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Pano does browser-thin virty desktops

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For some end users, giving them a PC is like giving them a sports car when all they really need is a bike and a helmet – a fact of life that Pano Logic, a maker of desktop virtualization tools, aims to capitalize on.

A PC, Pano Logic knows, is way overkill for the actual work many users need to do, and they are a risk to themselves and to the corporate network when they are given responsibility for a full-blown PC. All that such users need these days is a web browser, through which they can get access to applications that run on private networks or are out there on the Intertubes.

Pano Logic has come up with a way to stream that browser centrally and securely, much as it does virty desktops, providing the skinniest possible computing environment for users.

The company, founded in 2006, created a UDP-derived low-level bus extension protocol it called Pano Direct Protocol to extend a local PC bus running on a virtual Windows PC instance back on a server over a local area network link to a stateless box that links to the keyboard, video, mouse, and USB devices sitting on the desktop.

The device, called the Pano Zero Client, is absolutely stateless, and you plug it into the network and then let Pano Manager VMware View or Citrix Systems XenDesktop broker a connection to a Windows XP or Windows 7 virtual image running back in the data center on a virtualized server.

"As we found this population of users who were working from browsers, we built something that is appropriate for them," Aly Orady, cofounder and CTO at Pano Logic, tells El Reg. And it's a lot cheaper, too, since it doesn't require View or XenDesktop, or a virtualization layer on the backend server, either.

Pano System for Cloud grabs the open source Chrome browser created by Google (itself a modified Mozilla browser that has its roots deep in the Netscape browser) and drops all of the necessary parts to run the browser onto a stripped down Linux operating system.

The chroot environment in Linux, which is used to isolate bits of the file system, is used create a sandbox for each virty Chrome instance that is streamed down from servers in the data center, which speak over the LAN to the Pano Zero Client, which provides links to the keyboard, video, and mouse sitting on the desktop that can access the Chrome instance. The chroot has the chunks of the Linux operating system necessary for running the network stack and drivers for the Pano device. That's it.

The Pano System for Cloud

The Pano System for Chrome, er, Cloud (click to enlarge)

Because the code is so skinny, a typical two-socket, twelve-core x86 server running the minimalist Linux environment – which can run off a LiveCD or be installed on disks in the server – can support up to 200 concurrent browser sessions at the same time.

It takes less memory to run the Pano System for Cloud as well, and a typical two-socket server can only host at most 40 to 50 virtual Windows images if they have modest requirements, according to Orady. The server also has a web-based management console for creating Chrome accounts and managing them. The back-end Chrome slice server costs $999 per machine.

The business end of the Pano Zero Clients

The business end of the Pano Zero Clients: G1, left, had one monitor port. G2 had dual DVI or a DVI and VGA combo, and the new G2M has one DVI/VGA port and four USB slots.

With the rollout of the Pano System for Cloud, the company has come up with a skinnier and cheaper zero client that is appropriate for minimalist desktop users. This Gen2M client one has only one video port and is wrapped in black sheet metal instead of a chrome-plated box that the normal Gen1 client was contained within, ironically enough. The Gen1 and Gen2 Pano devices cost $389, while the Gen2M device costs only $149. ®

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