VDI Client Supports VMware, Microsoft, Citrix with Zero Client Hardware

By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2011-01-19

The Pano System 4 uses a shiny, tiny brick-with ports for the video, keyboard, mouse and USB connectivity-that significantly advances practical and cost-effective virtual desktop infrastructure. By completely removing the need for any PC-like components from the hardware, Pano Logic has garnered an eWEEK Labs Analyst Choice rating for advancing the state of the art for data-center desktop virtualization.

The Pano System integrates with VMware View, Microsoft Hyper-V and Citrix XenDesktop environments to connect DVMs (Desktop Virtual Machines) created using these virtualization platforms with users who are logging on via a Pano device. The Pano System is suitable for medium-to-large enterprises where desktop workloads don't need more than two monitors-the current limit of the just-released second-generation Pano device.

Pano System 4 was released Jan. 12 and costs $389 per device, which is competitive with the price of thin clients. The Pano System price includes all the server and connection licenses needed to use the device, along with a year of software maintenance and support. Additional support options are available to extend software maintenance for $20 per year per device and a combination of software maintenance plus support for $49 per year per device. No-cost Web-only support is also available.

Although there are no direct Pano System competitors with an equivalent hardware form factor, the obvious point of comparison is with thin clients from HP, IGEL, Oracle and Wyse. The most notable difference between the Pano hardware and its thin-client cousins relates to size constraints. The chrome-plated Pano device measures just 3.5 inches wide by 3.5 inches deep by 2 inches tall and sips 3 watts of power. In general, thin clients are about 1.5 inches wide by 7 inches tall and 10 inches deep. That extra space is usually put to good use for organizations that need to accommodate a variety of connection and secured-communications options.

For example, the second-generation Pano device I tested had a DVI (Digital Visual Interface) graphics port, four USB 2.0 slots, an RJ-45 network port and a micro-HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface), along with an adapter that makes this the new, second monitor connections, along with a speaker jack. Thin clients, which are usually built as stripped-down PCs, typically offer a secure card reader, PS/2-style mouse and keyboard connectors, VGA and DVI video ports, four to six USB ports, speaker and microphone jacks, along with wireless options and sometimes a serial connection for use with old-style peripherals such as payment-card readers. Thus, for organizations that require the use of older peripherals, the Pano device isn't the best fit. However, for offices that are using even moderately up-to-date keyboards and mice, the Pano device is a good fit. It also comes with a DVI-to-VGA adapter-a nod to fostering adoption in shops that may not have updated monitors in some time.

The Pano System is composed of a Pano Manager server, Pano hardware devices that sit on the user's desktop and the Pano Direct software agent to facilitate the connection of DVMs created in one of the supported platforms with users. In my VMware View test environment, this meant that I first installed the Linux-based Pano Manager server as a virtual machine. The installation, which took about an hour, was relatively easy because the Pano Manager is provided as a virtual appliance and comes in an OVF (Open Virtualization Format) that was a breeze to install.

I should note that the Pano System comes with an administrator's guide that is well over 400 pages. While the document is helpful, it is repetitive and sometimes switches installation directions. For example, the Pano System doesn't support the default VGA driver installed by VMware tools in Windows guest virtual machines. The instructions for a workaround veered back and forth between Windows XP and Windows 7, sometimes putting the steps for one operating system first and sometimes the other, which tripped me up during the initial set-up that substituted the VMware SVGA II driver, which is supported.

The Pano System doesn't create the DVMs. For that, I used the Lab's VMware View 4.5 virtual-desktop environment. I installed the Pano Manager virtual appliance and the integration wizard to identify the VMware Virtual Center server, the Microsoft Active Directory infrastructure and the desktops the Pano System would use.

I created DVMs for the Pano System test, but I could almost as easily have used existing DVMs that were already configured in my test environment. The DVMs only needed to be modified with the addition of the PanoDirect agent, which is necessary to communicate with the Pano Manager server so that authorized users could be logged on to the right DVM. I used Windows 7 as the desktop OS for my DVMs. Installing the PanoDirect agent was a simple process, and the agent worked without flaws during my testing. I've already mentioned the video-driver change that is required if using a DVM that has already been installed with the latest VMware driver.

After the Pano Manager was set up and my DVMs prepared, I connected the keyboard, video and mouse and a Logitech USB headset to my Pano device and then connected it to the network. The USB support worked okay with interactive voice applications. Video playback of Windows Media sample files worked only moderately well. Organizations that must use video communications via DVMs should pay careful attention to performance tests in production networks.

Rocket Fuel