Cost-effective Virtualization: Review of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), NComputing and ASTER

Massive transition to use cloud service

From all sides, people talk about the transition to cloud services like cloud computing and Virtual Desktops. Many believe that most problems can be solved simply by migrating to the cloud. At the same time, the technical part, as a rule, does not cause any questions. The main doubts are centered around the cost of the solution. Financiers are interested in cash flows and the timing of the return on investment. However, it is important to choose the right cloud model and at the same time optimize the use of existing IT infrastructure.

Why is the hype on cloud computing?

Let’s figure it out. Why is external computing in clouds so beneficial for companies? To begin with, let’s understand what cloud computing is. Cloud computing services allow transferring big data to be processed and high load processing tasks from the company’s existing computers to external processing centers — clouds. The user gets access to the cloud services through his/her computer. Advantages of the services are:

  • no need to purchase GPU cards and upgrade own computers
  • fast deployment of the high load computation tasks in the cloud
  • fast and easy scaling up and down of the amount of the computation tasks
  • clouds provide secure conditions for data storage using RAID systems and for GPU processing by using only certified GPUs and cooled server rooms
Why is the hype on Virtual Desktop (VD) services?

More and more companies use VD services. From the abbreviation, we could understand that this service is related to providing Virtual Desktops to clients. Why has this service become so popular? It uses a client-server computing model. Cloud companies as they have many servers usually provide VD services. If all calculations are performed on the server system, then the amount of calculations on the client system becomes small. For small tasks on the client-side, low-performance computers are more suitable. Such computers are called thin clients or terminals. The user uses his thin client and lightweight thin client software to log on to the server. After successful authentication on the server, the user sees a desktop on his display. This desktop is called Virtual Desktop as it is created virtually on the server. The thin client just displays the desktop. Therefore, all the IT infrastructure for providing cloud computing is called Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), and the computers on the client side are called VDI thin clients. Thin client computing and VD services become very popular because of the reasonable cost of VDI services and reduction of:

  • TCO: low cost of thin client computers, reduction of SW licenses costs, etc.
  • electricity consumption
  • expenses on maintenance of IT-infrastructure
VDI Effectiveness

VDI optimization is not just about saving money by moving to the cloud, but also maximizing the use of existing IT infrastructure. The transition to cloud computing leads to the fact that traditional personal computers are unclaimed. Effective usage of old computers could improve the cost-effectiveness of VDI.

How can old PCs be useful in VDI?

You can use the existing computers of companies as thin clients. On one hand, their capabilities are broader than those of simple thin clients — they can also perform local tasks, which makes the transition to cloud technologies smoother and more manageable. But on the other hand, there are additional energy costs, more workspace is required, and higher costs for the maintenance. We will describe later how it is possible to use some parts of old PCs in VDI.

How is VDI organized based on Microsoft Products?

Microsoft provides a cloud platform called Azure. All computers in the Azure cloud use Windows Server Operating System (OS) while the thin clients use Windows OS. In 2021, Microsoft had a plan to release a specialized Windows OS version for old computers. The sole purpose of the OS was to make the old computers work as thin clients. On Windows (OS), there is a standard protocol for accessing Windows Server called the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). The thin clients are made specially to work through RDP are called RDP thin clients.

VDI organized with Ncomputing thin clients

An example of a thin client is an NComputing thin client. VDI with the NComputing products based on Windows Virtual Desktop solutions. The advantage of the NComputing solution is that they support different partners’ DaaS (desktop as a service) and SaaS (software as a service) solutions. The solution simplifies the transition to VDI like Citrix Workspace, Igel Cloud and Stratodesk NoTouch Center. In the case of the transition to VDI with NComputing devices — old computers become unnecessary. Therefore, old computers become e-waste as it is necessary to buy new NComputing thin clients.

Is there an alternative to the thin client model?

The thin client alternative is a zero client. While a traditional thin client streamlined for multi-protocol client-server communication, a zero client performs only data transition through a highly tuned onboard processor specifically designed for one protocol (PCoIP, HDX, RemoteFX, DDP). A device with such simple functionality has less demand for complex hardware or silicon and therefore becomes less prone to obsolescence. Another key benefit of the zero client model is its lightweight firmware represents an ultra-small attack surface, making it more secure than a thin client. Furthermore, the local firmware is so simple that it requires very little to no setup or ongoing administration. It’s the ultimate in desktop simplification, with the trade-off of flexibility. Most mainstream zero clients are specialized for one communication protocol only. Zero clients are less complex and cheaper than thin clients.

VDI organized with software zero clients

An alternative to the NComputing approach is using the old computers with a multi-user access program called ASTER. ASTER program allows the creation of up to 12 workplaces based on a single PC with a Windows 7/8/10 operating system. The workplaces are ASTER zero clients. The single Windows PC is an ASTER thick client. Thick clients have the ASTER program installed. The zero clients are connected to the thick client via video cable, USB cable, or wirelessly. In this case, a zero client device consists of just a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse, a web camera, and headphones with a microphone. The thick client price is the price of a desktop, all necessary ASTER licenses plus additional graphic cards. The desktop is the main part of the thick client cost. It is possible to use an old computer desktop as the desktop of the thick client. The zero client price is the price of all necessary zero client hardware (monitor, keyboard, mouse, web camera, headphones, video cable, USB cable, and USB hub). Mainly thick client and zero client HW are available as we can get them from the old computers.

Comparison of VDI

VDI with NComputing

VDI with ASTER

Solution type

Many thin clients

Few old computers as thick clients and many zero clients

HW on user side

Thin clients:

  • old computer monitors
  • old computer keyboard
  • old computer mice
  • old ethernet cables
  • new NComputing devices

Thick client:

  • old computer desktop
  • new graphic cards with a number of video outputs equal to the number of zero clients

Zero clients:

  • old computer monitors
  • old computer keyboards
  • old computer mice
  • new USB cables or wireless
  • new longer video cables or wireless video adapters

OS on user side

Any Windows and Linux on every thin client

Any Windows on thick client

SW on user side

Partners’ SaaS

ASTER program and any other

SW to access server side

RDP

RDP and others

SW on server side

Partners’ DaaS

Any cloud service

Cost

High:

N*(Cost of NComputing device)*number of HW upgrades (as average HW lifecycle is around 3-4 years https://www.ncomputing.com/support/lifecycle) + N*(Yearly subscription cost)*(Number of years)

Low:
Several ASTER lifetime licenses to allow N-clients usage + graphic cards + cables or wireless adapters

Electrical power consumption

Medium:

  • N thin clients consume less electrical power than old computers
  • Air conditioners consume small electrical power because of thin clients don’t hit much the air

Low:

  • Few thick clients consume up to 10 times less electrical power than old computers
  • Air conditioners consume small electrical power because thick clients don’t hit much the air

Effectiveness

Small:

  • all mice, keyboards, headphones and monitors are used
  • old desktops are not used

Medium:

  • all mice, keyboards, headphones and monitors are used
  • several old desktops are used effectively as thick clients

Speed of integration

Slow:

  • It takes time to get the NComputing devices

Medium:

  • It is possible to use trial version of ASTER immediately
  • It takes small time to get a new graphic card and longer cables

Network administration

Complex:

  • It is necessary to add all thin clients to the Network

Simple:

  • it is necessary just to add thick clients to the Network

Ecology

Low:

  • old computers are not used
  • new devices are needed
  • electricity consumption is high

Medium:

  • some old computers are used
  • electricity consumption is lower

Noise

Medium:

  • from N Ncomputing devices

Low:

  • from few thick clients which are far from users

Space

Medium:

  • less than space occupied by old computers

Low:

  • space is necessary just for few old computers, which are far from users
  • no space is necessary for the zero client

Fault tolerance

Medium:

  • fault on a thin client has low impact (just on one user)
  • fault on a thin client has a low probability but number of thin clients is high

Medium:

  • fault on zero clients has low probability and low impact
  • fault on a thick client has a bigger impact as it affects several zero clients
  • fault on a thick client has medium probability but number of thick clients is low

From the table results, we could say that VDI organized with ASTER is a very good alternative to VDI organized with NComputing devices.

What are the advantages of VDI organized with ASTER?

The main advantage of the usage of ASTER is based multiseat PC (so-called on-site cloud) is that it will allow reducing budgets and organizing more rational usage of the company’s old IT infrastructure. In detail it will allow:

  • reducing the complexity of network administration (ASTER zero clients connect to the ASTER thick client just through video cables and USB extenders)

  • improving VDI cost-efficiency by using old desktops as the thick clients 

  • saving on hardware purchases of new computers (some of the abandoned PCs can be used in the “cold reserve” mode for use in temporary projects)

     

     

  • additionally, reducing the total cost of ownership (total cost of ownership) by reducing the cost of maintenance, upgrades, repair

     

  • reducing electricity consumption (only by saving electricity, the cost of an ASTER license per workplace pays off in six months)

     

  • increasing the security of the system in comparison with ordinary computers. ASTER workplaces contain only monitors, mice, and keyboards, and access to the disk is regulated by the Microsoft account settings.

     

  • organizing an absolutely wireless thin-client/wireless zero clients by using the Windows Wireless Display Adapter.

     

  • using it as a home personal cloud or private cloud and organizing a home thin client system for remote work during a pandemic

     

  • improving VDI cost-efficiency by using old HW (mice, monitors, keyboards, headphones, web cameras, and etc.) for the zero clients

     

  • reducing the cost of purchasing licenses that are tied to the processor under the license agreement.

The effectiveness of ASTER zero clients was confirmed by our over 30 thousand ASTER license sales. The main sales regions are the USA, EU, China, India, Brazil.

 

Use VDI with zero clients of ASTER!

Are you interested in using ASTER for organizing VDI in your organization?