on an OBJ version[SK1]  of the Nutanix bezel. So what did I do from there? I looked into various CAD programs, from Google Sketchup  to Adobe Photoshop. Ultimately I settled on a 3D video program called Autodesk Maya.

I had the bezel CAD file, but I didn’t have the block, the connections on the back of the block, or the cutouts for the 4 nodes to slide into (nor did I have the “nodes” themselves). I took to editing, and what I learned after a lot of trial and error is that MESH BOOLEAN DIFFERENCE and POLYGON CREATE took care of 95% of all my tasks. I created a node with POLYGON CUBE.  I made cutouts for the nodes on the back of the block by creating polygons and then subtracting them from the block, via BOOLEAN DIFFERENCE.

After lots of trial and error, my current formula for 3D printing involves:

  • Design part in Autodesk Maya, and use a mix of wireframe and painted textures to check the part
  • EXPORT_ALL to format STL_DCE (may need to install a plugin depending on your version of Maya)
  • Open in netfabb to scale the part appropriately (Autodesk Maya is not the ideal real-world scaling tool for 3d printing), check the part for integrity (netfabb can fix many issues for you)
  • EXPORT PART to STL format
  • Ready to print

Once my block, bezel, and four nodes were complete, I decided to take to 3D printing. The first thing I tried was using @makexyz.

The concept is great; if you have a 3D printer at home you sign up as a printer. If you want something printed you can search people with 3D printers (including their make and model) in your area as well as their $ per cm^3. I found a local guy in Falls Church, VA that had two printers, and I elected to use his @makerbot. I chose the Makerbot because I’ve contemplated buying one. Unfortunately, the feedback from the “printer” was that my model was a bit too large and could crack, and that the best option was to split my block into halves and dovetail + glue the two together.

I decided against this route and the 3D printing marketplace of @makexyz as a whole (although did have a positive overall experience) and decided to look at 3D-Printing-As-A-Service companies (3DPaaS, thanks @amurph182 for the acronym). My search led me to both @sculpteo and @shapeways.

After HOURS of messing with both sites and all the options, I decided on Shapeways for a few reasons:

  • More reliable web UI
  • UX gave me greater confidence that my design was going to print as desired
  •  Ability to manipulate the view of the 3d object in the web UI

Now there are LOTS of different material options when 3D printing, including sterling silver (bling bling).I chose the following:

  • Block in white, strong, flexible plastic
  • Nodes in white, strong, and polished flexible plastic
  • Bezel in white detail plastic THE RESULTS The Shapeways packaging was great overall, and I would trust them with future orders.


The BLOCK came out great. Strong sturdy piece that has a somewhat rough and course finish. Probably ideal for painting. The power connections and power supply fan cutouts came out great. The four slots for the nodes looked great. However, I did notice a bit of irregularity in the two slots on the right (slightly more narrow than the two on the left). I have some very fine grit sand paper that should rectify this problem.

Triple A battery for scale.

Last shot shows the drives that are in the front of a Nutanix block, behind the bezel.

The NODES also came out great. I chose the polished option and they are definitely a bit smoother; this is what I’d likely choose for most future pieces. On the back of the Nutanix nodes are two tabs to help with pulling a node out of the block. I fabricated these myself in Autodesk Maya and may have made them a bit too skinny (may break if someone isn’t careful). v0.2 will have them thickened up a bit.

 

Above is one of the nodes in the block.  Fits like a glove.

The BEZEL came out so-so to poor. I chose detail plastic and had a few rookie failures. First, the bezel was the only CAD drawing where I was working off of previous artwork. In hindsight and with a bit more knowledge, I realize the part looks great skinned up in the CAD software but weren’t beefy enough for proper 3D printing. v0.2 hopes to address this. Second, the detail plastic does a great job of showing the mesh detail of the Nutanix bezel, but it has already separated from the main body. Pretty sure some hobby plastic cement will fix all of this. I think one of the other two materials may help with sturdiness as well.

UPDATE.
So I took to Autodesk Maya to “beef up” the bezel by adding a few rectangle polygons.  I also ran JOIN MESH on the various parts to ensure the 3d printer knew it was suppose to print as one piece. Finally, I added a rectangle behind the ” Nutanix” logo on the front of the bezel. Print material in white, strong, flexible plastic. Result? MONEY!

So what’s next?
I got some blue and yellow vinyl that I used to color code the drives (yellow = SSD, blue = HDD). This is a pure mock-up and not sure how I will ultimately show this detail.

Thanks to @dhgwyn for the decal idea as I can easily change stuff up in the future as models evolve.

Overall for my first 3D printing experience, I’m pretty damn impressed. Shapeways has been great in all of this, from website, to process, to user experience, to support, to end product and shipping. Highly recommend those folks.

I’ve found my 3D model of a Nutanix block to be a great way of having a little something to bring along and show people the “hardware” behind Nutanix. It also is (I think) a more innovative way to start a conversation around an innovative product and company. I’m all for changing the way presentations are given and product stories are told, and to me, this 3D model is another weapon in the arsenal.