VMworld 2013: ViewSonic’s Android Based Thin Client, a Hidden Treasure

VMworld2013.150pxAmongst all the major infrastructure and cloud announcements at VMworld this year, I was looking for some interesting technology that would stand out from a EUC perspective.  Every which way I turned there were great solutions displayed on the exhibit hall floor, but hidden in the back row of this highly attended event was the piece of technology that I was looking for.  Released back in May, the ViewSonic SD-A225 and SD-A245 (22 and 24 inch respectively) smart display devices peaked my interest.  The devices are loaded with Android Jelly Bean 4.2 operating system and come pre-configured with Citrix’s XenMobile MDM client, so right out of the box you can apply application and device level security using your existing XenMobile infrastructure. The devices are very feature rich, providing a touch screen that puts out 1920×1080 resolution in full HD powered by a NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad core processor, Bluetooth, Gigabit Ethernet, Speakers, USB ports, WiFi and Webcam.

The Cool Factors

Recently I have been covering several vendor announcements and addressing the broader adoption of thin clients. While functionality and security have been the primary focus of these topics, there lacked a sense of coolness.  Two main features of the ViewSonic devices makes this a cool device to have.  The Dual Touch controller screen is the first cool feature which takes advantage of the native Android operating system.  You can swipe, pinch and zoom just as you would on your mobile device and tablet.  I was skeptical at first, but taking the time to use the large touch screen, with a virtual desktop, was easy to use.  This makes the transition for users from their personal device to their work device easy.  The second feature is purely the ability to download and run applications from the Google Play store, or your company run App Store.  Giving the user the ability to download their favorite (Angry Birds) application makes using the device more personal without affecting its business use.  Users can leverage the local processing power of the Tegra chip and the 8GB of memory to run graphically intensive applications and streaming media. For complete isolation of business and personal use, these devices can also be attached to their personal computers to be used as a traditional monitor.

Android could be a game changer

Linux, Windows and custom operating systems have all been standard offers for thin client devices.  Where standard Windows updates can be pushed through the management consoles or patch management software, the Linux and custom OS flavored devices often requred companies to wait for the manufacturer to provide updates.  Using the Android operating system makes sense.  The platform is suited for running on evolving hardware platforms, so manufactures can dream up all types of devices without operating system limitations.  According to ViewSonic’s Michael Holstein, they have been spearheading efforts to address application filtering issues with the Google Play store that sometimes prevents applications from showing up in the available download list.  The store looks at the specifics hardware manifest of the device and then filters the applications that are designed specifically for that hardware.  ViewSonic found that some applications (such as NetFlix) required geo-sensing hardware so they can adjust the display, are not present in the smart display devices and therefore did not show up in the search lists.

Thin Client vendors can take advantage of over one million applications in the Google Play store, and not have to create or update software for the platform.  This makes devices like the ViewSonic smart displays a very compelling personal computing device.  Today it may not replace the user’s need for a local Apple or Microsoft operating system and office productivity suite, but as consumers move more to cloud based application services (Google Docs /Office 365) where the browser is the primary interface, these devices should gain more popularity.  Yes, it could mean a round two for Chromebooks as well.

Introducing Android as a computing platform may put some corporate security folks into a tail-spin.  As a more open platform, unlike Apple’s IOS, Android users have been subject to breaches, malware and virus attacks.  This has been a large motivator for the adoption of Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Mobile Application Management (MAM) solutions to secure mobile devices that connect to corporate resources.   The integration of Citrix’s XenMobile MDM client makes this device ready to have existing security measures applied, giving the end user the same user experience as their mobile device.  Today ViewSonic has only a XenMobile version, but it definitely leaves open the possibility for other MDM platforms in the future.

Dell-WYSE was also showing their Android based solution, named project Ophelia.  Packaged in the size of a thumb-drive, this device plugs into a powered HDMI monitor and uses Dell Mobile Management software.  I did appreciate the form factor, and the ability to carry your corporate computer in your pocket, but it didn’t bring the same user experience that the ViewSonic touch screen provided.

ViewSonic has developed a full line of thin client devices that support VMware View, Citrix HDX and Microsoft Remote FX.  They have models integrated with Teredici’s APEX card and a line of Zero clients as well.  At VMworld they announced the release of their new Z245 Zero client for Horizon View.

With the introduction of Android based thin clients we are beginning to see the real convergence of remote desktop and mobility.