For some IT executives, the idea of removing all desktop computers to the back office (leaving users with screens and keyboards) is an elusive ideal. In such a state, personal computer support could be provided remotely staff through software, IT staff would never have to deal with a single aggravated user or even trouble-shoot an individual machine - they could simply switch the user to a different PC blade or portion of pooled PC resources. No one would be able to steal data from or tamper with hard drives without getting through data center security first. And if the PCs in the data center are shared and virtualized, fewer CPUs need to be purchased and power and cooling costs for desktop computers should drop. Several vendors over the years have offered variations on this theme. Wyse and Neoware have offered thin-client computing, in which most processing takes place on the server and only small portions of code are downloaded to the desktop, for several years and two years ago, Ardence (now owned by Citrix) introduced software streaming that breaks operating systems and applications into small chunks and feeds them over any network on demand.Today, blade system provider Verari, San Diego, and Vancouver-based semiconductor company Teradici are announcing a new twist on this concept. The Teradici technology, called PC-over-IP, is a set of application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) chips and a small appliance, supported by a PC tower or blade in the back office, that can deliver the look, feel and performance of a standard desktop computer. One Teradici chip embedded in a data center PC compresses and sends the computer's digital images and any HD audio, using the Digital Visual Interface standard, over a standard TCP/IP network (of any bandwidth from 10 megabits per second to 10 gigabit Ethernet) to a companion chip in the appliance, also called a "puck" (that's a hockey reference from the Canadians at Teradici), that will decompress the information and pass it on to the monitor. All processing, applications and data remain in the blade tucked safely away in the data center. Only the screens the user needs to see are projected to his monitor the way a movie is projected onto a screen. Any operating system will do -- Windows XP, Vista, Mac, Solaris, Linux PC or what have you - and applications and data formats aren't affected. Teradici executives say their system can handle anything - even streaming video - without any break in performance or quality of user experience. In addition to the Teradici chip, the puck, which is about five inches in diameter, houses ports for the user's monitor, keyboard and USB devices.
Verari is the first to package the new chips in its blades and sell the entire packaged solution (blades, pucks, chips) under the name VerariIP. The bundled solution, according to Verari, will not exceed $800 per user in addition to the cost of a blade (which is around $1,000). This may sound a bit steep, but, according to Mark Bowker, analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group, "You have to look at it as a total cost of ownership, of not just purchasing the hardware itself but being able to manage it, to easily perform upgrades and secure it." The potential for more efficient power and cooling in the blade racks is another motivator. "Verari has power and cooling technology that enables companies to save considerable utility cost," Bowker says.
A good place for pucks might be a trading floor, where usually if there's a problem with a trader's workstation, an IT administrator needs to go out on the floor and perhaps turn the machine off to determine what's wrong with it. When workstations are all virtual blades in the data center, the user could be automatically switched over to another portion of software-managed blade resources. VerariIP also provides heightened security - not only is there no hard drive to steal or innocently take home, but the USB ports can be locked down, so that no one can walk out of the company with corporate or customer data. Every device can be controlled and audited centrally. "In places like trading floors, protecting valuable and sensitive data is extremely important, and forcing that data to stay in the data center yet driving a complete PC experience has never been done before," says Mike DeNeffe, VP of sales and marketing at Teradici.
Another scenario where this blade/puck combination makes sense, according to Bowker, is offshore software development, where firms can control the entire computing infrastructure within their data centers but stream work out to any location.
While this new technology may not be appealing for those whose data centers are already overcrowded, with the use of virtualization and blades, these units should not take up much room. This Verari-Teradici partnership is not a monogamous relationship. Verari will offer blade and workstation systems with other vendors' microprocessors and Teradici will sell its chips to other partners. In fact, in Teradici's announcement today an IBM executive is quoted saying that Teradici chips will be incorporated in its new BladeCenter Workstation Blade, and the CEO of ClearCube is quoted as saying that it will use Teradici technology in its trading floor systems. Other partners include AMD and Nvidia.