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HP MultiSeat enters client virtualization fold

With MultiPoint Server 2010 and TeachNow, HP aims to bring Windows 7 "PC experience" to more students.

Hewlett Packard is adding aggressively to its thin client virtualization hardware and desktop offerings with a new line for K-12 education accounts and small businesses. Offerings include a "multiseat" product designed to accommodate twice the number of users within the same IT budget.

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HP MultiSeat, which was developed for schools but will come in an edition that can be used in small businesses, builds on the licensing model made possible by Microsoft's new Windows MultiPoint Server 2010. The technology allows a single host computer to serve up to 10 users with an independent Windows 7 "desktop experience." The MultiSeat t100 Thin Client device, due early in 2010, connects the host with a monitor and keyboard for each user. It uses just 2.5 watts of power. HP this week also introduced two other products for K-12 education prospects: TeachNow, an integrated learning application bundled with a server and thin clients priced for a school library or lab environment; and HP SchoolCloud, a private cloud platform that allows schools to offer applications and learning tools through virtual desktops.

Other new products include the HP t525 Essential Series Thin Client, a $199 offering that uses a Marvell ARM processor and boasts local browser and multimedia acceleration; the HP t5740 Flexible Series Thin Clients, starting at $429 are HP's first thin clients to use the Intel Atom N280 processor and GL40 chipset, and are optimized for rich multimedia support for visual display solutions. Another new product, HP ProLiant WS460c G6 Workstation Blade, is a thin client workstation that starts at $3,044 and is intended for companies with high-end visualization requirements.

HP worked with VMware and Citrix to create optimized configurations of the products with an eye to making the technologies easier to deploy.

Budget constraints prompt virtual client discussions

The new offerings come as solution providers look forward to having more conversations with customers related to the Windows 7 upgrade cycle -- albeit a promise tempered with the cost-consciousness that has dominated 2009 IT budgets. Indeed, that cost-consciousness is the very reason a growing number of solution providers are extending their practices into client virtualization.

"HP is taking a leadership position with the clients, both from an ergonomic and a technical standpoint," said Glen Jodoin, vice president of marketing and operations at GreenPages Technology Solutions in Kittery, Maine. "This will help both us and HP stay in front of customers from a partnership standpoint as we advance our virtualization and data center strategy."

Chris Butler, vice president at Northwest Computer Support, a small-business technology solution provider in Tukwila, Wash., is evaluating HP thin client technology. He said his organization is heightening its focus on client virtualization solutions in 2010 because the end-user and graphics experiences have improved dramatically and the total cost of ownership story can be compelling. Northwest believes the technology is appropriate for some of its healthcare customers, because the centralized data control associated with client virtualization can address compliance concerns, Butler said.

Roberto Moctezuma, vice president of the desktop solutions global business unit at HP Personal Systems Group, said thin clients and other desktop alternatives are key to bringing new users into the fold, especially in education accounts where the current ratio of students to PCs in the United States is more than 3 to 1. That statistic was the inspiration for the One Laptop Per Child non-profit organization, which aims to solve the problem by distributing low-cost mini notebooks in developing nations. But the domestic problem is also acute.

"We moved to thin clients as a matter of survival," said Michael St. Jean, director of technology for the Pawtucket School District in Rhode Island. The district now runs 2,000 thin clients, and that has helped cut technology management costs and given more flexibility to teachers.

HP MultiSeat brings PCs to more students

HP's MultiSeat is a different cut at the same problem. Mike Belcher, education solutions manager for the HP Desktop Solutions Organization, said the product roughly doubles the computing capacity in a classroom within the same IT budget while reducing upgrade costs. It is best used with a 17-inch to 19-inch monitor. When used with an HP MultiSeat ms6000 Desktop, Belcher estimates the solution costs to be about $331 per seat for the hardware (not including display), compared with $680 per seat for a typical desktop.

Although it was originally designed with K-12 education in mind, Moctezuma said a commercial edition will also be available for very small businesses.

Aside from obvious segments, such as education, desktop alternatives will be critical for meeting the needs of developing nations, which have different concerns than their industrialized cousins, Moctezuma said, such as cost constraints, an inadequate or unreliable electricity supply, and local language support. He cited figures from Gartner estimating that only 16% of the world's population has access to a PC. "It would be wrong to assume that price is the only reason for this," Moctezuma said. "There are many, many environmental factors."

Additional evidence that client virtualization will be key in emerging economies can be found in the recent contract won by NComputing and Indian IT services company Wipro, which were recently tapped to deploy 31,000 NComputing virtual desktops for the Employees' State Insurance Corp. in India. They will use the technology to support the delivery and administration of health insurance and medical care.

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