StratoDesk enhance offering for converting PCs to ThinClient: NoTouch equals Zero Client?

Complexity, storage, remoting protocols, device access. There are so many “barriers to VDI adoption”, that you can wonder why people make the effort. Yet, a centralised desktop infrastructure does offer advantages in management, reliability, wider access and (hopefully) proximity to your data: successful business cases can, and are, being made. Less of the piangevole, more of the piacevole.

A common initiator for moving to virtual desktops is the transition away from existing PCs. Despite them still physically capable of powering-on in the morning and working steadily all day, they aren’t up to the heavy lifting that modern operating systems and applications demand: some of you reading may be able to relate on a number of levels. Yet, why refresh those devices as well given those units are now no longer doing the heavy lifting? Many utilise refresh budgets to fund the centralised desktop hardware. A common business case is, the new platform offers a virtuoso performance of business agility over the lentando offering of fixed desktops. However – how do you access these virtual desktops? The Force may well be a binding, metaphysical, and ubiquitous power, but you’re here and now: not a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Yes, it is possible to purchase new devices – which are ever becoming cheaper, faster and better. However “new” is still an expense. Many opt to reduce their initial spend by re-provisioning existing PCs to thin clients.

To help accommodate this option, Stratodesk have announced the latest version of their NoTouch Desktop. NoTouch is a PC and thin-client re-purposing and management product. As well as supporting Citrix, VMware and Quest, Stratodesk have recently partnered with Desktone to offer easier access to Desktone DaaS desktops.

What does Stratodesk’s NoTouch Offer, and can Stratodesk assist in a easing deployment of virtualised desktop projects over and above simply deploying thin clients?

What is StratoDesk NoTouch?

StratoDesk’s NoTouch suite is a PC and thin-client re-purposing and management solution which consists of two-parts: the NoTouch Receiver OS, a thin OS that runs on PCs or Thin Clients and provides instant connectivity to a range of connection brokers, and the NoTouch Center a browser-based client-management tool that gives system administrators the ability to manage and secure any and all PCs and, interestingly, OEM thin clients from one virtual management console. Yes, there a number of tools to convert/re-provision PCs to Thin Clients.  There are two options – lockdown the existing environment (typically Windows XP), or provide a new OS.

There was an advantage in supporting Windows XP – all vendors produce win32 clients first, so you get all the latest features as soon as possible. However, a common concern is that relying on a Windows OS  means patching that Windows OS: often a Windows OS with a limited patchable lifespan. To remedy this, there are a number of optimised Linux-build offerings.  Devon IT with VDI Blaster, 2X have their  ThinClientServer – there is even a license free option in the recently updated ThinStation.

Where Stratodesk look to provide an advantage is in their range of supported VDI brokers and a comprehensive  management offering. Support is available for Citrix HDX, Desktone, Microsoft RDP, VMWare PCoIP and Quest vWorkspace.

As with other Linux based solutions, Stratodesk’s NoTouch Receiver OS is, as its name suggests an operating system in its own right with delivery available via directly at source via ISO, over the wire via PXE or as a standalone via USB.

Hardware specifications are reassuringly inexpensive:

  •     Processor: 500 MHz or more
  •     Memory: 128 MB Ram
  •     Storage: IDE/SATA Hard disk
  •     Video: VGA graphics adapter
  •     Network: Ethernet network interface

But it is useful to consider that StratoDesk support re-provisioning of PCs and XPe thin client devices: the NoTouch Receiver OS is capable of allowing a longevity of device beyond its native OS support.

What does the latest noTouch offer?

The latest version of NoTouch Desktop includes:

•    Integration with the native Citrix VDI-in-a-Box Client. NoTouch allows connection to a Citrix VDI-in-a-Box Server in three different ways via Citrix Receiver, the  Java Client, or a Web browser). NoTouch Desktop now enables users to re-purpose existing endpoints and to establish a connection to a VDI-in-a-Box infrastructure in under “five minutes”: obviously, your mileage may vary.
•    Citrix Receiver 12.1 with flash redirection and USB support
•    Firefox 12 with Flash Plug-in 11.2
•    The remote tool Team Viewer to enable direct support

This version includes the latest Linux Citrix Receiver version but of course this in addition to existing support for protocols including RDP and PCoIP. Indeed, Stratodesk’s strong links with broker vendors, such as VMware with their membership of the Virtual Desktop Alliance, helps keep as best pace with the releases of their partners’ Linux clients as a dedicated and paid for service can offer.

Does NoTouch out-thin Thin Clients?

We’ve spoken before about seven deadly sins of thin clients: it is possible to rashly undeploy existing devices and redeploy new devices simply because the new devices are new and shiny. Re-purposing devices  can give the power and local graphic, browser, print and peripheral access at a lower cost than ditch-and-replace. From an environmental perspective, you’ve not acquired new – you’ve recycled. Granted, power consumption can be higher in older devices: but how much higher? What is the cost of that in comparison to the time and effort of changing the devices you have now for new devices? A thin client is just a box a user can replace themselves – with a solution like NoTouch once it is deployed, that is what a PC becomes.

Granted you’ve moved to a device that requires a VDA license in a VDI environment. But, the cost of the VDA license plus the cost of the re-purposing software is often less than the cost of cost of a new device in years one and two: you’ve bought time. It is even more significant if you treat this re-purposed thin client as a thin client in its truest form – as a device to support a browser for a purely web delivered environment. They do exist: and when they do, there is no Microsoft VDA license.

Moreover, a re-provisioning exercise doesn’t exclude the migration to the breed of new, cheaper  thin clients. The devices you have may fail in time: but why not replace them then, rather than now?

Does NoTouch make a PC a Zero Client?

Notouch is undoubtedly a great tool for deployments today – be they Desktone, Citrix, Microsoft, VMWare or Quest. The nature of the offering means that other tools and clients can be added into the OS as needed: as long as the vendor has a Linux client. For a prospective virtualised desktop in-house team, or a SI/VAR – this makes NoTouch a useful addition to their toolset for delivering an effective and well managed virtualised desktop solution.

Yet is it that overtime, the Windows RT version will remove such competition? Is this an interim solution?  Does it make a PC a Zero Client?

A non-Window OS will require a Windows VDA license. The question is – will your solution ultimately require a Windows VDA license. Increasingly, as you move to web based applications, the answer will be “no”. So an interim solution? Depends on what you need to support over time. When Windows RT version devices are available, this will be a consideration – but again, how much does the replacement of that new device cost in comparison to the existing device now?

A zero client? No. You still have components. As far as components are concerned, hard drives, NICs, power supplies – sometimes you fail. However, that local storage can be important: it offers other opportunities. Again, when and if it fails – why not swap it out?


Ask not just what can be done today, but what can be done tomorrow

Recently, both Citrix (with Virtual Computer) and VMware (Wanova) have invested in tools to incorporate the “traditional” desktop. Because “on-line” isn’t always possible and not every user wants to bring their own device. Perhaps the user doesn’t want to “own” their device, perhaps the user is ad-hoc and doesn’t have a device, perhaps the budget is constrained. There are a myriad of reasons why spending more money than you need to is a “no”: because ultimately there are a myriad of CFOs who have a tight reign on expenditure. Interestingly, with NoTouch Stratodesk are management consoles away from offering a similar service to MokaFive’s BareMetal client hypervisor: although I’m not sure if “management consoles” is a valid measurement of time, or effort.

With NoTouch, Stratodesk offer a method of standardising an end-point without replacing the end-point. It is arguable that replacing XP with Linux “secures by obscurity”: but for older devices the NoTouch OS’s device requirements are much lower than Windows, and older Windows versions have a limited shelf- life.

Ultimately, this is an area where none of the existing desktop virtualisation vendors have a well provisioned plan to offer a solution: to re-provision an existing device as a low maintenance connection point. Arguably (with gustoso) Citrix now have what was NxTop Connect,  a Linux based virtual machine packaged within (what is now) XenClient Enterprise – but that relies on NxTop Enterprise and is limited to Citrix HDX support.  VMware – nothing: Wanova is a great Windows solution. Quest – possibly too busy playing Tower Defence with Dell.

Stratodesk have an OS that is comparable to MokaFive’s BareMetal environment. The goal here is to truly be hardware agnostic: which is hard. Still, Stratodesk have an interesting opportunity on corporate device re-provision. Repurposing should have a focus – but also a long term plan. With modifications and management console change Stratodesk could offer  a similar service. Going forward a key opportunity with PCs and laptops is to offer a light and secure management environment that can be offered on-chip, prior to OS boot.

It will be interesting to see who delivers that.