How not to buy a Multipoint solution

If a solution is meant to be turnkey, easy, and low-maintenance, make sure it doesn't include a bare metal machine for end users to configure.

I'm a big fan of Microsoft MultiPoint Server. Anything to easily bring thin computing to the masses, saving money, energy, and time is not a bad thing and, like Windows 7 and Server 2008, MultiPoint works very well in its intended use cases. HP's channel partners actually offer turnkey packages with "servers" (more on the quotes in a minute), client access stations, monitors, and all other necessary peripherals at aggressive prices. However, if those great turnkey solutions aren't pre-configured, then many of the benefits of MultiPoint evaporate for the intended audience.

Thin computing can use a variety of hardware and software solutions for highly scalable, cost-effective computing solutions in schools and beyond. MultiPoint is a small-scale, nearly plug-and-play solution appropriate for classroom labs and situations where a more enterprise-level thin computing solution isn't feasible. The beauty of MultiPoint is that it looks and feels like Windows 7 with a bit of added software to easily manage accounts and what amount to RDP connections from thin clients into a high-powered desktop.

HP's solution provides a quad-core desktop with either 2 or 6GB of RAM, depending upon your requirements. Windows MultiPoint relies on 64-bit graphics processing to run RDP and provide relatively rich user experiences over USB. Thus, for both cost and driver compatibility issues, desktop systems are generally favored over server systems to power MultiPoint (the average server video capabilities don't tend towards 64-bit rich desktop graphics).

That's all well and good, especially since the aim of MultiPoint is to make a rapid deployment of a small lab easy for savvy teachers, rather than requiring full IT support. HP offers MultiPoint pre-installed on their ms6000 desktops, or you can order them with FreeDOS if you already have appropriate licensing or want to use something like Edubuntu.

Again, nothing going wrong here. Good stuff. Where things go wrong is when channel partners sell entire systems based around bare metal desktops. This leaves users to not only install MultiPoint (actually quite easy), but then, with no documentation from HP, figure out that those same driver issues that the desktop system is meant to avoid, will prevent the attached stations from establishing connections correctly to the server and displaying any video.

If I ran the world (or at least my own MultiPoint reseller), then not only would the server be configured with an OS, but it would have all of the drivers and software necessary to truly plug-and-play. These systems are not meant to be installed by experienced system administrators, although in some cases they are. Rather, they are meant to be easily accessible to savvy teachers and non-enterprise environments. They need to be configured with that in mind.

I'm ranting, by the way, since I had to figure this out for a friend who just attempted to roll out MultiPoint in one of her schools. Fortunately, I knew where hurdles might lie, but that's hardly going to be the case for MultiPoint's target audience.