PC-over-IP email interview with VMware's Warren Ponder and Teradici's Randy Groves

Recently, we posed some questions via email to VMware Sr. Product Manager Warren Ponder and Teradici CTO Randy Groves about the inner workings of both the hard and soft PC-over-IP implementations used in VMware View.

Recently, we posed some questions via email to VMware Sr. Product Manager Warren Ponder and Teradici CTO Randy Groves about the inner workings of both the hard and soft PC-over-IP implementations used in VMware View. The answers we received were so in-depth that we decided to publish it as an interview rather than rewriting them into an article format. Below are the questions we asked and the thorough answers we received:

(BrianMadden.com) The first question is what happens when you have a hardware client connecting to a software host? Does the software host recognize it’s a software client that can’t handle GDI primitives, which causes the software host to sort of emulate what the old hardware host did and send more pixels and screen scrapes instead of GDI stuff? If so, how does that impact user experience, host load, and bandwidth consumption? Or does the firmware update for the various hardware clients allow them to emulate the software client and process GDI-type stuff locally in addition to them being able to receive the full screens from remote hosts? If so, does that have any effect on experience?

(Warren Ponder & Randy Groves) The PCoIP protocol relies completely on host rendering of all pixels (except when MMR comes into play). This means all GDI primitives and other graphics commands are rendered by the CPU in a VMware View desktop or by the GPU in a workstation with a hardware host. GDI primitives can be efficiently rendered with a CPU (<2% CPU overhead for most office applications). CPU-rendering only becomes CPU intensive when decoding video or 3D applications. A key advantage of host-side rendering is that it guarantees compatibility with all current and future applications and video CODECs because there is no dependency on the network or client device. For example; with Windows 7 WPF and applications based on .Net 3.5 SP1 certain primitive remoting benefits go away.

The PCoIP protocol takes the raw pixels from the frame buffer, categorizes the pixels into different image types (image decomposition), and then compresses the pixels using a compression CODEC most appropriate for each image type. At a high-level, this process is identical between hardware and software hosts.

Because everything is host-side rendered, the client devices are nothing more than simple decompression or decoder engines. This is analogous to how a digital TV works by taking in pixels that have been compressed using MPEG or H.264 CODECs and decoding them. The difference is that digital TV CODECs like MPEG and H.264 are inefficient for common desktop image types like text and computer graphics. Your digital TV doesn’t render pixels; pixels are all created in the TV studio. Likewise, with host-side rendering, a PCoIP client only has to decode compressed pixels using the PCoIP CODECs.

The primary differences between a PCoIP zero client and a PCoIP software client is the maintainability and security aspects of a device that does not have an operating system or browser which must be patched monthly and requires anti-virus/spyware. While PCoIP zero clients can have their firmware upgraded to incorporate new features, this is at the sole discretion of the customer based on whether they need the new features as opposed to security patches that must be applied regardless. Teradici and VMware are committed to full backwards compatibility so that any zero client installed today with firmware version 3.0 or later, will continue to interoperate with all future VMware View releases. Firmware upgrades will be limited to new features, not new releases from VMware. Also zero clients offer a more assured experience. It often is challenging to guarantee exactly the same performance using soft clients due to the possibility of resource contention on the client device when competing with other services or software.
 
Apart from performance, there are some other differences between soft and zero clients. For supported video types, software clients can use MMR to decode the video on the client instead of the host, whereas zero clients based on Tera1 silicon chips will require all video to be decoded at the host. Some other feature differences exist between the current versions of zero client firmware and the software client. For example, the software client supports virtual printing and some USB devices that the current zero client firmware does not support when connected to a VMware View desktop (note, the zero client supports all USB devices when connected to a hardware host). Over future releases, these gaps will be addressed.
 
Along those lines, is there any difference on the wire between a software host sending to a software client versus a hardware client? How does that impact user experience, host load, and bandwidth consumption?

The PCoIP protocol is identical on the wire when using either a soft or zero client. However, various protocol features are optimized based on both the host and the client. For example, when a hardware host is connected to a zero client, image decomposition is at the pixel level. However, if either end point is software, then image decomposition becomes more pixel-block oriented. This is done to reduce the CPU utilization for the software host/client and uses the exact same protocol on the wire. The software host uses the exact same optimizations whether it is connected to a soft or a zero client, whereas the hardware host uses different optimizations when connected to a soft client than a zero client.

Even though a software host uses the same optimizations with either client, the load on the host can be slightly higher for a zero client than for a soft client. This is because the zero client can process pixels much faster than soft clients (>30X in some cases). This allows the software host to process pixels at full speed most of the time. With a software client, the software host cannot generate pixels any faster than the client is capable of processing them, so the host CPU load of the PCoIP software encoder is partially dependent on the performance of the attached client. This difference is also evident between slower and faster soft clients. In fact, RDP, RFX, and ICA will also have slightly higher host loading with faster client devices for the same reason. Of course, this slight increase in host CPU load, is delivering a “snappier” experience to the client which is a good thing. That said, this CPU impact is a second order effect at best and only applies if the network is not constraining performance.
 
With a software host and software client, is there any kind of client-side caching? What about with a hardware client? The reason I ask is that during our Geek Week (with software host and hardware client), we noticed that when scrolling in Word, if you scrolled slowly we’d only get the build-to-lossless on the few “new” lines that scrolled onto the page... The lines that were already on the screen before we started the scroll action stayed crisp. But if we scrolled faster, the entire screen went back to build-to-lossless, even though some of the lines were already on the screen. What’s going on there?

As part of image decomposition, the PCoIP protocol makes use of motion estimation and compensation. The host side attempts to detect groups of pixels that have moved between screen changes. This is called motion estimation for some subtle technical reasons, but it’s probably easier to think of it as motion detection. The details of any detected motion are sent to the client device which copies the pixels from their original location to their new location. This is a form of caching, but currently only applies to pixels that were visible in the immediate prior screen.

As you can imagine, motion detection could be very CPU-intensive if you search every possible position on the screen (e.g. 2+ million comparisons for each pixel block for a 19x10 screen). Since it is much more likely that a block of pixels has moved only a small distance between screens, most motion estimation algorithms limit their search to a region of nearby pixels rather than the full screen. The effect you are seeing when you scroll fast enough is caused by the fact that the pixels moved beyond the search region of the current motion estimation algorithm in the software host. The next release of the software host will have a new algorithm that searches a wider region with minimal CPU impact and will detect a broader range of motion.

An important thing to note is that motion compensation on the client side has no CPU limitations as to how far the pixels can be moved since it takes just as much effort move a block of pixels one pixel away as it does to move them to the other side of the screen. Thus, as the host-side motion estimation algorithms improve, the client side devices will be able to easily take advantage of these improvements.

Thanks to Randy and Warren for taking the time to answer our questions. Both have been known to comment here, so if you have more questions, post them below and we'll see about getting an answer.

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Thanks, very thorough and interesting.


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Great posting...thank you!


We have many customers who are interesting in using a blade PC with Teradici chip hosting their CAD application and to access it from a endpoint device with the software client over the vmware view broker...just to see if the performance is good enough. If that's not the case they also like to use the view broker to handle the connections.


We talked to many vmware and teradici people (even posted in the view 4.5 beta forums) but no one was able to tell us exactly, how to configure the client/broker/teradici card to get this to work.


In the first step the teradici card isn't even visible to the windows os on the blade PC...but  this can be configured with the new firmware of the teradici board. Now the card is noticed by the os but the view agent on the blade pc does not seem to recognize the card. In the view broker you can only make a connection to the network card of the blade pc (connecting to the view agent IP adress), but not to the IP adress of the teradici card.


To make a short story short:


Can someone post or send me a guide for connecting a software (or hardware) view client endpoint over the view broker to a blade PC with a teradici card?


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@mub,


Ericom PowerTerm WebConnect has been providing connection brokering to Blade PCs with Teradici cards for the past two years. Only hardware clients are currently supported. For more information see:


www.ericom.com/pcoip.asp


I work at Ericom


Dan


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Overall, I think PCoIP has come a long way towards providing healthy competition to ICA.  I would imagine that many implementations will opt for CPU-server processing so that is an area that will hopefully improve.


 It looks like an internet ready gateway is still in development so I look forward to seeing that feature released too.  Will older zero-clients be compatible with the Internet Gateway when it is released?


 The "zero-client" has the potential to be a key differentiator that sets this product apart.  If the client devices are stable and cheap enough it could make play a significant role in TCO calculations.


Are there any plans to release a mobile/laptop zero-client?  I'm a big fan of the 3G/WiFi thin client connected to a virtual desktop and I'd love to see a zero maintenance replacement for always connected laptops.  Will you be able to support wireless connections from the zero-client?


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@mub


Trial capability to connect a VMware View 4.0.1 client (notebook etc) to a hardware PCoIP host PCIe card is in firmware 3.1.0.  This allows the View 4 client to connect to a 3D workstation.  


Please contact support@teradici.com for information on testing this capability.


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Can somebody explain to me who Teradici will stay in business? They will be competing with Calista/RemoteFX soon. VMWare did not buy them, why? Stay out of the hardware business? Product is weak and this is just a test. So much hype around PCoIP and yet it still SUCKS SUCKS SUCKS BW. Who the F are VMWare kidding?


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PCoIP is certainly a great display protocol.  However in some scenarios of slow remote connections (like over certain WANs) there may be issues where PCoIP doesn't function quite as well.  In those cases, you can complement the VMware View deployment with Ericom Blaze, a software-based RDP acceleration and compression product that provides improved performance over WANs and congested LANs. Besides delivering higher frame rates and reducing screen freezes and choppiness, Blaze accelerates RDP performance by up to 10-25 times, while significantly reducing network bandwidth consumption over low-bandwidth/high latency connections.


Ericom Blaze can be used in conjunction with VMware View 4 for enhancing performance of PCoIP in a WAN envrionment.


Read more about Blaze and download a free evaluation at:


www.ericom.com/ericom_blaze.asp


Adam


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What else beside VMware View 4 do you need for this setup. Do i need vSphere or anything else on the server.


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@MySchizoBuddy


Which setup are you referring to? A virtual desktop or a workstation to a zero client?


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@MySchizoBuddy - You can use ESX 3.5 U5 or higher or vSphere 4.0 U1 which is included with VMware View 4.  A break down of what's included is listed here: www.vmware.com/.../howtobuy.html


That's the only server requirement.


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