MiniFrame SoftXpand

MiniFrame SoftXpand

Summary: After I posted on Ncomputing (see Ncomputing: Sharing the power of a single computer), MiniFrame's PR agency contacted me and asked that I take a look at SoftXpand. At first glance, it appeared that MiniFrame was walking down the same path that many others had taken, creating technology in the operating system virtualization/partitioning category that would allow many people to share the computing power of a single computer.

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After I posted on Ncomputing (see Ncomputing: Sharing the power of a single computer), MiniFrame's PR agency contacted me and asked that I take a look at SoftXpand. At first glance, it appeared that MiniFrame was walking down the same path that many others had taken, creating technology in the operating system virtualization/partitioning category that would allow many people to share the computing power of a single computer. After a number of false starts, I was finally able to speak with MiniFrame's CEO, Eli Segal. I learned that my initial impression had been wrong. MiniFrame is doing something different. It has developed a software-only application that takes advantage of the both the multiuser, multitasking capabilities of the Windows operating system as well as both the CPU and graphics processing unit resources to create what is, in essence, a very cost-effective Minicomputer. Why go to that effort?

Well, the power of the computing engines (both central processing unit and graphics processor) have significantly overshot what a single individual typically requires by a rather wide margin. Depending upon how one evaluates this situation, organizations are either paying too much for a single person's system or they haven't yet found a way to fully utilize what they've been paying for.

Finding a way to better utilize all of that computational power is a goal some organizations have set for themselves. This has lead to the adoption of virtual machine  or operating system virtualization/partitioning  technology that allows the system to be "loaded up" with work and, it is hoped, make better use of the available power. Since a single individual can only do so many things at a time, this approach still may not fully consume the power organizations have purchased.

Another line of thinking is that make those "single user" computers into multiuser systems by taking advantage of the great leap in hardware capabilities in a typical PC. The folks in the Intel/UNIX and Intel/Linux communities have been walking down that path for decades. It appears to me that MiniFrame is walking down the same path using a load balancing algorithm on a standard PC with Windows as the operating system. Since the Windows application portfolio is huge, they thought it was a fertile ground for investment in the development of this type of tricky system software.

MiniFrame is offering two different packages based upon their technology. One of these, SoftXpand  Education Suite, is designed to allow up to 8 students to share a single standard computer in a very cost-effective and managable way. The other, SoftXpand Professional Suite, is designed to do the same thing for business people. In the end, both products do the same thing -- allow a group of people to share a single standard PC and have the same experience as if they each was using his/her own PC. This would most certainly reduce the cost of hardware, software, installation and a number of other IT costs.

As I thought about this, I was concerned that this would run into restrictions in the terms and conditions Microsoft and others have on the use of their software. After learning more, it appears that what MiniFrame is doing would not be restricted by those Ts and Cs since there is no remote thin client or computer device connected to the system. Only additional standard monitors, graphics adapters, keyboards and pointing devices are added to the basic system hardware. So, from the computer's point of view, a single "user" (the SoftXpand software itself) has spawned a large number of processes in different user accounts rather than the system communicating with many remote access devices.

It's a clever approach. What do you think?

Topics: Operating Systems, CXO, Hardware, Software, IT Employment, Windows

About

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. In his spare time, he's also the managing partner of Lux Sonus LLC, an investment firm.

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16 comments
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  • Re-read your EULA

    It doesn't matter that you have software pretending to be a single user. If you have multiple people using it, then each person needs to be licensed.
    The precedent is in database servers and application servers connected to them. The application server appears to be a single user to the DBMS, but are actually multi-plexing the connection on behalf of many "real" users.
    Norm_z
    • I'm not so sure..

      I'm a software engineer, and I actually don?t think they are using multiplexing or connection pooling at all? I believe it's some kind of new virtualization technique that doesn?t multiply or multiplex the OS. I don't pretend to be a legal expert, but I'm not sure that the Windows EULA covers this type of virtualization that is a pure software solution? I'm also a little perplexed about how 'multi user' is defined. I've come across many solutions in my time that have many users on one OS, and I'm sure they use one license- security guys on one PC each with their own screen directed at different parts of a building have been doing that for decades?
      RajSan
  • RE: MiniFrame SoftXpand

    I have seen and tested this system. It is a messy system as you need extra video cards installed into the host (one port per use) and the extra cable (and limitations on video cable lengths) required make it a very messy install. We switched to NComputings X550.
    Jhumper
  • RE: MiniFrame SoftXpand - old news and faulty

    This technology isn't new at all - ThinSoft's BeTwin got more than 10 years on the market!
    Why should anyone go with Miniframe's new and buggy software when you have a working technology from ThinSoft ?

    And a word about Ncomputing and it's X550: One of the greatest things about ThinSoft's & Miniframe's technology is that you need only standard VGA cards, unlike X550 with their unique cards which you need to buy specially...

    Believe me, I've tested them all and I can tell you that BeTwin is the best.
    drjivago
  • RE: MiniFrame SoftXpand

    With budget cuts in all school districts, I had to find a solution to give us more desktops with less computers and I chose SoftXpand. Power consumption, performance and ease of use with no noticable degradation of performance were tops on our list. I tried them all and this is what I found:

    1.- When users log off, they don?t shut down the whole computer (with Betwin, when they logoff, they shutdown the whole computer and the other users even if the other users are still working)
    2.- It?s much easier to assign keyboards and mice to a workstation than with Betwin
    3.- It?s much easier to assign a sound card to a workstation than with Betwin.
    4.- SoftXpand includes the ClassXpand module for the student-teacher interaction (Betwin and N-Computing do NOT do this.
    5.- Programs and Internet work faster with SoftXpand than with the others.
    6.- Load balancing prevents some programs to use 100% of CPU, so users won?t feel a slow down. The others just don't do it
    7.- Device mapper is very useful for attaching usb memories so that only that user can access its own usb memory. (Betwin just doesn't do it)
    8.- Safe mode for video cards eliminates conflicts with some video cards (With Betwin there are more conflicts using some video cards and of course with N-Computing you must use their proprietary video cards).
    9.- When programming using visual C, it?s possible to test the program step by step
    10.- With SoftXPand it?s possible to activate the program without connecting to the Internet. In some computer labs we don't have or want internet access(I had many problems with Thinsoft to activate their program at schools that don?t have internet because at that time they didn?t give me any other option to activate the program different from internet).

    We tested all the solutions with CAD, games and graphics and there simply was no comparison. For high school programming and graphic arts classes, I found SoftXpand the optimal solution.

    I could not accept or reconcile the fact that some solutions require the use of their proprietary video cards, which I am sure cannot keep up with technology.

    One final note. I found out about SoftXpand from a colleague at another high school here. He was very displeased with the other solutions. SoftXpand offered to replace his licenses with concrete proof that he had them.
    Multilingual
    • RE: MiniFrame SoftXpand

      @Multilingual

      This is really interesting because I've been researching Betwin and Ncomputing for the past 4 weeks or so and haven't been able to come to a conclusion. i downloaded betwin's 15 day free trial. Betwin seems more effective to me but it's limited to only 5 station(4 virtual workstations + 1host Pc) However, it appears to deliver richer PC experience and no additional hardware to install, apart from VGA card. The main prob I have with it is that it's not possible to assign a USB device to a particular User unlike ncomputing, and again betwin seemed to be crashing my system (Windows Vista)as it occassionally displayed blue screen& i had to attempt restart several times before it could boot properly. also I'm not too sure of the cabling limits for VGA cable and how to overcome it for length ranging from 5m to 10m. Ncomputing's U170 and X550 seem to be in the same price range (per User)with betwin but offer the access devices in addition to the Virtualization software for that price. I have'nt tried it yet, but I,ve read alot from their website. I just stumbled on this post and it's becoming really interesting. I Intend to set up an internet cafe to start with between 8 to 10 workstations before increasing to 30 or more. Question: Which solution(betwin, ncomputing or softxpander) will deliver best 'PC' experience, low power consumption, fast browsing on virtual as fast as on the host PC, little or no problems with upgrades, reliable support, & of course a competitive price) I will very much appreciate replies from you Thanks.
      Okey
      saintokey
      • RE: MiniFrame SoftXpand

        @saintokey

        Have you looked at the offering from Userful and their Desktop Multilplier? You can have up to 10 devices from one dedicated PC\Server device. Runs Opensource Linux but would be a good candidate for an internet cafe.
        We are currently in the middle of a trial of these kinds of solutions and am not financially linked to Userful - but we are trying to become partners - if they would only answer our blinking emails! :-(
        PhilM
  • RE: MiniFrame SoftXpand

    I am not convinced of this story as there is no way this solution can be as cost effective as NComputing. First Ncomputing dont depend on PC's that have to have more than one PCI slot fro the extra and expesnive video cards needed, they dont have to depend on proprietary video cards and driver issues (IO conflicts as well) these cards are expensive and generate heat and extra power consumption. The VGA cables are thick and have distance limitations plus you have to install and use USB hubs for the keyboards and mice.Compare apples with apples BeTwin is what you up against. Trust me, I used this system in our school and it was messy. It does not support Server 2003 or Server 2008 (or Linux). The X550 supports 11 users on XP! Ncomputing comes free with iTalc teacher management software of which we use to great effect. The NComputing value proposition is hard to beat.
    Jhumper
    • RE: MiniFrame SoftXpand

      @Jhumper
      I've got BeTwin VS64 running on SBS 2008 quite nicely here on our test rig with 3 "workstations" and Office 2010.
      PhilM
  • RE: MiniFrame SoftXpand

    JHumper,
    Did you test these with games and heavy applications? I did, and believe me, there was no comparison. I guess if you just want to run MS Office, you are ok. We put SoftXpand to the test and really got good results with little or no degradation of performance. Isn't this what you are looking for? Isn't this the most important thing. I think you are straying from the subject mentioning other disadvantages.
    Multilingual
  • RE: MiniFrame SoftXpand

    I?ve implemented the solution using HP workstations with 5 users. We are using special furnitures for 5 users where cables are not messy. Students only see their monitor, mouse and keyboard and an usb port for attaching their pen drives. This configuration saves much space. I can send you some pictures if you want.
    With SoftXpand, we can have a powerful cpu and make the best of the cpu and gpu video cards, so we can use 3D programs such as Autocad, Adobe suite, Cored Draw, etc. with a very good performance. With NComputing, we can not. If you are using only programs like MS Office or Internet explorer, Ncomputing is o.k.
    Maybe you haven?t realized something: With NComputing you need to wire the networks for each workstation. With SoftXpand, if you are using 5 users per CPU, you need only to wire for one instead of five. You know that wiring network is about USD 100 Dlls for each workstation.
    SoftXpand also has included ClassXpand, that lets the teacher to show his screen to the students simultaniuosly.
    soldim
  • RE: MiniFrame SoftXpand

    You're correct, the NComputing value proposition is hard to beat especiually when you could do for free with Windows 2003 server edition what they will provide you with for $100 per user....

    SoftXpand does not use hypervisor technology so is a different solution to the same problem. An expensive PC isn't required however when you're splitting the costs between 6 users it makes sense no (like sticking a solid state hard drive in)? You're correct though SoftXpand works on Microsoft XP at the moment. Why would we offer the solution over Linux when again you can achieve Multiseat computing for free as with Windows Server 2003(again NComputing will charge you for this..)

    SoftXpand is the only Multiseat computing solution that offers Multimedia with no degradation in performance. Graphics cards aren't expensive and are required to allow for monitor connections, NComputing get around this byt selling you a Hub effectively with a PCI graphics card in it. At least SoftXpand lets you choose the quality you're after.

    SoftXpand is no longer limited to USB cable lengths, as technology in other areas improve so does the SoftXpand proposition.

    Which School are you and I'll review what we did for you.
    miniframeuk
  • RE: MiniFrame SoftXpand

    Check out Fiddlehead at www.myfiddlehead.com. It does the same thing, but uses a BIOS update to give you 4 totally seperate containerized systems that keep you TOTALLY MS legal! NOTHING is shared so ALL applications run. Try that with MovieMaker on nComputing.
    www.myfiddlehead.com
    vermonttechie
  • thinking to buy

    i want to set up a cybercafe. N use softexpand.
    my Q is "Can i use 8 port graphics card instead of 4 X 2 port cards. this will give space for audio device also. so which configuration should i prefer.
    reply plzz!
    sam_haker
    • sound?

      cards are much more expensive. but you bring out a great point, how does SoftXpand deal with audio?
      AlienWars
  • RE: MiniFrame SoftXpand

    This is really interesting because I've been researching Betwin and Ncomputing for the past 4 weeks or so and haven't been able to come to a conclusion. i downloaded betwin's 15 day free trial. Betwin seems more effective to me but it's limited to only 5 station(4 virtual workstations + 1host Pc) However, it appears to deliver richer PC experience and no additional hardware to install, apart from VGA card. The main prob I have with it is that it's not possible to assign a USB device to a particular User unlike ncomputing, and again betwin seemed to be crashing my system (Windows Vista)as it occassionally displayed blue screen& i had to attempt restart several times before it could boot properly. also I'm not too sure of the cabling limits for VGA cable and how to overcome it for length ranging from 5m to 10m. Ncomputing's U170 and X550 seem to be in the same price range (per User)with betwin but offer the access devices in addition to the Virtualization software for that price. I have'nt tried it yet, but I,ve read alot from their website. I just stumbled on this post and it's becoming really interesting. I Intend to set up an internet cafe to start with between 8 to 10 workstations before increasing to 30 or more. Question: Which solution(betwin, ncomputing or softxpander) will deliver best 'PC' experience, low power consumption, fast browsing on virtual as fast as on the host PC, little or no problems with upgrades, reliable support, & of course a competitive price) I will very much appreciate replies from everyone that has tested or used any of these products. Thanks.
    Okey
    saintokey