Category Archives: Surface Computing

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, Client Consolidation, and Blade PC’s… Oh My!

I’ve begun researching VDI because I believe that the PC is no longer necessary in medium to large environments that can operate with less than workstation class performance.  The potential advantages of replacing PC’s with Thin Clients that connect to full fledged XP installations are compelling.  I’ve been researching all of this for a couple weeks now, and I have to say that VDI, CCON, CCI, is in a pre-1.0 state.  I’ll explain it all below.

There are three terms going around to describe Client Consolidation technology.  They are:

  • VDI: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
  • CCON: Client Consolidation
  • CCI: Consolidated Client Infrastructure

They all essentially mean the same thing.  My definition of CCON is centralizing desktop/PC systems by hosting them in the data center.  All computing functions other than KVM are hosted and managed in a computer room away from the user.  The user uses a client device or application to access the centralized computer.  There are multiple terms battling to be the methodological name for this technology.  VDI was the first term that I saw used.  VDI is the trendy name in my view, and has been co-opted by VMware and turned into a product.  CCON is the name used by an IBM employee named Massimo Re Ferre’ who is a heavy contributor to VDI technology research.  Client Consolidation happens to be the name of IBM’s implementation of VDI (what a coincidence).  CCI is a product name used by HP after they abandoned the use of VDI.  Another name that’s out there is “Centralized Computing.”  Centralized Computing is the term used to define the days of mainframes and dumb terminals. 

My preference for the academic name of this technology is Client Consolidation (CCON).  I believe that CCON is the most descriptive, most open name of all.  CCON is general enough to encompass all of diverse technologies in this area.

There’s a lot of overlapping information and noise out there.  I want to explain the bottom line as I see it.

The technology “models” (Re Ferre’, 2007) for CCON are:

  • Shared Services (Citrix)
  • Virtual Machines (VMware, Xen, others)
  • Blade PC’s/Blade Workstations (HP, ClearCube)

You will ultimately have to select one (or more) of those methedologies for a production rollout.

Client consolidation is all about the use of RDP to connect to Windows systems.  RDP is what it’s all about (some solutions prefer/support ICA).   If you know how to use Remote Desktop, you’re most of the way to understanding what CCON is all about.   Everything after this is about services and features built around the use of RDP accessed Windows systems (VM’s, Blade PC’s).

The components of CCON are:

  • Client Access Devices (thin clients, repurpossed PC’s)
  • Connection Broker (software)
  • Host Systems (VM’s, Blade PC’s)

 VDI-CCON

Client Access Devices are straight forward.  You need a device that can understand how to connect to remote systems using RDP.  The client device can be a full blown XP/Vista PC, or a thin client running the proper client software.  You’re going to hear a lot about Windows XPe in this space.  XPe is a stripped down version of Windows XP often used for development and loaded onto many thin clients. 

Host systems are also straight forward.  You can run your XP/Vista/Other hosts as VM’s or on Blade PC’s.

Connection Brokers is where all the fun is.  Connection Brokers handle the setup, and advanced features of CCON.  Brokers decide (based on policy) which VM/Blade should be assigned, the features that are available to the user, and in some cases the robustness of the service.  I think of Brokers as travel agents.  A client shows up to the broker with a request.  The Broker knows how to handle the request based on requirements and makes all of the arrangements including the connection.  The broker is usually finished at that point, though the broker is an intermediary in some solutions.

That’s basically what CCON is all about.

CCON is barely at a 1.0 level.  There’s very little information out there (other than Citrix) and all of the solutions are patch up jobs.  There’s no long standing, widely accepted solution.  Most of the solutions that I have found have been assembled piecemeal.  The absolute best information that I have found comes from Massimo at http://it20.info/misc/brokers.htm.  He’s created a table with extensive descriptions of all the features he’s been able to confirm for brokers and clients.  It’s not a complete list of brokers and features, so do your own research and testing (HP SAM, IBM TMP missing).  Regardless, it is a must read if you are going down the CCON road.

Two other items of interest are VMware’s VDI forum and HP’s CCI forum.  Notice that there is very little activity at those forums.  That’s because most people still aren’t working on this.  Also, VMware’s product is in Beta.  That’s right…VMware’s broker is vaporware, yet they’re calling it VDM 2.0.  Now that’s good marketing.

That’s it for now.  Please let me know if you have any questions or if you have something to add.  There is so much information out there that I’m positive there is more to come.

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Microsoft Surface Demo in NYC (Review, Pics, and Info)

I went to the Microsoft Surface Demo at the Sheraton in NYC.  I was first in line at 9:30am.  It was a neat event.  There were three MS Surfaces on hand for some extremely controlled tire kicking.  There were no (positive) surprises about features and functionality.  The good news is that the Surface was able to do everything that was shown in the Launch videos.  The bad news is that it couldn’t do much more than that, and there were a few gotcha’s.  I’ve got all the dirt below.

 The Microsoft Surface Demo Event at the Sheraton was scheduled for 10AM.  NYPD barricades were set up wrapping around the side of the building on 53rd St.  I was first in line at 9:30.  A few others joined the line by 10AM, but the throngs of geeks didn’t show up.  There were no more than 50 people watching the demo, and many were hotel guests.  The main demo was conducted by Jeff Gattis of Microsoft.  (Jeff can be seen in this Popular Mechanics demo of the Surface.)  Jeff went through the different features such as Pictures, Puzzle, Music, drink ordering (Concierge?), and Paint.  I’m proud to say that I was the first person I know to crash the Surface.

Jeff from Microsoft launched the Puzzle feature that uses the clear tiles.  This feature basically illuminates the surface under the location of each of the tiles to create a puzzle effect.  I took a picture with flash and the whole thing locked up.  Jeff did something to the screen that reset it.  The Surface software ran slowly after that.

I also uncovered some of Microsoft’s smoke and mirrors.  Microsoft’s launch video show’s that you can place a Zune on the Surface which will automatically interact with the Surface and other Zunes.  This feature DID NOT work as advertised.  I borrowed a Zune from a friend to test this feature.  Jeff launched the Music app and placed his Zune on the Surface.  He copied music to the Zune.  I whipped out my Zune and placed it on the Surface and nothing happened.  This is when I was told that it’s not going to work because I didn’t have an ID tag on my Zune.  (BTW, Jeff was “very impressed” that I had a Zune.)  It turns out that every Zune, cell phone, glass, credit card, and comp card used for the demo had a special tag affixed to it.  I got a picture of the tag which you can see here: 

Surface Tag

 There was also another incident where a Surface bug was exposed.  The Surface seems to have a problem with drastic direct changes of lighting.  Someone was using the Paint program.  They began drawing on the screen.  Someone else took a picture with flash.  The corner of the screen that was hit by the flash lit up solid green as if someone had “painted” it.  Thankfully the unit didn’t lock up this time.

The only other item of interest from the demo was a quick Q&A between Jeff from Microsoft and one of the attendees.  The attendee asked Jeff if he was familiar with Jeff Han’s work.  Jeff from MS said that he was and that he’s “very impressed” by it.  He said that a few guys at MS Research know Jeff Han, but that Jeff Han isn’t working on the Surface project. 

The ultimate question is whether it was worth waking up at 7AM on a Saturday to see the Surface in action.  I’d say yes.  Microsoft’s Surface is an early example of the more interactive computer interfaces that we’ll see in the future.  The Surface is barely capable of performing its demonstrated functions.  The greatest disappointment is that Zune’s and camera’s need to be tagged before they could interact with the Surface.  Jeff from MS claims that this will be fixed and seamless interaction is down the road.  I hope he’s right.

Check out the pictures and let me know what you think!

Surface Tagged GlassSurface Tagged GlassSurface Tagged Glass Notice the tag on the bottom of the glass.  Kids paint on Surface Kids Painting.  Surface Tiles Puzzle Tiles.  Surface Puzzle Solved Puzzle Solved.

Surface T-Mobile Buying a phone from T-Mobile.

Microsoft Surface looks AWESOME! (Pics and Info)

 Microsoft released information on a new product tonight and it looks amazing.  It’s a 30″ tabletop screen with touch screen abilities.  It works similar to the holographic screens in the movie Minority Report, though it’s much more primitive.

 Microsoft has posted a fact sheet and FAQ’s, but I can’t link to anything other than the site because it’s all Flash based.  Microsoft describes Surface as:

“A 30″ display in a table like form that’s easy for individuals or small groups to interact with in a way that feels familiar just like the real world.  Surface can simultaneously recognize dozens and dozens of movements such as touch, gestures, and will be able to recognize actual unique objects that have identification tags similar to bar codes.”

“Surface will ship to partners with a portfolio of basic applications, including photos, videos, virtual concierge, and games, which can be customized to provide their customers with unique experiences.”

Here’s what I take from this announcement:

  • Surface runs on Vista. 
  • Microsoft appears to be the HW manufacturer on this.   I doubt that they could have kept this secret if they relied on others for HW.
  • Surface is Windows Tablet Edition on steroids.
  • The announcement says that Surface will be available for some businesses at the end of the year.

I am very excited about this announcement.  It didn’t seem like anyone could deliver a product like Surface in the near future, and it appears that Microsoft will.  This is an important step in the death of the mouse.  I wonder what the price on this will be.  It will probably be expensive if MS is targeting businesses.  I’d put it in the $3,500 to $5,000 range for businesses.  It’s probably in the area of $1,500 for consumers.  Gizmodo claims that the price is $10,000 with an expectation of a huge price drop over 3 years.  Of course, this is all assuming that MS can deliver on it’s promises.  I’ve got pictures posted after fold.  Microsoft Surface

Update: An excellent video presentation of Microsoft Surface.

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