Few low-cost VDI options remain

Organizations looking for affordable virtual desktop tools have few choices today, but NComputing offers a viable VDI option.

Though many low-cost desktop virtualization vendors have been acquired or have simply disappeared, budget-conscious IT departments still have some options.

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) software from such major vendors as Citrix Systems Inc. and VMware Inc. aren't options for IT shops with limited budgets because of the complex architecture requirements and back-end upgrade costs associated with each, said Steve Brasen, an analyst at research firm Enterprise Management Associates in Boulder, Colo.

[NComputing's vSpace] is mature, dirt-cheap, and easy to implement.

Simon Bramfitt,
founder, Entelechy Associates

But organizations that don't need a lot of computing power for applications or even robust configuration options would get by just fine with a lower-end solution from such companies as NComputing, a virtual desktop and thin client vendor based in Santa Clara, Calif., Brasen said.

In the wake of Pano Logic's demise, however, IT organizations may hesitate to buy from a small vendor, despite many industry watchers who believe a smaller company such as NComputing is an attractive option. "There is absolutely room in the marketplace for different types of desktop virtualization," Brasen said, noting that NComputing offers both hardware and software, just as Pano Logic did. It's deployed on-site, unlike Desktop as a Service, which also provides budget-conscious IT departments another method for deploying desktops, he said.

"If there's any takeaway from Wyse being acquired by Dell or [from] Pano Logic going under, it's that being hardware-only in this space is quite difficult," said Brett Waldman, an analyst at IDC, a research firm based in Framingham, Mass. "You have to have some software ability and make it easy for organizations to get up and running."

While some IT organizations may hesitate to go with a small virtual desktop company out of fear of it abruptly going out of business, NComputing is "a very solid company" that has a limited presence in the U.S. enterprise market but is popular and doing well overseas, said Simon Bramfitt, founder of Entelechy Associates, an enterprise IT consulting firm based in Concord, Calif.

What NComputing's vSpace offers

NComputing released a cloud-based management console this month that will allow IT to manage up to 10,000 connected client devices, virtual desktop software installs and server clients, all from a single pane of glass.

This approach to desktop management is particularly important to IT shops that have to manage geographically dispersed end users. "Once you're dealing with a good number of devices that are no longer new and/or not working fine spread out across 15 sites and 82 square miles, you need to have one place to deal with them," said Ray Kase, director of technology for the Downingtown Area School District in Downingtown, Pa.

The school district is in the midst of replacing decades-old laptops with NComputing's vSpace virtual desktops and thin clients. It currently has 1,250 virtual desktops up and running, and a management console is going to be a huge necessity once all 3,000 virtual desktops have been deployed, Kase said.

The console will allow his team to manage and troubleshoot its virtual desktop environment in a similar fashion to managing traditional PCs with System Center Configuration Manager -- by offering remote control access and inventory control of servers and devices, pushing firmware updates, redirecting printers across groups, and more.

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NComputing's vSpace platform relies on operating system session virtualization, similar to Terminal Services, where the OS and applications run in the server and are shared with multiple users at endpoint terminals.

After a pilot that began last spring, the implementation has been quick and easy, Kase said. The instance of vSpace is installed on Microsoft Hyper-V running Remote Desktop Services (RDS).

Aside from updating the district's Microsoft RDS client access license to be compliant with Microsoft's licensing, the district hasn't had to invest in the costly networking or storage infrastructure upgrades that are typical of VDI. In fact, the move will save the school district approximately $400 per seat on deployment and support costs alone. Plus, Kase thinks there will be larger energy savings as well, from replacing all the CRT monitors with newer LED monitors. The school district expects to complete its migration during the 2013 summer vacation.

NComputing is a flexible option for organizations looking for low-cost VDI, whether those are school systems and universities or banks with multiple branch offices, Bramfitt said. "It's mature, dirt-cheap, and easy to implement," he said.

Pricing is contingent on the specific line of thin clients and the number of seats purchased, but it ranges from $60 to $185 per seat.

By comparison, VMware View 5.1 Enterprise Edition, which includes VMware vSphere 5 for desktops, VMware vCenter Server 5 and VMware View Manager 5, costs $150 per concurrent connection. VMware View 5.1 Premier Edition, which has all of that plus the View Client with Local Mode, VMware ThinApp 4.6, VMware View Composer and VMware vShield Endpoint, costs $250 per concurrent connection.

NComputing said it has 50,000 customers with more than 4 million seats of vSpace currently deployed. The vSpace management console is available now. The company plans to release mobile soft clients for Apple iOS and Google Android devices in the first quarter of 2013 to help enable mobile productivity for customers. The mobile soft client will be similar to its Windows soft client, intended as a Citrix Receiver competitor.

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