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Commercial KVM-based virtual desktop program arrives


KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine), Linux’s own baked-in virtualization program, has been gaining popularity. Now, Qumranet, the company behind KVM, is releasing a commercial virtual desktop called Solid ICE based on KVM technology.

Solid ICE is designed to run multiple virtual desktops in a KVM on servers. While the servers need to be running Linux 2.6.20 or higher, Solid ICE can be used to deploy Windows or Linux desktops on either thin clients or repurposed PCs.

The servers must run on x86 processors that support virtualization extensions. These include Intel’s VT (Virtualization Technology a.k.a. Vanderpool) and AMD’s AMD-V (a.k.a. Pacifica) technologies.

According to Benny Schnaider, Qumranet’s CEO and co-founder, Solid ICE gives users “desktop virtualization done right. There are no compromises and you won’t be able to tell you’re working on a virtual desktop.” In Solid ICE, each VM has its own private virtualized hardware: a network card, disk, graphics adapter, and so on. The program also “hooks into existing infrastructure” to provide better desktop image management, provisioning management, policy enforcement, and security.

This isn’t all done with open source software though. To deliver outstanding desktop performance, Solid ICE also relies on Qumranet’s proprietary SPICE (Simple Protocol for Independent Computing Environments) remote rendering technology. Schnaider says that while “KVM is fully open source. Everything else [SPICE] is closed source and likely to stay that way.”

Schnaider says that SPICE is a new protocol that’s designed to “improve the user experience by not holding them back from local system resources.” So, for example, a virtual desktop user can “use full screens and their USB drives.” This works in part because Solid ICE pushes the work the client can handle itself to the PC rather than trying to do it on the server.

In the case of video, for example, older technologies, such as Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), Citrix’s Independent Computing Architecture (ICA), and Unix/Linux’s Virtual Network Computing (VNC) are “screen-scrapers.” In these, the server renders the screen and either pushes it to the client’s frame buffer and from there to the screen, as in RDP and ICA, or in the case of VNC, takes “snapshots” of the server-based virtual screen. Both methods put the graphics work on the server. So, as Schnaider says, “anything with high frame rates, like a YouTube video on a virtualized desktop, would kill the server.”

With SPICE, though, if Solid ICE determines that the client hardware can render the image, the rendering work is given to the desktop’s built-in graphics subsystem. The result is much snappier screen displays. Indeed, Schnaider even claims that if the local desktop graphics adapter and the network can handle high definition video, then a Solid ICE client can display it.

Besides what it claims to be great PC-side performance, Solid ICE’s other selling point is its total cost of ownership. Schnaider says, “The annual TCO per desktop is in the $3,000-$5,000 range. There are literally billions of dollars spent annually to keep existing desktop environments operational. There is a need for more flexible, independent, and secure computing environments, like Solid ICE, that can substantially reduce this inefficient TCO equation.”

While this could be said of any thin client system, Schnaider claims that because of KVM’s small system resource footprint, SPICE, and client operating system resource sharing, system administrators can run more desktop instances with Solid ICE than similar products. In the case of client resource sharing, Schnaider explains that when “you’re running similar operating systems, like Windows XP, you only need to have one instance of some of their resources running because you can share them between the clients. This gives system administrators two to five times higher density of clients than the competition.”

Solid ICE is available now for production deployments for $200 (list price) per concurrent virtual desktop.

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