Zero Clients, Host cards, Tera Chipsets and APEX card; what is what in VMware View and PCoIP land?

I have noticed people are mixing up/are confused about the different PCoIP hardware bits which can be used in a VMware View environment. For example, people sometimes think the Teradici APEX card is a GPU. Below I would like to give you a brief overview of what is what. I will also add links to sites where you can find more information.

Zero Clients;

ZC’s are access devices used by View users to access their virtual desktops using PCoIP as the protocol. They are called ZC’s because they don’t have an OS running on them. Firmware runs on top of the Teradici chipset. The chip today is the Tera 1 chipset. The latest firmware can be downloaded from the Teradici support site.

ZC’s come in standalone devices but also as integrated monitors.

Teradici develops the chipsets and firmware. It is Teradici who adds functionality to the ZC’s and not VMware. There is a chance that VMware adds new features in a new VMware View release and that the current ZC firmware/chipsets don’t support the new features. A current example is Client Side Caching; a feature in VMware View 5.0 but doesn’t work on ZC’s. Teradici continues developing and supporting new features and will continue releasing new version of the Tera chip and firmware.

Personally, I do like ZC’s. I’m not too fond of the name “Zero Client” because there is firmware running, so not zero or nothing. Anyway… The good part is the firmware’s footprint is very small and doesn’t need much patching like a typical Operating System. Also, no hard drive which can break or local data which can leak. On top of that, a lot of Zero Client don’t use a lot of power. Teradici also offers a ZC management tool for free. You can manage your clients from 1 central place.

Host cards;

Host cards are Teradici cards you put into a PC/Workstation, which you put in a datacenter. Instead of connecting to a virtual desktop, a user connects to a physical Workstation with a Host card.  On that Workstation an OS (support for Linux, Mac and Windows) is running with applications. Companies use this solution for high-end graphical users. Inside the Workstation a professional graphics card is present. The output of that card is being send to the Host card and put on the network as a PCoIP stream to the user’s access device. The users most likely will use a Zero Client as their access device and can use VMware View as their broker (Workstation can only run Windows). The software driver for the host cards can also be found on the Teradici support website.  A white paper about Host cards and VMware View has been published as well.

APEX 2800 Server Offload Card;

When a VMware View user connects to a virtual desktop and is doing a lot of multimedia related work, like watching videos, all that encoding/rendering needs to be done in software of the ESX servers. Remember, PCoIP is a host-based protocol. Read more about PCoIP basics here.

Encoding/rendering and compressing cost ESX CPU cycles that might lead to a decrease of your consolidation ratio when a lot of multimedia is being done. In that case, to ensure the high level of consolidation, a Teradici APEX 2800 Server Offload Card can be used. This card will take over that encoding from the server CPU’s. Don’t mix this card with a Graphics card or GPU. The APEX is an encoding offload card and for sure not a GPU! It won’t add hardware 3D capabilities to your VM’s. That’s something else VMware is developing with NVIDIA. I will come back to that later.

Hopefully this overview gives you a clear view of what is what in PCoIP/Teradici land.