Streaming desktops: Don't call them thin

TRENDS & TECHNOLOGIES that affect the way government does IT

Sun Microsystems Inc. CEO Scott McNealy calls Dell Inc. 'the AutoZone of our business' (he did it as recently as last month's FOSE trade-show). In his opinion, the computer company can sell you parts, but it doesn't provide innovative, complete solutions to enterprise challenges.

Be that as it may, Dell knows how to find technology partners that add value to its systems. Among the most recent is Ardence Inc. of Waltham, Mass. Ardence makes server-based, application streaming software that provides the basis for Dell's SmartClient virtual desktop products.

Brian Carter, Ardence's strategic communications director, gets a little defensive if you call it a thin client. And indeed the Dell SmartClient is more like a thick, diskless OptiPlex than, for instance, a Wyse thin client. The Ardence software, which in the Dell scenario runs on a rack of PowerEdge servers, streams the operating system and applications to the client even if there's no OS installed at the desktop.

Carter said that while security is a main driver behind this virtual desktop scenario (and the main reason the Energy Department uses Ardence in its labs), it was image management that sold the U.S. Air Force in Europe on the Dell/Ardence combo. The Air Force wanted to centrally configure and push out each user's desktop. It reportedly tested Hewlett-Packard blade PCs and a Dell-based Citrix Presentation Server deployment, but ran into latency and maintenance issues. Carter said the Air Force rollout is happening right now.

Considerations? Streaming applications requires decent plumbing. Carter suggested 100 Mbps to the desktop and 1 Gbps at the switch. In addition, although the latest Ardence platform can stream certain Linux distributions, in addition to Windows, it can't do Mac or Solaris. The Dell/Ardence package goes for $50 to $200 per one-time client license (not including hardware costs). The more you pay, the better your enterprise features. For example, at the mid-to-high end, you can have load-balancing and redundancy features. You'll probably want those.

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