NComputing working to accelerate adoption of desktop virtualization

Desktop virtualization offers a number of benefits and yet it hasn't taken over the market. NComputing thinks it knows why and is offering vSpace and its N-series desktop systems to accelerate industry adoption of this approach.
Written by Dan Kusnetzky, Contributor

NComputing announced a new version of its vSpace end-to-end desktop virtualization platform and has updated its messaging to point out that, in the company's view, the combination of vSpace and the company's N-series system are the perfect tools to make virtual desktops easy to use and deploy.

VSpace is a desktop virtualization platform that is based upon operating system virtualization and the N-series family of desktop hardware systems are based upon on NComputing's system-on-a-chip technology. What's interesting is that NComputing is one of a very few suppliers that has focused its efforts on an operating system virtualization and partitioning platform rather than getting on the virtual machine software bandwagon like most other vendors.

What NComputing has to say about vSpace

NComputing is launching a new version of its virtualization platform for desktop computing that builds upon its product that is currently in use in over 4 million customer organizations. Here's what the company has to say about its new release:

New Offerings in NComputing’s vSpace Platform

The vSpace platform is designed to give organizations more manageability, scalability and a better user experience, while maximizing technology investments. The platform introduces:

  • New -NComputing’s patented desktop virtualization software provides multi-user access to desktop computing by dividing a computer’s resources into independent virtual workspaces. This provides up to 100 users simultaneous access to a single Windows or Linux operating system instance. The vSpace Server interacts with the NComputing UXP (User eXtension Protocol) and the NComputing hardware and software access clients to deliver an optimized end-to-end desktop virtualization solution.
  • NEW vSpace Management Center – For organizations deploying NComputing desktop access devices, vSpace Management Center provides a highly scalable, flexible and easy to use single point of enterprise-class management. A web-based console lets IT administrators manage all client devices from anywhere, anytime, reducing the overhead needed to maintain and control an environment, regardless of the size or number of deployment sites.
  • NEW vSpace Premium Support and Services – Premium support and services provide vSpace customers access to regular software updates and upgrades, online web resources and direct access to dedicated vSpace support engineers.

What is desktop virtualization?

As with other uses of the term “virtualization”, desktop virtualization could really mean the use of several different virtualization technologies (see the Kusnetzky Group model of virtualization to the left) including the following:

  • Access virtualization - Individuals access applications running in virtual machines on servers or blade PCs that are located in the datacenter. Sometimes this access virtualization technology is known as “presentation services.” Individuals use a PC running special software, a very lightly configured, limited function computing device known as a “thin client”, a tablet running special software or a smartphone running special software to access their applications and data. Benefits of this approach include greater levels of security and reliability; lower costs of client administration and, in the case of thin clients, the device can be seen as an information appliance rather than a computer. A network connection, however, is required to make this approach work and so, highly mobile staff members would not be able to use this as their primary means of using application solutions.
  • Application virtualization - Another approach to desktop virtualization is for individuals to access applications that have been encapsulated and streamed, in whole or in part, down to their local computing device. Once the individual has completed the task, the application could be automatically removed from the local machine and made available for reuse on another machine or it could remain on the local machine. Streaming applications often require broadband network connections. Not all applications work well in an encapsulated form. This also usually means that the target machine is running the operating system and provides a computing environment that streamed applications find hospitable. While it is possible to project a Windows application in a form that can run on a Windows laptop computer or PC, it may not be possible to run a Windows application on an Apple iPad since the operating systems and microprocessor are not the same in both environments.
  • Processing virtualization – Processing virtualization is a range of technologies that allow a single computer to appear as many (virtual machine software) or many computers to appear as a single computing environment (clusters, grids, and the like). If we limit the discussion to virtual machine software, one of the five different forms of processing virtualization technologies, a whole computing environment can be encapsulated into a virtual machine. The virtual machine could then be run on a remote server or migrated to the client machine from shared network storage, copied or streamed to the target machine and then executed on the target machine. The target machine need not run the same operating system that supports the application. This approach is the foundation of independent computing. NComputing has focused on a different processing virtualization technology, operating system virtualization and partitioning. (see Converation with NComputing - putting VMs and VDI in its place for a longer discussion on operating system virtualization.)

Snapshot Analysis

Many IT executives remember mainframe and midrange computing solutions. Installation, administration and updates were all done back in the datacenter. Devices were put on staff members’ desks and were useful through many application and system lifecycles without requiring administration, updating or changes. These executives would like to recapture this environment without losing the benefits of a responsive, graphical desktop environment. Desktop virtualization makes this possible.

There are a number of other benefits this approach offers. Pools of virtual desktops would minimize loss of productivity and potential customer dissatisfaction in the case of a failure. If a PC fails, staff would be able to easily move to another PC and complete important tasks.

Work environments can easily be created and provisioned for newcomers to the organization’s staff. Secure, limited environments can be created for partners and consultants. Administrative tasks, such as installation of operating system or application updates, can be done back in the datacenter without requiring IT staff to spend time at each desktop system. This centralized approach reduces the overall staff-related costs of administration and operation of personal computers. Studies often show that these, not hardware and software, are the major costs of operating PCs.

With the help of an intelligent, graphical management portal, any of the virtual desktops or objects they contain can be discovered and easily managed.

The net result is a more agile, more flexible, more highly secure environment.

Why aren't virtual desktops everywhere?

Here, in a nutshell, are a few of the reasons that desktop virtualization hasn't simply become the way client systems are deployed everywhere:

  1. Good enough is good enough: (Golden Rule of IT # 4) causes organizations to stay with the tools they're using even though they're no longer the best way for staff members to work.
  2. Inertia: This is a variation of #1. IT administrators have learned (through painful experience at times) how to make Windows, Mac OS X and other desktop environments work and how to address common problems. While other approaches might be better, IT administrators believe it would take time to master these tools and make them support the organization's workloads. Since they're fearful about losing their jobs to someone, somewhere else in the world, they're going to stay with what they know until overwhelming evidence is offered supporting something new.
  3. Staff fear loss of control: The organization's staff has had control of their own desktop environments since Windows was first launched back in November 1985 (26 years ago), they fear losing control. The heavy handed, one-size fits all, way some desktop virtualization solutions have been rolled out have become legend. Stories about staff not being allowed to place photos of their family, beloved pets or favorite sporting events on the desktop; not being allowed to play background music while they worked or other restrictions can be found all over the network. When this approach was taken, general staff and IT are soon at war. If history is a guide, the IT staff usually loses in the end.
  4. New technology not "invisible:" how staff worked with their desktop systems changed significantly when their environments were virtualized. Sometimes that meant that typical functions, such as cut and past across applications, stopped working. Other times basic functions that staff had come to rely on became either unavailable or worked in some other way.
  5. There are front-end costs: organizations have already factored in all of the costs to support their desktops. Adding something new, no matter how much better it makes the environment, still adds costs on the front end. The people who make the decisions are measured on front-end costs, not the overall costs to the organization. That's the reason that some ignore the significant back-end savings the use of virtual desktops offer.

NComputing hopes that the combination of its virtual desktop platform and its N-series desktop hardware will make the use of virtual desktops so easy and cost effective that organizations will be driven to adopt it quickly. It hopes that this approach will overcome the costs and complexity of similar offerings from Citrix, Microsoft and VMware. After seeing demonstrations of the company's technology at events, I think that they're on to something.

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