Lookin' Good For The Next Frontier In Displays And Virtualization, Look To The GPU

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While thin-client and hypervisor technologies are being commoditized, there is a new, emerging interest in developing low-level virtualization technologies for motherboard subsystems.

Intel's VPro is already tackling management and security of its hardware subsystems. Another area of interest is video display through virtualized graphics processors.

Right now, software vendors are selling technologies that use the remote desktop protocol (RDP) in virtualized environments. But RDP is slow and an I/O nightmare in high-volume environments. New vendors such as Leostream and Provision Networks sell special connection brokers for virtualized environments so companies can cope with I/O bottlenecks.

Graphics virtualization can simplify the current virtualized enterprise architecture by offloading graphics processing to the graphics processing unit (GPU). DisplayLink, a leader in this emerging space, sells an ASIC chip that virtualizes video over IP. The new DisplayLink chip competes with HDMI and DVI interfaces directly. But today it is sold in devices that work with USB 2.0.

DisplayLink's technology works by remote to install a USB driver from any device carrying the ASIC. The driver self-installs into a PC and establishes communication with the graphics API. Input from the graphics API is then translated into a DisplayLink protocol that works over IP. Essentially, the software virtualizes output from the local graphics card.

Today, vendors such as LG, Toshiba and IOGear are offering video over IP by embedding the DisplayLink ASIC in products. LG's Flatron L206WU, for instance, is the first monitor to embed the chip. The monitor uses a USB port to install the DisplayLink driver and gain access to the GPU.

Whichever driver is distributed with the L206WU monitor must be updated to version 4.3 so that it supports Windows Vista Aero graphics engine. The new driver supports Vista's Aero interface. The technology can now withstand full screen 3-D with Aero over multiple displays, although there are limits to what users can view.

The L206WU supports various modes and display options. In extend mode, for instance, a Windows desktop is stretched across multiple monitors. Up to six monitors can connect and communicate through USB, and the leap to WiFi/Ethernet and WiMedia support is not a big one for DisplayLink. The company is planning to support Ethernet installs in the near future.

When uninstalling the driver on Windows XP, CMP Channel engineers found some residual problems with keyboard and mouse access. Engineers had to reinstall the mouse driver to manage the instability, attributing the problem to the driver's direct tracking of keyboard strikes and mouse clicks. The drive might have affected the XP's kernel API access to the PS/2 devices.

Other products such as Toshiba's Dynadock and IOGear's USB 2.0 external VGA Video Card provide more flexibility. Users don't have to buy the LG monitor to get virtual displays—they can achieve the same by hooking up the IOGear card into any monitor. The card's driver works the same way as the LG monitor.

IOGear's card is useful for mobile workers because it fits in the palm of a hand. Plugging the card into a notebook immediately allows users to present with multiple displays. The technology is ideal in financial companies where large spreadsheets and charts are needed for financial analysis.

Toshiba's Dynadock represents the latest in docking technology. Like other docking technologies, the Dynadock supports all of the standard ports, including surround sound via S/PDIF. Through USB, the virtual display driver provides access to multiple monitors.

Like the LG monitor, there are some issues with the Dynadock drivers in Windows Vista. Users have to make sure that the correct drivers are installed regardless of the CDs that come with the device.

DisplayLink's technology is going to have a significant impact as performance becomes a crucial problem in virtualized data centers.

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