Qumranet claims responsiveness, admin advantages for new desktop virtualization product

Moving Windows application workloads to the data center is one way to cut administration overhead, but keeping multimedia applications responsive is a challenge. One Linux-based startup offers a new approach.

Qumranet has released its Solid ICE desktop virtualization product to general availability this week. The company claims responsiveness and administration advantages over thin client solutions based on the results of pilot projects for several large customers, and today's released version adds multi-monitor support, in demand in the financial industry.

Solid ICE is designed to reduce the administration burden of desktop PCs by moving users' applications and data to the data center, where they're hosted on virtual PCs hosted on Linux systems running Qumranet's Kernel-based Virtual Machine, KVM. While the actual host OS is Linux, from Red Hat, Novell, or Canonical, Solid ICE also requires controller software, which currently runs only on Microsoft Windows 2003.

Solid ICE uses Qumranet's proprietary remote desktop protocol, SPICE, which the company claims can run multimedia applications more responsively over the LAN than other remote desktop solutions such as Citrix ICA or Microsoft RDP. Supported clients are Microsoft Windows PCs or Windows XP Embedded thin clients, with a Linux client promised for a future release.

One financial services industry CIO whose company is piloting Solid ICE said in a phone interview that users "feel more comfortable in the Solid ICE environment than they have in the Citrix environment." The company currently has most of its users on Citrix. Since the guest OS is unaware that it's running in a virtualized environment, some of the administration hassles of conventional thin clients, such as printer drivers and roaming profiles, are eliminated, the CIO says. Users are running WebEX sessions on Solid ICE without noticeable latency, he says. Users' other applications include some in-house applications and Microsoft Office and Outlook.

Solid ICE supports bidirectional multimedia connections for conferencing and VoIP, and tunnels USB connections from the client to the virtual PC, says Navin Thadani, director of product management at Qumranet. Currently there is no support for per-user permissions to connect USB devices, but the feature is coming in a future release, he says.

Besides the user-visible changes, the new release also includes Linux kernel functionality that collapses identical pages to save memory on the server. "When most of the desktops are the same, you can significanty improve the density," he says. A server with 16GB of RAM can handle 50 virtual desktops running a desktop workload, or 40 if 20 per cent are using multimedia at a time. Qumranet is in the process of contributing the kernel feature to the official kernel, Thadani says.