IBM's Linux-Based Virtual PC Solution Faces Channel Questions

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IBM on Thursday said it is working with partners Virtual Bridges and Canonical to develop a Ubuntu Linux-based virtual PC solution.

The PC virtualization solution includes Virtual Bridges' Virtual Enterprise Remote Desktop Environment (VERDE), Canonical's Ubuntu Linux desktop operating system and IBM's Open Collaboration Client Solution software, based on IBM Lotus Symphony, IBM Lotus Notes and Lotus applications.

The solution looks promising, but the biggest potential problem is the fact that it is a bundle, said George Loridas, South Central territory manager for Ryjac Computer Solutions, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider and IBM partner, which is already providing a variety of virtual desktop solutions.

"From a customer perspective, what happens if one of these pieces changes?" Loridas asked. "As their integrator, we have to monitor these things for our customers. Also, with bundles, you can box yourself into a corner. If something changes, how does it affect the back end?"

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Jeff Smith, vice president of Linux and Open Source for IBM's Software Group, said that the three parts of the solution are sold separately by the three vendors through their own channels. "The others' partners can also sign up with IBM," Smith said. "And we hope that they do that."

While direct enterprise customers get IBM's help in integrating the solution, IBM is providing the information by solution providers to integrate it for customers, Smith said.

An even bigger problem, Loridas said, is that the immaturity of virtual desktop PC technology, in general, can cause customers to hesitate in their purchases.

"Virtual PCs are so new," he said. "Every day there's a new announcement. People are getting leery. Sometimes, we need to sit back and wait and see how it all plays out."

Smith said the new Linux-based virtual desktop PC solution from IBM and its software partners is priced to help make it easier for customers to sign on.

An entry solution, which uses IBM's free Lotus Symphony Open Document Format (ODF) office suite costs $49 per seat for the Virtual Bridges VERDE software and $10 to $40 per suite for Ubuntu support, depending on the services customers require.

A more typical solution, Smith said, adds IBM's Lotus Notes, Sametime and collaboration tools at a cost of $199 per seat, bringing the total cost to between $258 and $288 per seat.

For customers who want to start out slow and keep their Microsoft infrastructure, the Virtual Bridges and IBM parts are heterogeneous and work with virtualized versions of Microsoft's operating systems, Smith said. However, in this case, customers will have to pay the Microsoft licensing costs, he said.

"People ask, 'do I need to do a complete flop off the Microsoft environment?" he said. "The answer is, no, this is a heterogeneous solution."

Storage requirements for the virtual PC solution vary according to customer need, Smith said. The software creates a single image that can be accessed by multiple users, and so there is little storage capacity required. The biggest changes come from the fact that, since the virtual PCs are run off a host server, applications and data that would normally be stored on a user's PC is now stored on that server, he said.

One of the big advantages to moving to the new solution is that there is no need to upgrade customers' PCs for new Microsoft operating systems, Smith said.

"Customers have thousands of desktops that will not work with Vista, and even if they can be made to work with Vista many customers don't see a reason to upgrade," he said. "Now they can use their existing PCs without change for this new solution."

The new solution is not for everyone, Smith said. Power users, such as those using CAD/CAM or other graphics-intense applications will find much better performance with traditional workstations.

"If they are browsing the Internet, or doing e-mail or other typical office applications, they need to make sure their processor and memory is appropriate, and that their broadband connection is adequate," he said. "But T1-type of broadband is now widely available."