The IT world is forever creating catchy new terms to label technologies in the hope that it will better communicate some vital marketing message. Sometimes this approach works, with few exceptions everybody understands what is meant by “thin client” and “zero client” even when the details of the implementation are wildly different – a Dell Wyse Xenith 2 zero client and a Pano Logic G2M zero client may have widely diverging approaches to delivering a zero configuration plug and play experience, but their appliance-like nature  and operational benefits are the same. Sometimes it doesn’t; regardless of the merit of the technology it describes, type 0 hypervisor  is a term that should be banished from any technical dictionary. And sometimes its too soon to tell. Microvisor is a term used to describe two very different virtualization technologies offered by Bromium and OK Labs that could conceivably compete in the same marketplace at some point in the future. So what about “Cloud Client”? Wikipedia does a good job of defining Cloud Client

cloud client consists of computer hardware and/or software that relies on cloud computing for application delivery, or that is specifically designed for delivery of cloud services and that, in either case, is essentially useless without it. Examples include some computers, phones and other devices, operating systems and browsers.

Cloud Client came into use shortly after Cloud was first used to describe an evolution of Utility Computing and was documented in Wikipedia as far back as 2008. However we can credit Wyse with doing most to popularize the term starting with the introduction of Wyse PocketCloud in 2009 and following up with the Wyse Cloud PC in late 2010 and now every Dell Wyse product is a Cloud Client.  Unfortunately, unless you are willing to accept the essential conceit that every XenApp, XenDesktop, View etc. implementation is a cloud service, then the Wyse marketing perspective is stretching cloud client to the limits of credulity. Which was fine, marketing is marketing, and Wyse is as good at marketing as it is at making thin clients, which is to say very good. But when someone else comes along with a product that sounds much more like a cloud client, it brings with it the possibility that all that effort will come to naught.  Which is a long winded way to introduce the Pano Logic Pano System for Cloud. The Pano Logic view of desktop computing is visible at every level of the computing experience they offer, from the flattened chrome cube of the Pano zero client to the appliance-like server infrastructure that sidesteps the IOPS challenge that plague most desktop virtualization solutions. It’s all about simplicity, identifying a market and engineering out anything that gets in the way of usability. Pano System is about as Post-PC as you can while still running Windows. So from that perspective its no surprise to see Pano Logic looking at Google Chrome and asking what can be done to make the experience of using Chrome more Pano-like.

Pano Logic System for the Cloud

Figure 1 – Pano System for VDI Architecture

Pano System for Cloud is best compared with a Windows RDSH implementation but instead of being based on Windows it is based on a Linux kernel (Ubuntu Server 10.4 LTS), and instead of delivering any application, it delivers just one – Google Chrome. As with Pano System for VDI, Pano System for Cloud is best suited for LAN environments. The Pano Direct Protocol Will work across WAN environments performance is unlikely to be acceptable. However, Pano System for Cloud does have an advantage over Pano System for VDI. A mid-spec desktop PC with an Intel i5 processor and 8 G memory can support 5-6 users without problem making even the smallest branch office deployments cost effective. At the the same time as introducing Pano System for Cloud, Pano Logic is introducing a new zero client, the Pano Logic G2M. This new device looses the distinctive squashed cube shape of the G2 endpoint in favor of a palm-sized rectangular slab. The G2M also looses support for a second monitor, but at the same time also sees a price drop of $100 bringing it down to an impressive $150. This may not appear to offer any advantage over the latest thin-clients using the Citrix HDX on a chip specification, but remember that Pano System for Cloud requires only minimal additional licensing and the value becomes much clearer.  Aside from the “server” the only additional requirement is $999 per server software license. Pano System for Cloud is offered as a perpetual license with one year maintenance for software updates, and perpetual online basic support.

Figure 2 – Pano System for Cloud Architecture

Pano System for Cloud is based on the Chrome Browser not the Chrome OS that comes on the Chromebox and Chromebook offered by Samsung and Acer. The only real shortcoming that Pano System for Cloud has over a Chrome OS device is the absence of screen lock policies and the lack of any means of preinstalling applications forPano System for Cloud users, both forgivable given the low cost of the system. The one area that Pano System for Cloud falls down is in it’s ability to integrate with conventional VDI platforms, both Pano Logic’s own solution and third-parties. The Pano Logic zero clients can connect to either a Pano System for VDI or Pano System for Cloud, but not both, meaning that there’s no easyway to access Windows applications. However, it is possible to provide access to selected Windows applications or even a complete Windows desktop from within a cloud desktop using a number of Chrome-compatible tools including using the Chrome Remote Desktop web application to connect to either physical or virtualized Windows desktop such as a Pano Desktop Virtual Machine. Even so it should not present an insurmountable obstacle for organizations with only a vestigial Windows  legacy to overcome.

Google Chrome Browser and Google Chrome OS Compared

Characteristic Google Chrome Browser on Pano System for Cloud Google Chrome OS Devices
Architecture Server-based Chrome browser process Local copy of Chrome OS
Endpoint Form Factors Multiple zero client and embedded LCD monitor form factors Desktop or laptop form factor
Repurpose PCs Pano Virtual Client software to repurpose PCs/laptops No option to repurpose Windows PCs
Windows OS Access/Support Same endpoints connect to Windows desktop via Pano System for VDI Linux-based PC/laptop with no direct reuse for Windows OS access
Plug-in Support Supports Java and Silverlight applications No support for Java or Silverlight applications
Network Ethernet LAN Wi-Fi and Ethernet LAN, optional 3G WAN
Management Console Pano Controller for Cloud console running on your on-premises server, obtained via perpetual server license from Pano Logic Google Apps for Enterprise management console running on Google’s servers, obtained via 36 month seat-based support & maintenance fee to Google
Tabs in Console Clients, Client Profile, Setup, and Log tabs in management console Org Settings, Device Settings, Shipments, and Devices tabs in management console
Security Features Each cloud desktop is created in a separate sandboxed process on server which is discarded when the cloud desktop ends Verified Boot feature checks and reloads if any corruption or alterations to Chrome OSarefound during boot
Windowing Multiple tabs and windows but no window manager or desktop UI Aura windowed desktop UI with multiple, overlapping windows and app dock
Kiosk Mode Supports device-based kiosk mode along with user logins No support for locked-down device-based or kiosk modes - users must login
Protocols Pano Direct Protocol on LAN, HTTP/HTTPS on Internet HTTP/HTTPS on LAN and Internet
Guest Logins Explicit guest logins not needed; users can log in at any endpoint. Guest logins supported along with named user accounts
App/Extension Control Apps and extensions controlled via Chrome synching base on Google Account Apps, extensions, and URLs can be whitelisted/blacklisted from console
Data Storage Data never stored locally on zero clients, so no chance of data leakage Data can be stored on local file system and persists between logins
Encryption Keyboard traffic on LAN always encrypted with AES128, while website and app traffic may be encrypted with HTTPS/SSL Website and app traffic may be encrypted with HTTPS/SSL
Screen Lock Only power save timeouts for displays and endpoint sleep mode Can set screen lock policies in Google management console
Preinstall Apps No option to preinstall apps but can set Default URL using Client Profiles Can preinstall apps for users in Google management console

Pano System for Cloud is a risky venture for Pano Logic but one that could reap big rewards. There is no other thinzero-client technology available today that focuses exclusively on delivering Google Chrome.  Giving it a significant lead in an as yet unquantified market. There’s no doubt that there is a growing market for cloud-centric computing and with it a growing opportunity for cloud clients, but as yet sales of Google Chrome OS devices have failed to set the world on fire.  Google has never released sales figures for Chromebooks, but according to DigiTimes only 25,000 – 30,000 Chromebooks were sold in 2011, a fraction of the sales that Pano Logic has achieved for its VDI solution. In many respects Pano System for Cloud is more attractive than its Chrome OS competitors. It offers a lower cost and more flexible solution than the $330 Samsung Chromebox although as can be seen in the feature table it doesn’t offer quite the same experience that the full Chome OS offers. In the long term Chrome OS may continue to be developed to offer significant advantage over  Pano System for Cloud, but given that Google has a history of dropping projects that are failing to gather sufficient momentum there  possibility that Chrome OS could be killed leaving  Pano System for Cloud with the Chrome browser as a safer long term choice. Where Pano Logic stands to gain most is in the k-12 education market where it’s low cost will afford it a significant advantage over Windows-based systems. However  it will have to address the lack of application management services if it is to realize its potential.

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Simon Bramfitt (122 Posts)

Simon is an independent industry analyst covering enterprise desktop, mobile and application virtualization, delivery and management technologies.

He is an experienced solutions architect with unmatched insight into the challenges of designing large (200,000 seat plus) high availability presentation and desktop virtualization systems.

Simon was invited to join the Citrix Technology Professionals (CTP) group in May 2010 and joined the Virtualization Practice in September 2010

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