A Widening Range of Multiseat Desktop Solutions

Arthur Cole
Slide Show

When Is It Right for a Business to Consider Desktop Virtualization?

Tips for determining whether desktop virtualization is right for your business.

Even as the enterprise industry remains wary of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), a number of alternative solutions are working to break down the one-PC-per-user mindset that has gripped corporate culture for the past three decades.

But while these "multiseat" systems may reduce hardware costs, no one is arguing that they deliver the kind of flexibility that true VDI offers. Still, the growing number of solutions offer a range of configuration and deployment options that could contribute significant savings at the next PC refresh.

The most popular configuration involves docking stations or other devices that allow a single PC to branch out to multiple clients. One of the newest is Targus Inc.'s Zero Client device that can feed up to 14 users for less than $100. The company recently teamed up with DisplayLink to add USB virtual graphics capability to support high-performance environments under Windows MultiPoint Server 2011.

Meanwhile, NComputing has been expanding its platform to accommodate increasingly complex data environments. Its Office in a Box solution consists of a host PC, the company's vSpace virtualization software, various OS licenses and a range of client and peripheral devices. For large deployments, the system offers more advanced features like desktop failover, network storage support and even virtual server support. And in the all-important category of energy consumption, NComputing says it can reduce power and cooling costs by 90 percent.

Even companies that have a vested interest in desktop sales are active, albeit quietly, in the multiseat space. HP's MultiSeat Computing Solution serves up to 10 users through a specialized Compaq PC running Windows MultiPoint Server along with various thin client and peripheral options. In the fine print, however, the company admits that the number of users will vary depending on application loads.

Multiseat solutions that require specialized hardware are well and good, but what about a system that can easily integrate into existing desktop infrastructure? A company called MiniFrame offers an all-software solution called SoftXpand that creates multiple Windows environments on off-the-shelf hardware. The suite allows multiple users to independently log into virtual workstations via USP ports and Ethernet links of up to 100 meters. The software also supports desktop devices in their native modes, allowing virtual workstations to utilize, say, a supported video card on the host PC.

Previous thin client solutions suffered from latency issues and other limitations that, compared to dedicated PC infrastructure, produced a less-than-ideal user experience. With today's high-speed networks, many of those issues have been laid to rest.

The question remains, though, whether the ROI of a multiseat solution will hold up as the virtualization that is taking hold in the larger enterprise infrastructure makes full VDI solutions that much more attractive.

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