IT shops looking to implement VMware virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) -- server-hosted desktops running in virtual machines (VMs) -- now have another thin-client option for end users' desks.
Compared with traditional thin clients from vendors like Wyse Technology Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and NEC Corp., the Pano device is notable for what it doesn't have: no CPU, no memory, no software, no operating system and no drivers. What the device does have are connectors to a keyboard, monitor and mouse, audio ins and outs, an Ethernet connection, and a USB.
Since the device has no processing resources of its own, Pano runs what it calls a Pano service within the Windows OS, which does things like translate the display Remote Desktop Protocol and present remote USB devices back to Windows. Taking this approach, Windows believes that the device is local, and users can use normal, native drivers for all their USB devices, Pano reported.
The benefits of a stripped-down device are easier management, the ability to share devices between users, low power consumption and low cost (about $300), said Mike Fodor, Pano Logic vice president of product management. But for now, end users will have to content themselves with "YouTube quality" audio and video, he said. Pano Logic hopes to resolve quality issues down the road, however. "We recognize the trend of more audio and video and have plans for a silicon solution in the future," Fodor said.
Pano calls on call centers
Thanks to two developments -- the advent of virtualization on the server, which can comfortably run a full desktop operating system, as well as "the evolution of the network," in terms of both available bandwidth and predictability and reliability -- a hardware-only thin-client device is possible today, Fodor said.
R Systems in El Dorado Hills, Calif., is an early adopter of the Pano device and a newcomer to VDI and thin clients. It chose Pano over other thin clients because of the ease with which it could adapt to the company's needs.
Among other lines of business, the company provides outsourced call center services, whose growth has been hampered by limitations in call center real estate, plus security concerns, explained Ryan Ritchie, IT manager at the firm.
"We have limited square footage and teams that expand and contract on a regular basis," Ritchie said. These teams needed "different software and can't use one another's devices." By moving from a traditional desktop to Pano devices displaying virtual machines, "an agent can sit wherever and grab their configuration from VMware, and we don't need to rearrange the call center floor."
Ritchie considered other thin clients that couldn't quite give R Systems this level of flexibility. "Traditional thin clients have an association between the device and the workload. It's already booted an OS; you can't dynamically load any configuration that you need," he said.
For several months now, Ritchie has been testing the Pano device and uses it as his primary desktop. "It's definitely targeted at the average business user, but I'm able to watch Windows video on it," he said. Another plus is that it consumes very little power (only 5 watts), so it doesn't generate much heat and is almost entirely silent.
In the coming months, R Systems will begin production deployments of Pano with select teams of call center agents. The migration will be gradual. As new call center business comes in and new agents are hired, "we'll grab an equal amount of Pano devices and move [the old Dell desktops] over as their warranties expire."
Thin-client good looks
What the Pano device lacks in hardware substance it makes up for in style. With this chrome cube that fits in the palm of your hand, "even fully configured, it doesn't lose its aesthetic appeal," Fodor said. Appearance was an important consideration for Pano, he said, as the company didn't want end users to feel like they were being stuck with second best. "People in the past that used a thin client felt like they were getting something less," he said. Making the device attractive was one way Pano identified to help end users accept the device.
"End-user acceptance was very important to us," Fodor said.
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