IBM offers Microsoft-free desktops via Linux-on-Linux virtualisation
IBM is offering Microsoft-free virtual desktops with immediate effect. The system includes IBM's Open Collaboration Client Solution, an application suite comprising Symphony, Sametime and Notes, which runs on an Ubuntu Linux server that can handle several dozen thin clients. The virtualization software used comes from Texas-based Virtual Bridges Inc.
Virtual Bridges' VERDE is a hypervisor, allowing one Linux machine to host multiple virtual machines (VMs), each of which runs its own independent copy of Linux. VERDE was derived from Win4VDI, which similarly hosts multiple Windows VMs on a Linux host.
Virtual Bridges was formerly known as Win4Lin, Inc., the name coming from its best-known product. Win4Lin Desktop is a single-user hypervisor, based on QEMU with the KQEMU accelerator. It allows a user to run an unmodified copy of Windows 2000 or XP under Linux, allowing them to run Windows applications from within Linux. Virtual Bridges also offers Win4Solaris and a version of Win4VDI for Solaris, and Win4BSD, a free version of the single-user hypervisor for FreeBSD and PC-BSD.
By eliminating the need for Windows licenses and offering an all-Linux solution, the companies are able to offer a significantly cheaper package. Depending on the amount of software and support level involved, the virtual Linux desktop is quoted at between $59 and $289 per user. IBM reckons that using this Microsoft-free virtual desktop can save clients between $500 and $800 per year per user, while the saving on desktop hardware alone will be around $250, as clients will be able to use thin clients with no hard disk or CPU instead of powerful PCs.
Although using virtualisation to achieve multiple users on a single host server is a method that is today becoming increasingly familiar to Windows system administrators, it is worth noting that the graphical layer used in Linux, the X Window System, is able to support multiple terminals without any need for virtualisation. A single instance of Linux is able to support dozens of thin clients directly from a single kernel, with lower resource requirements than a system based around multiple virtual machines. The best-known example of this is the Linux Terminal Server Project.