[AI] 'We reduce the cost of computing but also offer the most
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Wed May 21 08:27:55 EDT 2008
The Hindu News Update Service
News Update Service
Wednesday, May 21, 2008 : 1720 Hrs
Sci. & Tech.
'We reduce the cost of computing but also offer the most energy-efficient solution'
D. Murali and Kumar Shankar Roy
Chennai: Mr Stephen A Dukker has spent his entire career driving down the cost of computing. He brings more than 30 years of experience in computer manufacturing
and retailing to NComputing, a company that offers low-cost computers and competes with One Laptop Per Child's X-O and Intel's Classmate PC.
NComputing's products are based on a simple yet rarely realised fact. That today's PCs are so powerful that the vast majority of applications only use a
small fraction of the computer's capacity. This is where NComputing's virtualisation software and hardware tap the unused capacity. This allows the capacity
to be simultaneously shared by multiple users. Each user's monitor, keyboard, and mouse connect to the shared PC through a small access device. The access
device itself has no CPU, memory, or moving parts-but that is why it is easy to deploy and maintain, claims NComputing.
Now they are bringing their products to India. "The central and state governments are working hard to bring the power of computerisation to the larger population
and we understand and appreciate the cost and complexity of the task. Can you imagine the impact that 10 million computers running every day across India's
schools will have on the power shortage issue? It will take several large power plants!" believes Mr Dukker, Chairman and CEO. NComputing. In an exclusive
email interaction with Business Line he shares his thoughts and how his computer currently delivers better than what others. Read on.
First, a brief narrative about how the company was born, and what its mission is.
The company was founded by Klaus Maier from Germany based on 12 years of research in virtualisation technologies and Young Song, who worked with me at eMachines,
a pioneer in bringing affordable computing to the masses. NComputing's mission, quite simply, is "to bring affordable computing to the next billion people."
According to leading analyst Gartner, there are a billion potential users in the world who WANT computing access, but can't afford it at current prices.
We aim to bring the cost of computing down so that these people can get access to computing and join to the Digital Age.
We have, in recent past, come across various models of the 'network computer' whose hardware design uses components designed and developed for advanced
electronic and digital devices. How are NComputing's products different from those concepts?
There are various different approaches to "thin computing" that have been tried in the past - mostly focused on large companies (like banks or retail) where
the user is a task-worker doing the same thing over and over again (like a bank teller or a check-out clerk).
The key limitation of these approaches, however, has been the complexity of setting up and running them and the limited graphics capability. We have leveraged
12 years of R&D in virtualisation and data transmission protocols to create a really simple solution to install and maintain with near PC graphics quality.
The fact that we have over 15,000 customers and 6,00,000 units deployed in just last two years is proof of the rapid uptake of the solution. A large part
of our customer base is school systems which rarely have the kind of IT personnel and infrastructure that the large companies can afford.
What are the unique selling points of NComputing's products that give it the competitive edge over similar devices that provide full desktop computing experience
(audio and multimedia support also)?
We have not seen any products that provide anywhere near the simplicity and performance of NComputing in the market. Our closest "competition" would be
buying a traditional dedicated PC. Even organisations that can afford to buy dedicated PCs are moving to our model because they only have to manage a fraction
of the computer equipment (install, support, upgrade, replace). Our unique selling points are low acquisition price, ultra-low energy use, simplicity of
use and lower on-going support costs (fewer PCs to manage).
We already have network computers already available in India, designed on a completely new hardware platform without using any of the typical PC or thin
client components costing just Rs 5,000 each and also providing Internet connectivity as well as a range of software at a minimum monthly cost. Do you
think these machines combine desktop computing and server centric manageability at a far lower cost than NComputing device? How do your products provide
more value for money?
Our research and real-world field experience show that customers (schools, businesses, governments) want a full, rich PC experience, and don't want to compromise
on things like uptime, graphics quality, and ability to use any and all software. So our design criteria are to make the experience just like a PC.
The network computing devices you reference are 100 per cent Internet dependent, so one has to be sure that Internet access will always be available at
the highest speeds otherwise the user will have either no service or excruciatingly slow service. With the power shortages and black-outs, this usage model
may work for some home users who are not dependent on the computer but use it as a hobby.
These network devices also have limited graphics capability since the graphics are generated on the central server and transmitted to the user. Our solution
can of course connect to the Internet, but is not dependent on it. The host PC runs all of the software (any commercial software) and the graphics are
You have been successful in helping Macedonia achieve the 1:1 ratio, the first in the world. What have been the takeaways from the project?
The key takeaway is that states and countries can use disruptive technologies like NComputing to leapfrog their people and economies into the 21st century.
We see that in India with mobile phones - remember when it used to take 5 years to get a landline? Now you can walk into a store and get a mobile in an
instant. India has more cell phones than landlines - and this happened in less than 5 years. The same can happen with computer access. Macedonia wanted
to joint the European economy and knew that the key was an educated and computer literate workforce - and they knew they had to start at the school level.
If Macedonia can do it, why not India?
That would be our next question. How can NComputing affect India?
India has a tremendous passion for learning and computers. It is already the envy of the world when it comes to its IT talent. The central and state governments
are working hard to bring the power of computerisation to the larger population and we understand and appreciate the cost and complexity of the task. We
believe we are a great fit not just because we reduce the cost of computing but are also the most energy-efficient solution. Can you imagine the impact
that 10 million computers running every day across India's schools will have on the power shortage issue? It will take several large power plants!
What are your plans for this year? Where are going to be the big breakthrough installations?
We are growing rapidly worldwide, mostly in developing nations like India, Brazil and China. In India, our plan is to aggressively grow in the education
and business sectors. We are seeing great success with school systems throughout India and in the business sector like manufacturing, healthcare, small/medium
business, and call centres.
Is it not predictable that a disruptive technology such as yours meets with stiff resistance from the established players in the industry? What have been
such experiences, in your case, and how have you been handling the same?
Anytime there is a disruptive technology, there are winners and losers. The winners are usually those that see the real potential of how the technology
benefits the user and adjust their business model accordingly. The customer is always right and the disruptive technology will always reach them. The losers
are those that nervously defend their model and lose sight of the customer need. In India, since the computerisation drive is still in full swing, there
has been little resistance from partners to take up our solution and actively partner with us.
Just wondering. A major benefit that you offer, apart from the saving on the initial hardware cost, is that on saving electricity spend. Does that make
you eligible for carbon credit?
That's a great point. Our technology lowers electrical consumption by 90 per cent or more and this is critical in India due to the shortage and cost of
power. Of course the energy savings translates into environmental benefit as well since most electricity is generated with coal-fired plants that spew
pollutants and carbon dioxide. The carbon credits are actually available for the schools and business that use the technology. In fact, there is a school
in Canada that changed its entire computer lab to be carbon-neutral by installing NComputing and planting 100 trees to offset the limited CO2 emissions.
It was awarded the Green School award.
Does the fact that your product profile has only two offerings limit the scope for innovation in the enterprise?
One should not confuse the number of offerings with the level of innovation. In fact, it is usually the inverse effect - if you have too many products,
the R&D effort gets dispersed too thinly. Our X series is perfect for schools and any place where people work closely (like call centres, business offices,
and banks). Our L series is perfect for uses where the PC may not be within 10 metres from the user (like factory floors). We spend a considerable amount
of time and resource continually refining and improving the product and the core virtualisation software.
What is the future shape of computing, as NComputing sees it, over the next about 5 years?
Over the next 5 years, the growth of computing will be in the emerging markets and underserved markets. Emerging markets are well known - these are the
countries where PC penetration is still less than 300 per 1,000 population. Countries like India, China, Brazil, the Philippines, and Russia. What is also
interesting (and often overlooked) are what we call "underserved" markets. For example, in the US, most public schools only have 1 PC per 5 students. So
there is still a large need for additional computing - if only the cost was more affordable. So we see tremendous opportunity to bring affordable computing
to the next billion people around the world.
Can you tell us about some of the innovative applications of your product?
It is amazing to hear the stories about how our products are deployed around the world. We literally could write a book! Let me give you a few. In Mexico,
an entrepreneur outfitted a mobile trailer with a few PCs and NComputing and created a mobile learning centre/Cybercafé. He drives the trailer into a village,
connects up to electricity and Internet, and provides computer training and communications. Two weeks later he moves it to the next village. He has been
so successful that he now has five of these mobile trailers. Think of the impact on the village!
In India, Jindal Steel Works has a social call centre for the wives of the steel workers. The call centre is providing additional source of income and bringing
computer education and training to an often forgotten group -- poor, rural women.
In Germany, a lumber mill is using NComputing because the dust, water, vibration of the mill would tear apart traditional PCs. Now they have NComputing
devices that are encased (doesn't draw in dust, uses very little electricity) and connecting them to a few PCs that are located in the office area. There
are hundreds of other interesting and inspiring stories.
Considering that NComputing cuts the hardware investment, what are the economics of a self-employed person setting up a cybercafé?
We believe NComputing is a great solution for cybercafés because it cuts the acquisition and electrical/maintenance costs dramatically. For example, a 14-seat
cyber café could be set up with two PCs, four X300 kits (each kit has 3 access devices), and 14 sets of monitor/keyboards/mouse. Of course there are all
the other costs of managing a cybercafé (personnel and rent). We plan to approach this sector in 2009 as an expansion opportunity.
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