Is Pano Logic the only true zero-client desktop virtualization vendor?

Wyse's upcoming thin-client product may render it a distinction without much difference, however

Pano Logic Inc. is gearing up to take on rivals in the nascent "zero-client" market.

Having won a $20 million round of venture capital that brings the total raised by the Menlo Park, Calif.-based start-up to $45 million, Pano will begin to license the zero-client technology used in its petite, stylish and eco-friendly (3.5 watts) Pano Device to other hardware manufacturers.

On its Web site, Pano explains that it calls its devices "zero clients" because, unlike traditional thin clients, "they have no CPU, no memory, no operating system, no drivers, no software and no moving parts. They simply serve to connect peripheral input-output devices -- a keyboard, mouse, VGA display, and audio output -- along with other USB peripherals to a virtualized Microsoft Windows desktop operating system running on a server in the data center."

The company is starting to question the credentials of other vendors of zero clients. "Our device is the only zero-client solution out there, period," said Parmeet Chaddha, executive vice president of engineering at Pano. "It has no CPU, no storage, no local OS, no firmware upgrades, no configuration, no royalty fees."

Chaddha said that rivals are passing off thin client devices with processors and disks as zero clients. It's more than a question of semantics -- Chaddha said that thin clients consume more electricity and require more maintenance and updates to keep them running and secure.

By necessity, true zero clients such as Pano Logic's are also more efficient than conventional virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) offerings, such as Microsoft Corp.'s Remote Desktop Protocol.

"Think of us like a PCI interface on the PC, just extended over the wire," Chaddha said.

The net result is that Pano Devices are faster and easier and cheaper to operate than conventional desktop PCs repurposed as thin clients and dedicated thin clients that have their own CPU and drive, Chaddha said.

Pano's speed claims were corroborated in a recent Network World test pitting Pano against rivals NComputing Inc. and Wyse Technology Inc.

But with companies such as Wyse, which is preparing to release new version of its ThinOS code-named Badger that doesn't require any local storage, will thin clients prove "zero" enough for most customers?

Independent analyst Brian Madden thinks so. "If it looks like zero and feels like zero and doesn't require any management of the client device, who cares what's technically happening on the back end?" he wrote in a recent blog entry.

Pano has 300 customers running 25,000 Pano Devices in production, and another 500 companies are piloting the Pano Device, said Chaddha.

The company hopes to expand its reach that by attracting partners to embed the Pano hardware into devices such as LCD monitors, keyboards and even telephones, turning them into VDI-ready endpoints.

As for its technical road map, Pano today works only with VMware Inc.'s hypervisor and Windows XP virtual machines. Support for Windows 7 is coming soon, Chaddha said, as is support for other hypervisors such as Microsoft's Hyper-V. Pano is "paying attention" to Linux but hasn't committed to supporting it, he said.

Pano said that it is working on making its software more self-monitoring and easier to manage. It's also striving to improve the graphics and multimedia quality of its products, and to make it possible to plug more USB devices into its endpoint devices.

Eric Lai covers Windows and Linux, desktop applications, databases and business intelligence for Computerworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @ericylai or subscribe to Eric's RSS feed . His e-mail address is elai@computerworld.com.

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