Smart monitors, netbooks to parlay desktop virtualization

Smart monitors, netbooks and other new endpoint options may capitalize on virtual desktop technologies.

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A number of new endpoint options, including "smart monitors" and netbooks, are vying for a starring role in desktop virtualization.

Desktop virtualization shifts the heavy lifting of computing and storage to the central data center. On the client side, that centralization creates opportunities for a variety of endpoint devices that offer smaller footprints and lower power consumption than traditional desktop displays or monitors. Among the latest entries is a soon-to-ship integrated display or smart monitor from Samsung, which will sell through distributors. Low-cost netbooks, generally priced under $500, and thin-client notebooks are other choices for resellers considering virtual desktops for their customers.

But for now at least, these new endpoint options may face more competition from the installed base of PCs than from each other. Customers may opt to leverage, rather than replace, existing hardware.

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"Folks are trying to repurpose devices on the desktop at this time," said Joe Brown, president of Accelera Solutions Inc., a Falls Church, Va.-based solution provider that focuses on virtualization. He said that's the case for the vast majority of the desktop virtualization implementations his company has undertaken.

That said, integrated displays or smart monitors, netbooks and thin-client notebooks are attracting attention. Customers, particularly those with aging desktops, are showing some willingness to switch out gear, executives said.

Smart monitors on the horizon

Samsung has tapped Teradici Corp.'s PC-over-IP technology for its SyncMaster 930ND smart monitor or integrated display. Teradici's chip set lets a host computer deliver user desktops over IP networks. One processor resides on the host and one on the endpoint. Until recently, the endpoint in Teradici's PC-over-IP approach was a desktop portal, a small device that sits at the user's desk. Samsung, however, has integrated an add-in board with Teradici's chip into its 930ND display. The display will be able to connect to host servers equipped with Teradici's chips. ClearCube Technology, Dell and IBM offer such servers.

Ziad Lammam, product marketing manager at Teradici, said Samsung is currently the only display manufacturer to have integrated Teradici's chip into a monitor. Other display makers have expressed interest in the technology, but are not ready to publicly announce product plans, he said.

Lammam said his company is working out a worldwide channel strategy with Samsung. In the U.S., the integrated display product will be available through distributors. Teradici's original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and their reseller channels, may also play a role, he added.

"We have received great interest from existing OEMs," Lammam said.

Netbooks leverage desktop virtualization for mobile workers

Netbooks occupy a size and cost niche below notebooks. They are also sometimes called ultra-mobile PCs (UMPCs).

Amir Husain, president and CEO of VDIworks, said the netbook/UMPC form factor is "getting a lot of traction" and dovetails with the desktop virtualization trend. Acer, ASUS and Hewlett-Packard Co. offer products in this space. Dell entered the arena in September with its Inspiron Mini 9.

"There are devices priced at $200 to $400 ... and typically with a 8.4-inch to 10-inch screen," he said.

Husain, whose company provides virtual desktop software, said he views this category as a fit for schools and mobile workers using forms-based applications. He said netbooks make sense in those situations, with the virtual desktop in the background providing the user experience.

"Netbooks are going to be very big in 2009," added Ryan Grant, president of Austin Ribbon & Computer (ARC), an IT solution provider in Austin, Texas.

ARC works with public-sector accounts in Texas, including the education sector. Netbooks deployed in a virtualized solution would lower the total cost of ownership (TCO) of providing computers to students in K-12 schools, Grant noted.

Husain said netbooks are but one of multiple form factors that could access a common, data center-hosted desktop. He cited smartphones with a remote desktop protocol client as also having synergies with virtual desktops.

Thin-client notebooks

Thin-client notebooks bear some similarities to netbooks. The thin-client variety differs in that it is designed for a corporate network role, while netbooks emphasize on-the-go Internet and email connectivity. In addition, thin-client notebooks possess full-size keyboards and displays. Pricing tends to be a bit higher, with models in the $700 range.

Brown said he has seen considerable interest in thin-client notebooks, noting the lower price compared to standard notebooks. The thin client's lack of a hard drive is a plus for security purposes, he added. He said organizations whose desktops are nearing end-of-life and are seeking to add mobility are looking at such form factors.

Vendors in the thin-client notebook space include HP, Devon IT and Wyse Technology.

Market outlook for new endpoint options

Industry executives said interest in virtualized desktops continues even in the current economic downturn. The technology's TCO message appears to resonate with customers.

"To our surprise, there's not a whole lot of diminishment of the opportunities in the pipeline," said Calvin Hsu, director of product marketing with the desktop delivery group at Citrix Systems Inc. Citrix's XenDesktop is the company's desktop virtualization offering, which it markets in conjunction with partners including Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC).

He said the market has turned the corner in recognizing the centralized model "as being a cost savings kind of initiative."

Brown added that virtual desktop infrastructure can yield ROI in one to two years.

"I think people will continue to adopt it, even in tough economic times," he said.

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