NComputing and Windows: Rethinking Multicore, Thin Clients and Operating Systems

Rob Enderle

NComputing takes a standard PC and basically turns it into a thin client host, allowing one machine to service the needs of many. Our Arther Cole wrote on this back in August of 2007, and the product has improved significantly since then.


I met with folks at the company this week and they reported that they are fast closing in on 1 million seats using this technology, largely in education and the third world, indicating that the concept has traction and some solid economic benefits. But part of the reason it is so successful is that Microsoft provides special licensing discounts to third-world countries and education markets, making the result more cost-effective.


We have a number of interesting vectors starting to converge: cell phones that are becoming more like laptop computers connected to thin client-like applications, PC blades, thin clients (including NComputing), and the overall move to the "cloud." This feels like we are at the forefront of another event like the one that created Microsoft. But, other than Google, which seems ill-suited to a platform battle, there really isn't any other platform vendor well positioned for this wave yet.


Multicore: Who Cares?


The big problem with multicore is that after two cores, the benefits drop off a cliff; software, as it currently exists, is still largely not written to take advantage of more than two cores at a time. I run an eight-core machine myself and while I can, from time to time, light up three cores, the only time I light up all eight is if I run a tool that is simply designed to light up all eight cores.


But, in a shared usage model, a multicore solution shines. It can assign cores to each connected user dynamically based on need, creating a much more efficient model, in terms of price to performance. This is the core value that NComputing sells on and it seems to hold up in practice, based on their near million seats.


Traditional Thin Computing and PC Blades


The problem with traditional thin computing solutions revolves around the server hardware that doesn't scale well largely because it wasn't designed for desktop-type loading. Plus, you tend to need expensive servers, and video performance is hardly something that gets designed into any of them, which is problematic given that desktop computers need good video performance.


PC blades provide a better performance match, but the lack of standards at a blade level significantly increases both the cost and risk associated with the purchase, effectively overcoming much of the advantage for many potential buyers.


In both cases, mobile solutions are rare. HP is one of the few firms that has been able to provide a limited mobile solution. Limited because the data wireless services available to it all have some shortcoming and the hardware is only usable when it can connect to a network.


Combined, these problems have prevented what otherwise would have been the rapid rise of a much more reliable, much more secure platform, with a lower cost of ownership.


The OEMs Want DOS Back


After a series of OEM meetings, that is kind of what my takeaway was: OEMs want DOS back, or at least a vastly less feature-rich OS that they could better configure for different target markets with their own stuff. Having said that, I'm thinking what is needed here is a Windows OS and licensing program to work with a multi-user machine. That may be coming in Windows 7.


With the market now starting to aggressively explore this idea of shared processing and graphics, I think we are close to something really creative. The Splashtop OS product has a number of folks suddenly looking with interest at a slimmed-down OS front end that would continue to work without a network, and then a full-featured capability that would be hosted and work when the system was connected to address the mobile side of this, or a laptop with an ultra-low power option. This takes us back to the DOS concept of a light OS on the client.


Wrapping Up


I like NComputing because it gets around the standards problem of PC blades and the graphics problem of traditional thin clients, which use traditionally poor server-based graphics, coupled with a light OS like the Splashtop and running hosted Windows connected to cloud-based applications and storage when connected. That seems to use the greatest breadth of in-market capabilities to create what should be the best match of security, performance, reliability, and cost for the next generation of desktop hardware.


The question is: Who is going to figure this out first?

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Aug 7, 2008 8:25 AM Sommavile Sommavile  says:
Once in a while we come across a company whose idea and products just make sense. Ncomputing is such a company and it may take some time until you will hear more about its products, but we do believe that the firm has what it takes to popularize cloud computing for the masses and become Intels biggest threat yet. We are talking about the ability to split one PC into possibly dozens of sub 5-watt computers with a cost of less than $100 each. To us, it is the first convincing cloud computing idea that has the potential to reach more users than any other computing product before. Figure this. I am in Kenya, or may be in another third World country like Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, Rwanda or even Burundi.. Food prices are sky rocketing. There are myriads of PC donations, most of which have to be revived. And even after the revival they work for three months or so. Back in the store they end.Disposing those old PCs, mostly from the West is another challenge in Africa.So what makes more sense than investing in a good PC (Dual Core or Core 2 Duo) and for each of this investments get 10 low cost NComputing terminals at less then $100 each? You will never regret the investment! You are guaranteed that your users will work all day, all Month, all year, without any problems. Talk about PC support and maintenance and you have just one PC for every ten to maintain!Managing E-wate is a challenge even in developed World. And you know what? NComputing is a perfect solution when it comes to Ewaste management. NComputing is a good concept and those who have seen it at work appreciate it.Sometime in January I was in Somalia (East Africa), and I saw this concept at work. I traced the distributors to Kenya. It is an innovative company called Opencode Systems Kenya. You can check them out at www.opencodesystems.com, or +254-721-219190, +254-20-3560507. Reply
Aug 14, 2008 2:22 PM Osman Osman  says:
Good Technologies live long. NComputing will definitely live longer! Reply
Aug 16, 2008 1:12 PM Osman Osman  says:
I did not know that NComputing supports both Linux and Windows environments. What a beautiful product!! So it means that users can make a choice between Linux and Windows. Then it makes sense for corporates who are thinking of transitioning users from Windows to Linux. Get two servers . Have one supporting Windows and the other supporting Linux! Configure the two in such a way that your users can log in to either of the two servers at any given time. After the users are familiar with the Linux environment and all Open Source applications, just switch off the Windows server. What do you think? I see NComputing supports Windows 2000 Professional, Windows XP Home and Professional, Windows 2000 Server, Windows Server 2003.Linux distributions supported include Ubuntu/Edubuntu/kubuntu, SUSE, FEDORA, DEBIAN, CENTOS, REDHAT and others. OpenCode Kenya can you call us on +255764581183. We have good business for you!! Reply

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