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Putting Windows in its place

IGEL was in bullish mood at its third annual DISRUPT 2020 event in Munich on February 4-6, buoyed by record results and the launch of Microsoft’s Windows Virtual Desktop. James Goulding reports

Disrupt is an over-used word in the IT industry, but that doesn’t mean it is not sometimes justified. A case in point being the IGEL Disrupt 2020 conference held this year in Nashville and Munich close to the company’s Augsburg HQ.

IGEL used to be best known as a manufacturer of thin clients, but under the stewardship of Jed Ayres, newly promoted from co-CEO to global CEO, it has been repositioning itself as a software company by unbundling its software from the hardware and selling it separately to give virtualisation customers more flexibility and a lower TCO.

Key software products include IGEL OS – what IGEL calls the next-gen OS for cloud workspaces; a management and control platform for endpoints (the IGEL Universal Management Suite), which also includes UDC converter software for turning any existing x86 device into a thin client; and the IGEL UD Pocket, a Linux-based micro endpoint that mobile users can plug into the USB port of any internet-connected PC, Mac or laptop to access their virtual desktop, server-based applications and cloud services when away from the office.

Record growth
The unbundling strategy has proved very successful for IGEL. About two thirds of new seats are now software-only, with software responsible for about 60% of last year’s record revenue, up 35% on the year before.

“Last year we celebrated going past the $100 million mark and that is a big deal for a software company. Less than 5% of software companies actually make it to $100 million and this year we celebrated $150 million, with 749,000 seats being sold. That’s a pretty meteoric rise from 300,000 seats when I came into the business four years ago. In the US, IGEL went from 40,000 seats to over 400,000 in the largest retailers, hospitals, banks. Even the US Government is buying IGEL,” explained Ayres.

Impressive, yes. But disruptive? Not yet. Disruption for IGEL will occur when thin clients replace PCs as the endpoint of choice. And in this transformation, Microsoft has given it a big boost with the introduction of the Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) Desktop-as-a-Service offering, which, like Amazon WorkSpaces, represents a major new application for the IGEL OS.

Microsoft WVD was given top billing at Disrupt 2020 alongside more established IGEL partners such as Citrix and VMWare which enable organisations to move Windows from local device operation to the data centre and access applications using a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

Windows Virtual Desktops
Released on September 30 last year, WVD is the next stage on from putting Microsoft Office in the cloud, which has seen takeup by more than 80% of enterprises in just five years. Built on Azure, the WVD cloud workspace gives users a high fidelity Windows 10 experience on any device without the need for the Windows OS, which, through 16 releases in the last 35 years, has become ever more powerful, bloated and complex.

WVD can be accessed natively in Azure or via a partner such as Citrix or VMWare on a Linux-based endpoint, with IGEL becoming the first Linux client to connect to Windows Virtual Desktop. The strength of the relationship between IGEL and Microsoft is such that Ayres was on-stage in front of 30,000 people at the Microsoft Ignite event in Orlando last November.

“WVD is going to change everything,” he said. “We think this is a complete architectural shift and that the best way to consume Windows is going to be out of Azure.”

Ayres added that IGEL is uniquely positioned to benefit from this development. “We happen to have a piece of IT that is very strong and very mature and right in the middle of this inflexion point we are going through in cloud workspaces. The best description of what we do us that we are an edge operating system for cloud workspaces. This means choice, performance, savings. In the architecture of delivering Windows applications and desktops it lets you choose whatever cloud you want, whatever protocol you want and whatever x86 device you want.

Jed Ayres CEO

“We think the days of a fat client with local apps installed on it are over. Microsoft coming in with WVD reinforces the concept of a thin, light, highly manageable, secure, small operating system connected to any one of these solutions to deliver applications.”

Given the installed base of Windows devices and the belief Ayres has in the IGEL product, it is not surprising he is confident of moving from a $150 million company to a $1 billion company over the next few years.

“There are 100 million virtualised workspaces. That’s the end user compute space where IGEL is having success today, attaching new licences to the Citrix, VMware, Amazon, Microsoft seat count. Then you have all these x86 legacy hardware devices that can run IGEL – there’s a billion of those in the enterprise that we can breathe new life into. And, with WVD coming into this space, there’s a huge additional TAM (total available market) – an estimated 50 million more seats over the next two to three years,” he said.

“People don’t want to connect these architectures to Windows on the edge so much any more. Linux is the pervasive operating system on the edge of the end user compute architecture, and we have the best solution there. We really believe we can go from $150 million to a $1 billion company.”

IGEL strengths
So why is IGEL’s the best solution?
Simon Clepham, VP alliances & Business Development at IGEL, told Technology Reseller that it all comes down to the Linux OS and the eco-system of partners whose hardware and software is integrated with the OS. These include authentication and secure log-in systems; mice and keyboards; printer drivers; monitoring and tracking analytics; unified communications solutions; headsets from Poly, Jabra and Sennheiser; Olympus and Nuance dictation; cloud workspaces from Citrix, Amazon, Google and Microsoft; and many more workplace solutions. In total, IGEL has about 80 existing partnerships and is constantly monitoring and assessing 150 other potential partners.

“Frankly, we ship a piece of iron; it’s useless until you run a piece of software on it and you’ve integrated it and it has become part of your solutions stack. So we have to sell a solution. The solution involves all the pieces of software that run on it, all the pieces of hardware that plug into it. In a hospital, the doctor walks up, accesses the patient record, plugs in his headset and starts dictating. Dictation software has to work, he has to plug in his headset and it has to do exactly what he expects, he has to get fast, easy access to it and all of those things create the solution. If any one of those pieces is missing, they will throw you out immediately. That’s the battle. We have to get all these things working to win the battle, and on our Linux operating system as opposed to Windows,” he said.

“We also ship a browser and that will get you fast access to anything with an html 5 interface. You can browse the web and do all kinds of things, but the primary use case is as a delivery mechanism for a virtual desktop or virtual applications. So we tie back into WVDs delivering us a desktop, Citrix delivering us a desktop, VMWare delivering us a desktop, Amazon Workspace delivering us a desktop. We have tuned that protocol so that this Linux operating system accesses your desktop, which is in the cloud, and gives you a very high quality experience over the network. We optimise the signal that passes between the two, managing security and two-factor authentication to make sure you have a high quality, high fidelity experience.”

Optimised for cloud workspaces

For all its success as a software provider, IGEL is still a leading thin client hardware manufacturer. Its latest endpoint, the newly updated IGEL UD3 (Universal Desktop model 3), is a versatile endpoint for accessing virtualised apps, desktops and cloud workspaces.

IGEL, Leading the thin hardware manufacture

Powered by the AMD Ryzen Embedded R1505G system-onchip (SoC), with Radeon Vega 3 Graphics, the IGEL UD3 boasts enhanced connectivity options, notably, for the first time on an IGEL device, hardware-integrated WiFi and Bluetooth (both available as options).

Other configurable connectivity options include integrated smart card readers, a VESA mount, support for two 4K displays, and SuperSpeed USB Type-C and standard legacy ports.

Matthias Haas, CTO, IGEL, said: “One of the things we are most excited about with the new UD3 offering is optimisation of the processor for maximum energy efficiency. We are the only endpoint device manufacturer to implement a customised version of the AMD Ryzen Embedded R1505G SoC, which has a low 10W TDP at 2.0GHz base and up to 2.7GHz boost frequency.”

In addition, IGEL and AMD have enhanced security by building an AMD hardwarebased security processor right into the AMD Ryzen Embedded R1505G SoC. This performs a number of checks before the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) boot and before the IGEL OS Linux kernel is initiated.

The IGEL UD3 is also the first IGEL endpoint hardware to be optimised for remote cloud connectivity with Teradici’s PCoIP Ultra Software Client for Linux (supported by IGEL since June 2019). With PCoIP Ultra and the UD3, end-users benefit from greater flexibility of choice with the ability to securely connect with Teradici Cloud Access Software for a rich, high-fidelity user experience to any cloud, including AWS (and Amazon WorkSpaces), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.

IGEL UD3 with the AMD Ryzen Embedded R1505G SoC is generally available through IGEL’s network of Platinum- and Gold-level Partners, Authorised IGEL Partners (AIPs) and resellers.

www.igel.com

New partnerships
Clepham describes the Windows PC as IGEL’s number one competitor and is fully aware of the irony of its new partnership with Microsoft.

“Our Number 1 competitor is Microsoft and the Windows PC. But they have now woken up to the fact that Windows has maybe outlived its useful life on the endpoint. It is clearly now much more an operating system for running applications and as such probably belongs in the datacentre and in the cloud. We now have this partnership of former enemies being complete friends,” he said.

Presentation

The IGEL Linux OS is built on Ubuntu, which is modified and fine-tuned by 100 software engineers in Augsburg to ensure it is enterprise-quality, works the way everybody expects and is fully supported 24/7.

“The operating system has to do all the things the PC used to do and you have to have central management. That’s the secret sauce of IGEL. We can put the IT director in control of 10, 20, 30, 100,000 units and have significantly fewer people managing them. One customer is going from 500 desktop administrators down to 50, but typically we look at a 50% reduction in the number of desktop administrators,” he said.

Clepham explains that because the IGEL system is tuned to run on any x86 64-bit device, it has a very small footprint of just 1.2GB, rising to about 1.6 or 1.8GB if you load in every one of the supported drivers. In contrast, the Windows operating system is around 10-12 Gigabytes and sometimes as much as 18GB if you load in everything.

He adds that because the IGEL OS is one tenth the size of the Windows OS, it has a much smaller attack surface, making it more secure. It is also very granular, so much easier to control and manage.

“Windows is so big and unwieldy, with a lot of unintended consequences of it being open. With all these different things you can do with it, it’s very hard for them to manage. It belongs in the datacentre where you can track the network traffic and see much more clearly exactly what is going on with the operating system than you can when it is sitting on someone’s local machine in a Starbucks. IGEL is a very secure mechanism for giving you access to that clean version of the desktop in the cloud. That is our vision and that is where the 10 million seats are going to come from,” he said.

IGEL’s relationships with Microsoft and Amazon are still in the early stages, but it already has strong working relationships with other workspace providers, including VMware and Citrix, which will continue and with which it does a lot of joint marketing, often making use of the UD Pocket.

“Every Citrix SE has a little UD Pocket. They can literally walk into a prospect, plug it in and immediately convert their Macbook into a Citrix-enabled thin client accessing the test drive environment. Suddenly you’ve gone from a Mac OS environment to Windows 10. How useful would that be. It’s the same thing with VMware SEs, and we are just starting to get to that level with Microsoft,” explained Clepham.

He points out that this is not just a useful marketing tool but a perfect illustration of the flexibility and versatility of cloud workspaces.

“I want to see a UD Pocket on everyone’s keychain because then if you are stuck, if your briefcase gets stolen, you can walk up to any PC – Aunt Mabel’s PC – plug it in and boot to your environment. IGEL will immediately recognise who you are, because there is a certificate on that USB key; it will know who you are, find you on the internet, and deliver to you the configuration you need. All you have to do is tell it what WiFi you are on and you are off to the races. Everything you do is stored to the cloud; there is nothing stored locally, so when you remove the UD Pocket, the box goes back to what it was before. You have made no changes to that device; all you used was the RAM and booted from the CPU.”

Clepham added: “One of my favourite use cases is when the NHS got attacked by the Wannacry virus. There were machines that were dead in the water because the disk had been fully encrypted and you couldn’t do anything on them. However, you could plug in a UD Pocket, boot to the UD Pocket and access Citrix, which would then get you to EPIC or Cerna, the electronic medical record system, and pull that machine back from the brink.”

As businesses contend with the coronavirus lockdown and the prospect of more strategic home-working in the future, the combination of endpoint flexibility and security and the ability to work from anywhere is likely to be increasingly attractive whether used for Windows virtualisation or new desktop-as-a-service offerings.

In the next issue, read our interview with Jed Ayres in which he explains how he helped transition IGEL from a hardwarecentric to a software-first company

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