Cloud desktop provider Nivio combines RDS sessions with locally synced storage

Last week during MacWorld Nivio launched their cloud desktop, storage, and app service. Naturally, we wanted to ask all the usual questions that come up with any cloud desktop provider—hosting, protocol, clients, Windows licensing. It turns out that it’s quite a bit different than many cloud desktop offerings—think terminal server, AppV, and file-syncing all rolled into one product.

I sat down with Sachin Duggal in the Nivio booth at MacWorld. (The story continues below the video, we covered quite a bit more after the camera was turned off.)

Sachin co-founded Nivio with Saurabh Dhoot in 2004, and Nivio has been available as a beta in Inda, Australia, and Europe for two years

Licensing

Nivio desktops are based on Microsoft RDS sessions, instead of individual Windows 7 virtual machines. Nivio provides subscriber access licenses, on a named-user per month basis, avoiding the pitfalls of a VDI-basded cloud desktop service. (For more about the challenges of providing VDI as a service, read our articles about OnLive, Leostream, and VDI without SA.)

Using Nivio

Using RDS will mean a few differences for users. While person settings are maintained, users cannot install their own applications. Sessions are saved for 3 hours after logout, in case of accidental disconnection, and users can also pay extra to have their sessions saved for 10 days. This is where the other parts of Nivio’s solution come into play: nDrive is a free file-syncing service that’s incorporated into users desktop sessions, and local nDrive clients are available for mobile devices, to allowing local, native access to files without launching the desktop session. The idea here is that users can work with their files natively and locally on all their mobile devices and computers, and when they happen to need a full Windows desktop, the terminal server session is available. The nDrive provides users with 10 gigs of storage for free, and the desktops are on a pay-as-you-go plan ($2 per month for students and $5 for consumers, for up to 10 hours of use). The applications are provided from an app sore within the session, using Microsoft AppV. Nivio is also working with Numecent, formerly Endeavors Technologies, to provide offline apps with future versions.

[Update 9:00AM: Sachin told me that user profile data is retained. As far as user installed/3rd party applications are concerned, users are encouraged to request them from Nivio. Licensing permitting, Nivio can package and push a new app in a day or two.] Being limited to applications that are already packaged by Nivio provides may be a turn-off for some users. However, the data-centric model with local file synching would encourage subscribers to work with their files locally, and then head to a desktop session as needed, rather than doing work primarily in the desktop (though Sachin did mention that plenty of users do just that). As well, RDS improvements over the years have resulted in more and more features, eliminating many use-cases for individual VMs (See many of Brian’s past articles about this, including The inverse bell curve of Terminal Server / SBC: This stuff is going to be huge again! and Terminal Server versus VDI.)

More details

  • Access to Nivio is provided by Wyze clients for mobile devices, their own RDP client for desktops, and via HTML5 browsers when a client isn’t available.
  • The terminal servers, which are Windows Server 2008 R2, are hosted by Rackspace; up to this point Nivio has been doing its own storage in their Delhi, Geneva, and Brisbane data centers. For the US launch, they’ve gone with third-party hosted storage.
  • Users can specify their home country in their profile, as well as other regions that they may be visiting, or if they prefer or are required to keep their data in a certain country, they can have their sessions and storage be restricted to just one data center location.
  • Nivio has built their own load balancing and brokering software, to optimise their terminal server usage. One home-built feature that Sachin mentioned is the ability to watch users to “score” their usage, and assign them to servers based on their resource consumption.
  • For business plans, administrators can access a control panel to provision accounts for users, controlling what apps are available, access to nDrive, and network shares.

Final thoughts

As I noted previously, the lack of applications other than those provided by Nivio (or maybe just a bit of a wait for them to be packaged) may be a turn-off for some users. But for those that are just using the desktop session occasionally for when they actually need it, is it really that big of a problem? With user data abstracted from the desktop session and synced locally to mobile devices and computers, the Windows desktop (and Windows apps it contains) becomes an occasional tool. Is an RDS-based desktop is enough for your needs? Let us know in the comments.

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I agree that Terminal Server is fine if they don't want to allow users to install their own apps. (Which itself should be fine.) People are still afraid of TS for some reason, but the fact that you can deliver a desktop with TS for about 1/4 the cost of VDI means that I love it. And for this case it would be fine too.


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