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NComputing Cuts Virtualized Desktop Costs

With an extra-slender thin client and its vSpace software, NComputing has virtualized 2.5 million desktops.

A bare bones form of desktop virtualization is being offered by NComputing.

A four-inch square thin client is available for $70-$150, depending on custom ASIC chip-power sought. It plugs into the Ethernet network and allows the end user's mouse and keyboard to plug into it.

All end user application processing is done on a server in the data center running NComputing's vSpace virtualization software. The NComputing client displays the results of that processing on the user's monitor and allows the user to interact with it. In a visit to InformationWeek's San Francisco office this week, NComputing's CEO Stephen Dukker said NComputing's VSpace software on the server is smart enough to know the capacity of the network, the demand about to be placed on it, and [it] reserves the correct amount to satisfy the end user. "Whether it's a 100 kilobit per second spreadsheet operation or a four megabit movie, it only uses the bandwidth it needs," he said.

Dukker knows something about the world's appetite for lower cost forms of computing. He was EMachines' first CEO in 1999 as it started selling cut rate computer models in electronics discount stores.

While many enterprise IT managers are still scratching their heads over desktop virtualization, NComputing has been activating seats. Last October it boasted it had "sold over two million seats of its virtual desktops." Dukker upped the figure to 2.5 million.

Much of NComputing's success has come from outside the enterprise, and in 60% of sales, outside the U.S. Introducing virtualized desktops to education both in the U.S. and overseas has been one success story for the Redwood City, Calif., firm.

In the U.S., 15% of K-12 elementary and secondary desktop purchases have been NComputing's extra thin client form. That's because a standard PC can be linked to 20 of the NComputing clients and allow each of them to view full motion video, claimed Dukker, showing a scene on his ThinkPad where such an operation was underway.

The distance limit from the PC is 30 feet, making the setup simple to administer and suitable for most classrooms, if you can protect all the wires from the foot traffic.

Whether vSpace is running on a data center server or on a classroom PC, it uses one instance of the operating system and application to power multiple end users, much as Citrix Systems Presentation Server does. Approaches to desktop virtualization differ under differ schemes. VMware will use as many types or versions of the operating system as end users prefer, building a separate virtual machine for each based on the user's profile.

Dukker says NComputing's approach saves both capital and operating expenses. The client device's use of 1-5 watts of electricity saves operating expenses. Stand-alone PCs often use 90-110 watts.

NComputing is a Microsoft partner and can be used with the recently launched Windows MutliPoint Server 2010, its new terminal services version of the operating system. "The creation of shared resource computing solutions like NComputing's using Windows MultiPiont Server will provide even more policymakers, teachers and students with access to affordabletechnology," said Ira Snyder, general manager of MultiPoint Server at Microsoft, in the NComputing announcement of MultiPoint support Feb. 23.

The Rheem School in Moraga, Calif., has set up a computing lab based on Windows MultiPoint Server with NComputing vSpace and NComputing client devices. It serves 30 students using Windows 7 from five shared PCs. The end user service is faster than the four-year-old PCs formerly in use in the lab, Dukker said.

One of NComputing's recent wins was the Employee State Insurance Corp., a federal government agency in India. Dukker said emerging markets are likely to remain one of NComputing's growth areas because more end users can do personal computing for the required investment.

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