One of the products that attracted the loudest buzz at the annual US Consumer Electronics Show in January was Dell's Project Ophelia. On the face of things, the so-called device looks like just another memory stick – a simple, throwaway peripheral.
However, concealed within the unprepossessing exterior are a few surprises, some of which play into the hottest channel trends: cloud, mobility and, as a consequence of that, big data.
The device has been hailed as delivering "cloud anywhere"; in other words, it provides a way for end users to connect with applications stored in their personal cloud, whether they're at home or the office. It's more-or-less a miniature thin client.
It's not quite "cloud anywhere" as it only supports Mobile HD Link (MHL), Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity – but that does enable connection to a range of other appliances, including personal computers, smarter TVs (although Ophelia does not support HDMI), mobile phones and accessories such as disc drives and displays.
David Angwin, EMEA marketing director at Dell Wyse (pictured, right), says one of Ophelia's major differentiators is that it will work with a range of business applications – such as offerings from Dell Wyse that allow remote desktop access – as well as personal content, and do so securely and easily. That makes it stand out against various similar devices, such as the consumer-focused Roku streaming TV stick, which retails in the UK for around £50.
It's not known exactly when the first Ophelia drives –whatever they end up being called – will ship internationally. However, Angwin says shipping is expected at some point in the second half of this year. He also claims there's already a lot of interest from channel partners.
"For example, you could use it with a hotel TV when you're on the road, rather than using the hotel system. They often give you some kind of computing device in the hotel room but it can take far too long to get connected and you don't know what the underlying security is – often the cost is a problem," he says.
"So it could be good to have a small client device that enables you to log into your corporate systems – it's got the security and is managed from the cloud. If IT want to change something, they can and it will update. It becomes quicker to become productive in an alien environment."
Angwin notes that people increasingly want to access their personal and professional data and documentation wherever they go, but it can be tricky to access photos, music or video away from the user's usual PC or other device. Viewing documentation on a smartphone's tiny screen is less than ideal if you need to view a presentation or work on a document.
With Ophelia, business users will have the convenience of access to personal files via one device, but can easily use the same device to turn a display into a securely managed, communications-enabled thin client for work purposes.
The device will connect to Windows desktops and applications running on back-end systems from the likes of Citrix, Microsoft and VMware, managed by Dell Wyse Cloud Client Manager SaaS, and it doesn't need a battery because it gets power via MHL or USB. It will also remember individual settings.
"We see it as being part of the conversations VARs have with their clients. When you talk to customers, you often find they're dealing with these multiple challenges. Resources available to IT are typically the same or going down, and it is very easy for IT to end up on the back foot, " Angwin says. "This enables the VAR sitting down with the customer to take an integrated approach to these challenges – such as desktop virtualisation and mobility."
Perhaps the most similar devices until recently have been secure USB sticks of the Spyrus Hydra PC Secure Pocket Drive type. The Windows-based Hydra was released in 2010 but, while providing secure Windows desktop access on the go, isn't a full thin client allowing connection to such a wide range of devices – the minimum being a machine with its own 512MB of RAM. Even so, according to Spyrus, such devices have proven increasingly popular with government departments worldwide.
Angwin says the Dell thin client 'stick' is likely to retail for around $100 (£66). It has to be noted that an input device – such as a keyboard – is not included. But Angwin points out there are various low-cost, portable options today to cover that angle, such as 'roll up' keyboards.
While peripherals aren't likely to represent a major offering that will change the game for business customers, the right ones can certainly help add margin to a deal through bundling as well as help build out a more 'end to end' solution. Ophelia sticks could be added to services deals, for example.
As Angwin notes, organisations of all sizes are looking to incorporate greater mobility into staff work patterns and processes, partly user-driven through the so-called BYOD trend, and partly management-driven in the search for new ways to reduce cost while boosting overall productivity. So Ophelia looks like another option that may help resellers make an overall sale in ongoing tough times.
And no, he doesn't know why it is currently called Project Ophelia. Not drowning, but waving?
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