The ThinkChange India staff is committed to providing our readers with interviews with people we believe are at the brink of something special but have for the most part been overlooked by the mainstream media. Readers will be able to see other conversations under our TC-I Changemakers tab.
Last week, Vinay sat down (via webcast) with Stephen Dukker, Chairman & CEO of NComputing , a company that has developed a low-cost, robust virtual pc platform that enables numerous workstations to be run on a single desktop machine. While the company originally intended to
take corporate visualization products like VMWare head on, Dukker and the rest of the management team recognized early that their inexpensive architecture would be ideal for the developing world as well. Predicted by some to be the next Google, the company has positioned itself to explode in India. Dukker took the time to speak with TC-I about the unique features of NComputing’s platform.
Editor’s update: At the writing of this interview, NComputing had just hired Raj Choudhury, formerly at BEA India, as Country Manager for India. Full story can be read here.
Vinay Ganti: Thank you Stephen for taking the time to speak with me and the TC-I community today. Let’s start out at the beginning, what exactly has NComputing set out to do?
Stephen Dukker: To break it down to its simplest point, we are offering the world a $70 PC. We have developed a means for profitably providing a computing workstation for $70 each that includes all of the necessary virtualization hardware and software – a price point we believe will finally make access to computers a reality throughout the globe.
VG: Wow, $70 for a PC seems rather incredible, especially given how much attention the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) has gotten for reaching the $100 price point (NOTE: that was their goal, they are selling for $177 FOC China). How exactly does NComputing manage to provide a PC for only $70?
SD: NComputing effectively leverages the continuing trend of increasing processing power of the everyday desktop computer. A typical $700 desktop found in a home has effectively become as powerful as a mainframe. With 3Ghz of power and multiple gigs of ram, these computers usually utilize less than 1% of their processing capabilities. In essence, many desktops waste their capacity and as a result waste energy.
At the same time, prices for mainstream computers have failed to fall below a $400 threshold, which still keeps them out of the reach of many people in developing countries. The major reason for this is due to the fact that the low end of the price spectrum is no longer profitable. [Prior to founding NComputing, Dukker was the founder and CEO of eMachines, a low cost PC manufacturer that eventually was acquired by Gateway].
So NComputing has managed to capitalize on both of these pain points by developing the means for multiple workstations to operate from the same everyday desktop. All you have to do is add monitors, keyboards and mice and you can have additional users simultaneously using one PC.
VG: And you can do all of this for $70 per station? How many people can be on a single desktop? What sort of scale are we looking at specifically for the limited budgets of many developing countries?
SD: Our margins are very healthy. The actual cost of the motherboard that runs each virtual PC is only $11, which means that we can provide our solution to governments, schools, and other purchasers at prices substantially less than our competitors. On average, our bids for various contracts with governments, usually for installations in their schools, run at about half of the next best competitor! Moreover, the margins we are able to produce enable us to utilize third-party resellers that are generally local entrepreneurs who sell and support our products.
VG: Could you speak more to this? One of the biggest issues with social entrepreneurship is to make sure that individuals within communities have the opportunity to actually participate in the wealth generation.
SD: Our margins allow local resellers around the world to share in the profits. This is our business model.
With regard to scale, a $350 desktop can handle 7 virtual desktops at a time. And if you upgrade to a $500 server, you can bump it up to 30 desktops.
VG: That is pretty impressive. So can you give our readers an example of how this could be useful in India?
SD: First off, we are aggressively targeting India in the near future and have already had significant discussions with nearly every state government on implementing NComputing platforms. However, one really cool thing we have done is to partner with BRAC and AMD to help achieve AMD’s 50×15 initiative.
Using our technology, BRAC intends to install e-huts throughout the country and also computers in 15,000 schools. BRACNet will provide the WiMax internet uplink and AMD will provide the necessary processors.
VG: Well there is no doubt that access to computers will be a significant component to any developmental progress in India and so we here at TC-I would like to thank you for taking the time to speak with us today about NComputing and the steps it is taking to make such access affordable.