During a Private Cloud event in Durham, NC (Thanks Yung Chou and John Baker) I was amazed to discover the information available on Cloud computing. For many years we have been using the client\server model and this is just the next step; sort of. This is not some brand new technology but it is a step in the right direction that leverages newer hardware features (No VT-d yet) of desktop processors.
As some of you know I am a very practical person (when it comes to computers) who is focused on the home user and I have a big vision. I foresee a day when everyone can have what I have – if they want it . Some have called me crazy to put so much into technology, but I have a dream. I envision a day when every room has a terminal; that is a functional and useful terminal. A terminal that can give you what you want, in the way you want it: entertainment, work, communications, social networking, games, monitoring your home from any room, logging onto your desktop from places other than home (your personal desktop without some of the current security concerns of remote desktop) and more. I just had to look deeper into this. I had to see what MS was offering and get the answers to some questions.
What could be done at home? Is there ever a use for the limited functionality of a server based client at home? Would it be worth the time and money to put the Cloud in the home? How long until savings are actually realized?
There is a fairly hefty initial cost and the only real need for this is if you have multiple systems running in the home for several hours a day. If you have no time sharing issues and/or no desire to drop your satellite (cable) subscription and no desire to gain the value of having all your entertainment centrally located and streamed – this may not be for you. If the ultimate in home entertainment and communications is your desire, this may be the solution for you.
Simply put, the Cloud is not off site storage or on site NAS storage. It is not web based applications. It is not your SQL server client, your media or even a file server.
The Cloud is…. all of your processing, storage and applications being handled by a virtual machine based in a server. It is a virtual machine that you assign properties to and designate the usage of: the CPU core count, memory (dynamic or static), Hard drive space (virtual or dynamic) and software that is to be used (Excel, Word, accounting software, database software or your own software).
There has been much name calling; however, the fact is that if you are not using a virtual machine hosted on a server (even a home server) you are not computing in the Cloud. Sounds strange right? I don’t like using Wiki as a reference and I will not, but even they have a similar view.
Well you can actually host from a decent laptop with 8 GB of ram. Would it be practical or cost effective? No.
A simple, practical and cost effective server would include: a decent, reasonably fast, 64bit processor (preferably a 4 core) that is capable of visualization (VT-x in bios and VT-d for future use) , 8GB of ram if you plan on hosting from 3 to 6 active virtual machines (VMs), a decent video card if you choose to take advantage of RemoteFX, and ample storage in the form of SSD (raid 1) or RAID storage (raid 5, 10 because these are common on consumer level boards and the speed helps) that allows for speed and redundancy.
Clients are pretty simple and can range from a bare metal PXE enabled solution with a keyboard, mouse and monitor to a functional PC.
The list of software possibilities is long, can get costly and is not limited to the following fully functional, time limited evaluation packages:
All software components, of course, will not be necessary. What will be needed for a minimal setup at minimal cost? I will be investigating that as I attempt to turn my current home network into a private cloud (assuming my wife does not shoot me for breaking the budget first!).
Below is a diagram of the devices currently being used in the Archer household as well as the projected needs over the next two years:
The plan is to keep all current systems in place and simply make them PXE devices. These machines will run on VMs hosted on the server. This will save power but the true savings come into play with the expansions. By using bare metal terminals the hardware costs and power savings will be immense if the entire system is used to its fullest potential.
This transition will be followed :Here: Lets hope I don’t break the bank trying to save a buck.
What this means to you:
By embarking on projects such as this many of us out on the edges can bring you closer to the future. This allows you to see the true potential of the technology that has been in existence for many years. Hopefully this will give you ideas that can help better utilize technology and save money at the same time. Am I crazy?
I have six people in my home with different needs and schedules. My sons may want to watch different movies, my daughter may need to do a school project, my wife may need to finish up some things she has brought home from work, my mother may want to play solitaire and I may have some work to do as well. That is six computers. That is a huge total footprint and it is a lot of wasted power. One computer can do all of this; just one. A private cloud in the home would meet these requirements, cost less to operate and have the elasticity to shrink and grow with your needs.
Is a private cloud the only way to reach these goals? Absolutely not; there are smaller, less expensive and more practical solutions. Some of these solutions cost nothing but require a level of familiarity with the software used that is generally beyond that of the average or expert level.
One less expensive and more practical solution is very similar to the Windows Server 2008 R2 (Hyper-V) solution. Microsoft Windows MultiPoint Server 2011 is simple to set up and has much of the functionality of the private cloud environment without the cost or overhead.
The concept of Windows Multipoint Server is easy. It takes the excess power of a computer and shares it across multiple end users. Called “Shared Computing” or sometimes “Virtual Desktops”, this is possible due to advances in technology. In the past, Personal Computers (PCs) were designed to be simple and used by individuals. Servers were powerful enough to handle the computing needs of many individuals in an organization, but needed skilled IT professionals to run them. But that’s changing.
Today’s PCs have become so powerful that they can deliver quality graphics and video and still have excess power to spare. Windows MultiPoint Server 2011 leverages the excess power of a PC and turns it into a server capable of powering multiple computing sessions at once. It’s the software operating system that runs each end user’s personalized Windows 7 “session” on the host computer. It then delivers a “virtual desktop” experience via the access devices to each end user working on their own monitor, keyboard and mouse. It’s easy to install and manage.
Check out the product demo and virtual tour to see how it works, and refer to the chart below to learn more about the hardware solutions.
The host computer runs the Windows MultiPoint Server software and powers the experience for the teacher and students. WMS requires a 64-bit processor, with sufficient processing power (CPU) and memory capacity to meet the performance demands of the number of simultaneous users and applications used. The system requirements will depend upon the programs and features you decide to install, the number of users and how the system is used. For example a set up with 5 or 6 students using productivity applications like Office 2010 would require less processing power and RAM than a set up with 15-20 stations and heavy multi-media use. To see the recommended hardware click here or refer to the Windows MultiPoint Server 2011 Planning Guide.
Access Devices connect the host computer to the individual stations, allowing multiple people to share the same computer while still having their own independent computing experience. Sometimes called “thin clients” or “zero clients”, these access devices enable the physical connection, as well as the efficient flow of data and video to multiple monitors. There are three main ways to connect: Direct Connection (with a PCI or Video card into the back of the host computer), USB Connection (an access device connected to the host computer via a USB cable) or LAN Connection (end user stations connecting via a thin client into the network, rather than connecting physicaly to the host computer). You can mix these methods and arrange the user stations in the best way to suit the space and layout of your classroom. Click here to see a range of solutions offered by our partners.
The teacher and students have their own stations, with their own monitor, keyboard and mouse. Teachers orchestrate and monitor the learning experience from their station. Using the teacher view within the MultiPoint Management console, they can see thumbnails of student’s desktops, allow certain websites and send messages to individual students or the whole class. Teachers can even use remote control to assist when a student needs help.
Students learn efficiently and productively at their own user stations. Students view content and share files whenever they need to, work on and save files in their own private folders or on USB drives, and gain an enhanced learning experience. A single monitor can be used by two students with “split screen” to allow them to collaborate side by side. Some advanced monitors also come with the access devices built right in, to save space and reduce the amount of devices for each workstation.
You can also re-use existing monitors, keyboards and mice that you already have.
Though I am in no way saying that Windows Multipoint Server is better than the MS Private Cloud (Windows Server 2008 R2) solution it appears to be more practical and cost effective for most users.
So you can use the cloud at home. Will it help you? It can if you let it. Any solution that allows you to save money on hardware, increase data security, allows more flexibility and reduces your carbon footprint is a winning solution.
Do you have a small business that can use something based on your current server and user hardware? Are you currently feeding 10+ systems eating 100-200 watts each plus a file server eating 100-300 watts can add up to over 3500 dollars a year. By having a solution set up that uses virtualization and a cloud computing model (server based processing, software and storage) that 3500 dollars drops by 2/3 or more. And your hardware upkeep is dramatically reduced as well.
Total system costs can drop as low as $150-250 each + KB/Mouse/Monitor after the initial implementation. There are no hard drives to worry about backing up, no software upkeep to bother with, less than five minutes to add a new desktop (so you can put people to work immediately), have more control of what is done on the individual systems, and lower the heat output of each system which reduces cooling costs.
The Cloud or at least virtualized computing is the future. The future can be now. It is not worth it in all cases but perhaps now you will have a better idea about where you are and where you want to be.