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To Be or Not To Be a True Zero Client

Pano Logic CTO Aly Orady draws a strict zero-client line.

Virtualization Review Editor in Chief Bruce Hoard recently interviewed Pano Logic Inc. Chief Technology Officer Aly Orady about what is -- and what isn't -- a true zero-client device.

VR: I think a lot of people are confused about what a true zero client is. Let's start out by addressing that.
Orady: A true zero client is an endpoint device that has no processor in it whatsoever, does not run an operating system, does not have software, does not have memory, does not require management, and cannot be infected with a virus. In other words, the point of zero-client computing is to move 100 percent of software into the datacenter. Any solution that has a processor, boots an operating system, boots some kind of firmware or requires any kind of management is not a true zero-client solution. To give you an example, there are a number of products on the market that claim to be zero clients that are really thin clients. The way that you can tell the difference is they always have a processor, and they generally boot some kind of operating system or some kind of software.

VR: What questions should prospective desktop virtualization users ask of vendors who claim to sell zero clients?
Orady: Well, I think the best questions for them to ask are, "Does this device that you're selling us boot any kind of software? Does it execute any kind of code? Will I ever have to do a firmware update to the device? Can it be infected with a virus? Does it require management?" I think those are all really good questions.

VR: Can you describe the Pano Logic Zero client?
Orady: We created a device that literally has no processor. It doesn't run any code, it doesn't have any firmware. If you talk about it at the most technical levels, it doesn't have what's typically called an instruction pointer, which is a thing that characterizes the processor. There are other technologies on the market that are really thin-client technologies that have been re-branded as zero client. Those technologies use some kind of an operating system or run some kind of software, and in that case, you haven't actually moved 100 percent of software into the datacenter, so that's not zero-client computing, as far as we're concerned.

Zero-client computing is about having nothing at the endpoint. Because if you have no processor at the endpoint, then you never have to manage the device, you never have to configure the device. The device cannot be infected with a virus. That's really the point -- eliminating management outside the datacenter. The second you have any kind of processor at the endpoint where you're booting some kind of operating system, then you have a management burden. You have to update that firmware; you have to manage that firmware. There's a potential of that software having memory leaks and performing poorly or getting infected with a virus or any of the other burdens that come along with having software there.


Pano Logic CTO Aly Orady

VR: You claim to have a complete Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) system. How does that compare to products like VMware View or Citrix XenDesktop?
Orady: There are a couple different ways of looking at that. We claim to have a complete solution in that we offer the virtual desktop solution end-to-end including the endpoint device, the protocol, the management system -- the entire solution comes integrated together. It deploys very easily within 30 to 60 minutes and it just works. When you go to products like VMware View or XenDesktop, what you're getting is the management systems that go in the back-end, but you're not getting an endpoint solution. You typically have to go and get your own endpoint solution and integrate that, whether it be from a thin client vendor or a zero-client vendor such as Pano Logic. I guess the real question is, "How many different vendors am I going to have to work with in order to get my virtual desktop solution up and running?"

VR: How would you compare the Pano device to Xenith from Wyse or the new multi-protocol system from Teradici?
Orady: Both Xenith from Wyse and the solution from Teradici are based on a client device that has a processor in it that boots an operating system or code. So, the Xenith system has a processor in it and it boots an operating system over the network. What they've done with that environment is remove the hard drive from their thin client, and they're now streaming the operating system over the network to the thin client, but the thin client still has a processor in it. You need pretty complex management systems in order to get all of this to work. You will have to worry about the firmware that gets booted onto those thin clients. You're going to have to update that firmware from time to time. And even when you boot the firmware, once the thing has booted an operating system, well, it's running an operating system [and that means] it's vulnerable to attacks just like any operating system is and is effectively a thin client at that point. The multi-protocol system from Teradici is the same way. It's a device that has embedded firmware, and that firmware is used to connect back to the server. They happen to have put that firmware on a custom chip with a processor that's not an x86 processor, but there's a processor in there and it does run firmware. There are release notes that describe what their firmware does and, as a result, it requires management.

VR: I realize that every user is different, but can you give me some indication of what the price-point range is going to be for a Pano Logic system?
Orady: It really depends on a number of factors. The easiest way of talking about it is, if a user is buying our solution a device at a time and has brought their own virtual infrastructure into the picture -- they already have some form of hypervisor, they already have their own servers and storage -- in that case, the entire solution end-to-end, from the Pano device to the protocols to the desktop provisioning and management systems in the datacenter for brokering and provisioning, works out to $319 per device, including all the software in the datacenter. If the user doesn't have their own virtual infrastructure, then we've put together a bundle that they can purchase, which is a server pre-loaded with virtualization, pre-loaded with the Microsoft Windows licenses, pre-loaded with all the Pano Logic software. It's a 50-user bundle or 50-desktop bundle that works out to $489 per desktop.

VR: Let's talk a little bit about the company in a more general sense. Right now, what's your current state of funding?
Orady: Pano Logic has raised three rounds of venture funding. In total we've raised $44 million in backing, so we're a very, very well-backed company. The most recent round of financing came from the Mayfield Fund, which is basically one of the most prestigious funds in the valley.

VR: How many customers do you have at this point?
Orady: We have about 350 customers, and we count customers as over 10 units.

About the Author

Bruce Hoard is the new editor of Virtualization Review. Prior to taking this post, he was founding editor of Network World and spent 20 years as a freelance writer and editor in the IT industry.

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