Virtual Desktop with a Twist

Arthur Cole

Arthur Cole spoke with Stephen Dukker, chairman/CEO, NComputing, Inc. Open a conversation about desktop virtualization and people usually imagine a centralized platform where users access their OS and applications from a central source. At NComputing, the notion is turned on its head with a platform that shares a single OS on a standard PC across multiple users. Not only do you get to leverage your existing PC infrastructure, you bump up resource utilization dramatically.

Cole: NComputing's new U170 device lets users share the resources of a single PC. Is it fair to call this a virtual desktop, though, considering there is no central storage of desktop images?

Dukker: Central storage of desktop images is not required for our flavor of desktop virtualization. Typical hypervisor-based PC virtualization like VMware, Xen and Virtual PC requires each user to have their own dedicated operating system and copies of applications. This is a result of working with a naked virtual PC as if you had bought one from the store without any OS or applications installed, so creation and management of images is required. This approach is ideal for server virtualization where multiple servers each are running different operating systems like Novell, NT or Linux on a single "real" server through virtual machines. We in turn virtualize individual users under a single operating system. For desktop virtualization, this is the more natural and efficient technique as most users do not run diverse operating systems. As such, NComputing creates sessions on the fly as needed, and static images are not required. User files live in their natural locations on file servers or wherever user files are stored with appropriate security.

"In a perfect world, the CPU would operate at 100 percent utilization while delivering users a perfect PC experience. This compares to today's world where most users consume less than 10 percent of their PC's power."

Stephen Dukker
CEO, NComputing, Inc.

Cole: Either way, there must be some measure of efficiency with multiple users on a single desktop. What sort of benefits are customers reporting?

Dukker: In a perfect world, the CPU would operate at 100 percent utilization while delivering users a perfect PC experience. This compares to today's world where most users consume less than 10 percent of their PC's power. We recommend configurations that are specified to operate at approximately 70 percent of capacity. That leaves headroom for growth and extraordinary usage spikes. However, one should not confuse 100 percent CPU utilization with being over capacity.


When CPU utilization is under 100 percent, if there is a 3 GHz CPU, everybody thinks they have the entire PC to themselves. At 200 percent CPU utilization, everybody experiences the CPU as if it were their own 1.5 GHz machine. So 70 percent is a target that is easy to achieve and delivers great performance and plenty of room for swings. We have sold over 2 million seats in less than three years, so that is good proof that it works, and works well. Our reference platform is an 11-user system sharing a single $350 PC, typically a Dell Core 2 Duo 2.5 Ghz desktop with 1 GB main memory and a 320 GB hard drive, with all users running three to four apps each, including multimedia. This setup runs at 67-75 percent utilization compared to a standard single-user PC setup, which runs at under 5 percent and wastes the rest.

Cole: Now that you've outfitted the system with USB connectivity, does that mean you're aiming it away from the enterprise and more toward small offices, schools and the like?

Dukker: No, as the largest provider of virtual desktops -- we have over 2 million deployed vs. Gartner's estimate that all others have only 600,000 -- we offer the most mature and diverse range of client devices, from our $70 X-series to the $150 L-series. Our goal is to have a solution for every need, and the simplicity of the USB solutions, along with high-definition video performance and low cost, make it ideal for small and medium businesses and education. Our Ethernet-connected L-series connects through a home run in the enterprise, where we have over 600,000 installed in commercial applications. We are a broad spectrum supplier of virtualized desktops to all users who can benefit.

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