Virtualization powers UN delivery of 500,000 computers to poor nations

Ncomputing on Monday said it will provide virtual desktops for the United Nations as part of a wider UN program to distribute 500,000 workstations to developing nations.

The first part of the UN deployment involves Ncomputing supplying 1,000 virtual desktops to primary and secondary schools in three African countries, said Stephen Dukker, Ncomputing’s CEO. The company was involved in a similar program involving a post secondary school founded by a Canadian in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Desktop virtualization began catching the interest of businesses in 2006. Some of the technology’s providers include Citrix, Microsoft,HP and VMWare.

The terminal computers connect to a central PC and share its resources, including memory and hard drive space, allowing more users to access the PC. The terminals are about the size of a deck of cards and have ports for keyboards, mice and monitors.

The UN plans to provide 500,000 workstations, also including PCs and laptops, by 2012 in an effort to boost technology usage in poor countries, Dukker said. The program is being conducted by the UN Department of Department of Social and Economic Affairs (UNDESA) and the initial deployments will be in Rwanda, Senegal and Tanzania.

The UN’s goal is to provide wider access to computing resources using low-cost and low-power technologies, Dukker said. The UN is partnering with private organizations to provide the equipment, with the UN and participating countries contributing to the costs.

Ncomputing is donating its X550 virtual desktop kits, each of which has five terminals. The terminals will access programs from a host PC running Linux and using Ncomputing’s Vspace virtualization software.

Ncomputing is also donating the mice and keyboards, while other parties are providing the monitors and used PCs. Ncomputing’s terminals draw less than a watt of power and normally cost about US$70, Dukker said.

Last year, NComputing won a contract to provide virtual desktops to 1.8 million students in India at 5,000 government-run schools. It has competed with Intel and the nonprofit organization One Laptop Per Child to win such contracts.

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