HP enhances desktop virtualization software

Hewlett-Packard hopes to widen the use of its desktop virtualization products with new software that will improve video playback and allow the use of USB peripherals such as webcams, the company announced Monday.

HP is also rebranding its desktop virtualization suite as the HP Virtual Client Essentials, and adding Linux support for its broker software, called Session Allocation Manager, which runs only on Windows today, HP said.

Earlier, Hewlett-Packard Co. announced offerings to enhance Microsoft’s virtualization environments.

Most of the updates concern HP’s Virtual Desktop Infrastructure suite, which allows a company to run multiple images of a desktop OS in virtual containers on a server, instead of having to manage a separate OS on each employee’s PC.

Desktop virtualization enables the provisioning of virtual instances of PCs to end-users from a single server, allowing IT administrators to centrally manage desktop configurations and have better control of those assets.

Virtualized desktops are catching on at some businesses but companies need to provide workers with an experience similar to what they’d expect from a standard desktop PC, and that hasn’t always been the case with multimedia content, said industry analyst Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates.

HP said it has solved that problem by developing an enhanced version of Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol, which transfers presentation data between thin clients and Windows applications running on a virtualized server.

The existing RDP works fine for relaying basic on-screen data, such as keyboard strokes and mouse movements, but it’s not good at carrying rich content such as a training video or webcast, said Manoj Malhotra, product marketing manager for HP’s Client Virtualization group.

“The server gets overloaded when it tries to decode a video stream for a large number of users, and some employees end up having a poor experience,” he said.

HP’s enhanced RDP shifts the burden of decoding video away from the server and onto the thin clients, he said. That will allow companies to stream video to a large number of employees without a deterioration in performance, he said. The new protocol also lets them plug in a wide range of USB peripherals, which don’t work well with the existing RDP, according to HP.

The enhanced protocol will be preinstalled starting in January on HP’s thin clients running Windows XP Embedded, and on its Linux thin clients later in the first quarter, Malhotra said.

HP said the enhanced RDP is aimed at basic productivity workers. The company also has its own RGS (Remote Graphics Software) protocol, which it positions for applications that use higher end graphics, such as CAD programs, or that multiple users access at once.

While the enhanced RDP will be free, HP charges for its RGS protocol. But on Monday it said it has cut the price of RGS to US$35 per seat, from “between $99 and a few hundred dollars” per seat, Malhotra said. It’s also allowing customers to use RGS on non-HP servers, which previously was not permitted, he said.

He predicted that the RGS protocol will become more widely used, but HP still expects the enhanced RDP to be used for about 75 percent of virtual desktop deployments.

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