Jumping on the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) bandwagon, Dell Inc. today announced its first "zero client" device aimed at large enterprises.
The FX100 is an existing device that, through a firmware upgrade, now supports the new VMware View 4.0 app and its PC-over-IP streaming technology.
Created by Teradici Corp., PC-over-IP technology purportedly offers better multimedia support and faster responsiveness than other virtualization and streaming codecs, such as Microsoft Corp.'s Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP).
Though not the first vendor to unveil a zero client, Dell should make a big splash with this jump into a pool crowded with smaller companies and start-ups.
Zero clients are the evolutionary successor to thin clients, with even fewer chips inside.
The FX100, for instance, has no CPU and no hard disk drive, and only enough memory "to boot the device," said Robert Ayala, the solution marketing manager for Dell's commercial client group. That enables zero clients to draw less power and be more secure and less prone to hardware failure than thin clients or traditional "fat client" desktop PCs converted over to VDI use.
Ayala said the FX100 is just as stripped down as competing hardware from start-up Pano Logic Inc., which claimed last week to be the only true zero-client vendor.
Other vendors touting zero-client hardware include Wyse Technology Inc. and ClearCube Technology Inc.
Despite the FX100's minimalist specs, pricing starts at $500 per device.
"The reality is that with almost every vendor, you're going to pay the same upfront" as you would for a regular desktop PC, Ayala said. "The benefits are in lower [total cost of ownership] down the road."
Is it VDI's time?
The FX100 was previously paired only with a Dell Precision rack workstation in a PC-blade application-streaming architecture that is generally considered an evolutionary step between plain remote access, a la Microsoft Terminal Services and Citrix XenApp (formerly Presentation Server, and MetaFrame before that), and new-fangled VDI rollouts.
While VDI still has the server-only limitations of Terminal Services (for example, there's no access when the Internet connection is down), it offers a more personalized, flexible interface to end users.
That's key to getting buy-in from mainstream information workers who have generally rebelled when presented with tools that they perceive as crippled, second-class substitutes for fully enabled laptops or desktop PCs.
Some supporters think that 2010 will be the year VDI goes mainstream, while others are skeptical.
"It's crazy to think that huge swaths of people will use VDI who aren't already," wrote independent analyst Brian Madden last month.
While Madden conceded that "huge swaths of people" could benefit from the manageability and security of VDI, he said IT managers who wait until later this year will be rewarded by the release of new client virtualization software from both Citrix Systems Inc. and VMware Inc. Those offerings could deliver the security and manageability of VDI, plus the speed of locally installed software.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.