Ncomputing is now offering a new take on the thin-client paradigm with its M300 3-in-1 Thin Client Kit for Virtual Desktops. The M300 was announced Feb. 23 and started shipping in late March. With a street price of around $400, Ncomputing is claiming that the M300 kit is less than a third of the cost of other VDI systems.
That claim is attributed to the fact that the M300 kit offers the capability to turn a single host PC into the network host for multiple thin clients and offers virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) deployment and management capabilities, as well as the benefits of host-based computing. In other words, Ncomputing is taking a hybrid approach to offering a thin client on the desktop.
Simply put, the M300 uses Ethernet as a delivery mechanism to transmit virtual machines to endpoints, similar in concept to what VDI does. However, unlike most VDI solutions, Ncomputing does not require a complete, dedicated infrastructure to be in place for a virtual machine to work. For the most part, the M300 works with existing infrastructures and leverages standard PCs to work as network hosts for the virtual machines, taking a page from the world of host-based computing.
While NComputings M300 (and related M-series products) may not be revolutionary, the technology does effectively tackle many of the pain points that IT pros have had to deal with in the past when pushing VDI or thin-client solutions. For example, the M300 does not require a complex, dedicated infrastructure to operate; also, everything needed to deploy thin clients is included with the product.
Typically with VDI deployments, multiple products from multiple vendors are needed to build a complete system. Ncomputing eliminates the need to purchase additional hypervisors, connection brokers, display protocol accelerators and so on. Ncomputings single-vendor approach makes deployment, management and operation much simpler than other VDI or thin-client solutions. Whats more, no additional licenses are needed to run Ncomputing’s thin clients, helping to keep costs down and eliminating another management hassle.
The cornerstone piece of the M-series is the M300 thin client, a small piece of hardware that is responsible for replacing the traditional desktop PC. In brief, the M300 thin client is a small device that sports a VGA connection, Ethernet connection, USB connections, audio connections and so forth.
In short, the M300 thin client eliminates the desktop PC (or more correctly, the CPU) and offers a methodology to plug in a monitor, keyboard, mouse and other devices directly into the networkhence, a true thin client.
Of course, there is more to the M300 than a thin client. The M300 is the designation for a 3-in-1 Thin Client Kit for Virtual Desktops. In other words, the M300 kit includes three thin-client devices, NComputings vSpace Server desktop virtualization software, as well as remote management software, and a few other bits and pieces. Whats more, the M300 thin client offers more than just typical PC component support, it offers USB 2.0, as well as that ability to handle multimedia, as well as video chats, voice over IP calls and so on. In short, it offers the power of a desktop PC without the costs or hassles.
Ncomputing is not the only player in the thin-client space; others, such as Pano Logic, Wyse and HP, ship some form of a thin client. However, Ncomputing takes a different tack and combines everything needed into a single SKU for three thin-client devices. Another major difference between Ncomputing and the competition is in the ease of deployment, which is enhanced by Ncomputings single-vendor approach and wizard-driven installation.
M300 Delivers Straightforward Setup Procedure
Some notable features of the M300 thin client include low power usage (as low as 6 watts), no moving parts (no fans, drives, etc.) and a footprint small enough to allow mounting behind a monitor (Video Electronics Standards Association- (VESA-) mounting-capable). The included software can support as many as 45 thin clients per host, allowing 45 users to share a single host system over Ethernet connections to the thin-client devices.
Setup proves to be very straightforward, thanks to the limited interaction needed by the administrator and the elimination of third-party hypervisors, connection brokers and so forth. The first step is to select the appropriate host PC hardware and software. Host PC performance proves critical for setting up M300 thin clients; more power and memory offered by the host PC translates to better overall performance for the thin clients.
For my tests, I selected an HP Z600 workstation with Dual Xeon X5550 processors and 12GB of RAM. The Z600 was running the Windows 7 enterprise edition. My host PC far exceeded the minimum requirements set forth by NComputing and ultimately should be capable of handling at least 60 thin clients under high workloads. NComputing recommends at least an Intel Core2 Quad Q8300 with 8GB of RAM as a starting point. That level of hardware should support 20 thin clients under a low workload, or a dozen thin clients under a high workload. The thin clients use 10/100 Ethernet connections, which may account for the sometimes-sluggish performance seen in my tests.
Once the hardware and OS (Windows 7, Windows Server 2008R2 or Windows Multipoint Server 2011) was selected, I installed the vSpace software, which is what turns the host PC into a vSpace server. The installation is wizard-driven and simple. Settings, such as screen resolution, streaming video support, USB support, remote control and so forth were readily found under the appropriate option tabs, making configuration easy.
The rest of the setup process, such as plugging in thin clients, attaching monitors, keyboards, peripherals and so on proved to be as easy as setting up a new PC. The thin clients booted up quickly, taking no longer than a typical high-performance desktop PC and many times faster than a typical VDI client that needs to be provisioned upon first-time use. Overall, an M300 thin-client experience is much the same as using a typical desktop PC.
However, as I added more thin clients to the network, performance was affected. On busy networks with multiple thin clients, there are some noticeable lags when launching applications or streaming videos, either due to network contention or additional strain placed on the host PC, or even a combination of both, depending upon the mixture of tasks being processed.
In other words, heavy traffic will slow down the responsiveness of a thin client, while heavy loads placed on the thin client itself will consume more CPU cycles on the host machine. Nevertheless, for typical workloads, such as word processing, email, Web surfing and so forth, the M300 setup proves to be very effective, giving users an experience akin to a typical desktop PC.
With its low entry price, ease of installation and ability to emulate a desktop PC, the M300 may be the ideal way for small businesses, training centers, call centers and the like to inexpensively deploy multiple PCs.
Whats more, the savings in power usage and OS licenses prove to make the M300 very cost-effective, especially for those looking to pinch pennies. Ultimately, the M300 may not scale to replace large, complex VDI solutions, but it sure is a good alternative for smaller workgroups looking for the benefits of VDI, without all the setup, maintenance and management hassles.
eWEEK also put together a slide show on M300.