The Fallacy of nComputing
nComputing is a Terminal Server solution for Microsoft Windows OS based computing.
I have seen a nComputing deployment using a really old IBM Desktop Computer (Intel Pentium4 3GHz, 2GB DDR2 RAM, 250GB SATA HDD) that was supporting 4 terminals. Though the Server was an ageing desktop computer, the deployment worked very well; allowing 5 users to carry on with regular office-work such as Word processing, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Email, Internet browsing etc. with no apparent slow-down. A stand-alone IBM P4 running Windows XP in an adjacent cubicle seemed un-usably slow in comparison.
nComputing is available for Linux too, but it is not being updated as regularly and currently available for older-versions of Ubuntu Linux.
The lack of focus on Linux is understandable.
The primary reason for nComputing adoption is to reduce the cost associated with purchase of Microsoft Windows-based computers (hardware and software). Linux on the other hand is zero-cost to acquire and works very well on decade old computers; thus removing the major cost of buying new hardware.
Typical estimate of nComputing project (Table 1):
|Let’s Get Thrifty
|S.No.||Description||Cost (INR)||Description||Cost INR)|
|1.1||CPU||Existing Powerful Computer||0||Dell (i5-4440S, 4GB, 1TB, Win 8.1 64bit) Desktop||45000|
|1.2||Peripherals (Monitor, Keyboard, Mouse)||Existing||0||Included|
|2.1||15″ CRT Monitor||Used, probably 10 years old||1300||Dell E1914H LCD||5390|
|2.2||PS/2 Keyboard||Zebronics PS/2 Keyboard||180||Zebronics PS/2 Keyboard||180|
|2.3||PS/2 Mouse||Quantum Optical Mouse||155||Quantum Optical Mouse||155|
|2.4||5m CAT5 LAN Cable||Maxicom 5m Ethernet Cable||150||Maxicom 5m Ethernet Cable||150|
|Cost of Terminals (Num. Required)||5||8925||5||29375|
|Total Cost of Server & Terminals||8925||74375|
|3.1||nComputing X550 Kit||16900||16900|
|Total Cost of Hardware
|Cost Per Terminal||5165||18255|
Outright, it is apparent that nComputing will not save much if new equipment has to be purchased for the Terminals. Our best bet to save money would be use existing hardware as much as possible.
I am bombarded with requests for license compliance by software companies and hence the lack of software license related costs in nComputing kits puzzled me.
After a little digging around in Google, this is what I found:
- nComputing Solution requires two pieces of software:
- vSpace Server: Cost not published by nComputing. Not available for sale electronically.
- vSpace Client: Approx. Rs.6000/- per Terminal.
- It is assumed that buying a nComputing kit bundles the vSpace Server and requisite number of nComputing Client licenses. If not, nComputing solutions are dead in water due to high cost.
- The Server requires Microsoft Windows Server class operating system
- It is not allowed to run Single-user oriented / Desktop-oriented operating systems like Windows 9X / 2000 / XP / Vista / 7 / 8 on the nComputing Server
- It is recommended that the nComputing Server run Windows MultiPoint Server as it’s licensing is slightly simpler versus running Windows Server 2003 / 2008 / 2012.
- Windows MultiPoint Server requires each purchase of Windows MultiPoint Client Access License for each Terminal (versus Windows Server Client Access License and Windows Terminal Server Client Access License if you were running Windows Standard Server)
- Office Productivity Software that users will use on the Terminals require their individual licenses. For example, While Microsoft Office 2013 can be installed on the nComputing Server, we are required to purchase five licenses of it for use on the five Terminals.
With these facts, let us revisit the true cost of deploying a 5-terminal nComputing solution in the organisation
Revised Cost of nComputing Solution (Table 2):
|Let’s Get Thrifty||Extravagantly Yours|
|S.No.||Description||Cost (INR)||Description||Cost INR)|
|1||Hardware||1 nos. Server, 5 nos. Terminals, 1 nos. nComputing Kit||1 nos. Server, 5 nos. Terminals, 1 nos. nComputing Kit|
|Total Cost of Hardware||25825||Total Cost of Hardware||91275|
|Microsoft Windows MultiPoint Server 2012 Standard||19800||Microsoft Windows MultiPoint Server 2012 Standard||19800|
|3.1||Microsoft Windows MultiPoint Server Client Access License with Windows Server Client Access License||8340||Microsoft Windows MultiPoint Server Client Access License with Windows Server Client Access License||8340|
|3.2||Kingsoft Office||0||Microsoft Office Home & Business 2013||17500|
|Cost of Software for Clients||41700||Cost of Software for Clients||129200|
|Total Cost of Software||61500||Total Cost of Software||149000|
|Total Cost of Project||87325||Total Cost of Project||240275|
|Cost Per Terminal||17465||Cost Per Terminal||48055|
Clearly, even in thrift mode, it’s a sizeable cost and a far-cry from the 3000/- per client number quoted by nComputing Salesman.
We note that:
- In thrift mode, adding Microsoft Software License cost (to Table 1), increased cost of Terminals by 338%
- In extravagant mode, adding Microsoft Software License cost (to Table 1), increased cost of Terminals by 263%
- The difference between cost of Initial Thrift mode Terminals (Table 1) versus cost of Extravagant Terminals (Table 2) is 930%
So is nComputing worth it?
- Even in thrift mode, each terminal costs Rs. 17465/-. You are probably better off purchasing Asus F200MA-KX223H Laptops (Rs. 20736/-) that comes preloaded with Windows 8.1. The laptop features way more computing power than the Old Desktop Server will provide, way more HDD space, Spanking new LED display, inbuilt battery backup of 2 hours.
- In extravagant mode, the terminals cost so much that you are better off buying Asus X551CA-SX014H laptops (Rs. 27750/-) along with Microsoft Office Home 2013 (Rs.5500/-) and still have wads of cash left over.
So why is it so popular in India?
Software licensing among small and medium businesses (SMB) in India is very very low. Almost no computer hardware seller bothers to enlighten customers about the rigours of Microsoft software licensing. This coupled with the fact that Microsoft software is very very expensive, does not help the situation either. Adding the cost of Microsoft Office often doubles the cost of even basic computers.
In such a culture, SMBs almost never take into account the cost of software that is associated with the hardware. Hence the apparent cost of a terminal-server solution seems attractive vis-a-vis buying new computers.