Startup Looks to Virtualize the Desktop

Qumranet's Solid ICE leverages the KVM hypervisor and the company's own set of management features.

A startup is looking to tackle desktop virtualization by leveraging an open-source hypervisor and building management tools to help keep track of an entire fleet of PCs.

The company, called Qumranet, is leveraging the virtualization technology found in the open-source KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine) hypervisor to create its first commercial product, dubbed Solid ICE (Independent Computing Environment). The new desktop virtualization is available now.

Qumranet, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., has its roots in open-source virtualization. The company's co-founder, Moshe Bar, helped create XenSource, which uses the Xen hypervisor for its own virtualization products. Citrix Systems bought XenSource in 2007.

The concept of desktop virtualization is gaining some traction as IT administrators look for better ways to both manage a fleet of PCs and ensure that the machines are secure. The technology works by separating the physical PC itself from where the user is accessing the PC. This allows for the keyboard, mouse, video display and other components to be redirected across a network through a desktop remoting protocol.

There is also a rush by x86 virtualization vendors to begin addressing the issues around desktop virtualization. VMware is offering its VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) suite and Citrix is offering its XenDesktop product. Smaller companies, such as Qumranet, are also offering their own take on desktop virtualization.

MokaFive, another startup, is offering what it calls "desktop as a service," while PanoLogic is selling a combination of hardware and software to create a virtual desktop environment.

The Solid ICE product, which sits within a host x86 server in the data center, leverages the KVM hypervisor. Qumranet engineers then built the company's own Web-based management suite. The company also created its own rendering technology, called "Spice," which connects the virtualization product to a thin client or repurposed desktop PC, said co-founder and CEO Benny Schnaider.

By using open-source technology and through its own engineering, Schnaider said the company wanted to create a suite that could offer the same experience a user has with a traditional desktop. One of the knocks against desktop virtualization is that the graphics and visual experience is limited compared with a traditional desktop due to the poor performance of desktop protocols.

Qumranet's Spice technology is looking to overcome those limitations.

"We have done some really good things to the user experience where the goal is to ensure that the user cannot tell if he is using a physical machine or if he is running remotely from a machine that is hosted somewhere in the data center," Schnaider said. "The improvement we have made is with the density. We have built on top of the features in KVM and our Spice protocol the best density when you look at the ratio [of] physical machine to virtual machines."

The management suite of Solid ICE includes a range of features for the IT department, including provisioning of virtual machines, desktop image management, load balancing and high availability features. The product also allows users to provision a desktop on their own as long as it complies with IT policies.

The product works with both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices processors and will support Microsoft Windows 2000 and XP along with several flavors of Linux. Solid ICE also supports up to four displays with each virtual desktop machine.

The Solid ICE product will retail in the United States for $200 per concurrent virtual desktop.