NComputing hits 1M customer mark, hires Microsoft exec as chairman

Company plans to expand its PC-sharing business from education to entrepreneurs in developing countries

NComputing Inc., the fast-growing Silicon Valley maker of PC-sharing gear, has hired a retiring senior Microsoft Corp. executive as co-chairman.

The Redwood City, Calif., start-up also said it has sold 1 million seats of its desktop virtualization gear, up from 500,000 seats sold the same time last year.

"We are moving from adolescence to maturity," said Stephen Dukker, NComputing's chairman, founder and CEO, in an interview last week.

Dukker will share the chairman spot with Will Poole, who is corporate vice president of Microsoft's Unlimited Potential Group. A 12-year Microsoft veteran, Poole ran the Windows client business until mid-2007.

Microsoft announced in April that Poole would retire at the end of September to pursue philanthropic and entrepreneurial interests.

Unlimited Potential is Microsoft's effort to make its software cheaper and more accessible for Third World institutions and schools. For instance, Microsoft is offering Windows XP and Microsoft Office to developing nations' schools at a bundled price of $3 per student.

Poole said he began "spearheading some components of Unlimited Potential back in 2003." He said his experience and contacts will help NComputing, whose customers are so far mostly Third World schools, continue to win such deals.

NComputing claims it can offer a plug-and-play way for nontechies to hook up extra monitors and keyboards to a single PC, allowing a single modern PC to serve as many as 30 users.

Its gear is both easier and cheaper to deploy than conventional thin-client or desktop virtualization gear, the company said. About 40% of users run Linux, while 60% run Windows, according to Dukker.

After discussions with Microsoft on the proper interpretation of its licenses for Windows and other software, NComputing now advises users that each PC must have a Windows Server 2003 or 2008 license, and each user workstation hooking up to that PC must pay for a client access license, Dukker said.

For educational clients, the prices are cheap, Dukker said: less than $100 for the Windows Server license, and about $20 per workstation.

Not satisfied with just educational clients, NComputing has started targeting and winning customers among mainstream businesses in both the developed and developing world, though Dukker declined to name specific companies.

Though such customers don't enjoy the same discounts as schools, Dukker said they can still "achieve substantial cost savings over traditional PC deployments."

Some users told Computerworld last year that NComputing's gear didn't always work perfectly. In particular, some applications tended to crash or did not run multiple instances under NComputing's technology.

Dukker said many of those problems were related to older software that wasn't written to comply with Microsoft recommendations. "Anything that can win a Windows logo certification will run well in our environment, though we've gone further to mitigate app compat issues for programs not written to be multiuser-aware," Drukker said. He noted that NComputing has solved problems with Web-based software that used the same IP address for multiple users and "sandboxed the I/O components" of other troublesome apps.

NComputing's technology can also run in conjunction with Microsoft Virtual PC or VMware Inc.'s VMware Player to virtualize any remaining troublesome applications, Dukker said.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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