Brewery on Desktop Virtualization: Tastes Great, Costs Less

A Kansas City micro-brewery with no experience with desktop virtualization finds zero-client implementations ideal. Here's a look at the solution, cooked up with Pano Logic technology and minimal IT staff.

By Kevin Fogarty
Mon, March 29, 2010

CIO — Stereotypes abound regarding virtual desktops—especially the kind that put all the processing power on the back end and put a dumb terminal in front.

None of the stereotypes include dual-monitor thin-clients on the manufacturing floor of a fast-growing regional brewery, running a high-end brewhouse with graphics showing every stage of brewing, filtering and packaging and letting brewmasters control the process via touchscreens.

Boulevard Brewing Co. is just lucky, according to Tony Lux who, until he hired a full-time programmer this year, was the sole IT staff for a 91-person, 140,000-barrel-per-year Kansas City brewery and who revels in the job title Purveyor of Technology.

Though Lux didn't intend to use desktop virtualization  and had never heard of the vendor he ended up hiring  Lux finished the company's migration to an IT-controlled brewing system by plugging in virtual-client hardware from Pano Logic, whose claim to fame is to run native Windows applications and drivers and graphics entirely from the server without requiring any processing power on the client at all.

[Desktop Virtualization: It's Microsoft vs. VMware (VMW) in Cost Smackdown]

Pano Logic and competitors such as NComputing are attracting attention from some companies that would never have considered virtual desktops before, more because virtualization has become common enough to be one of the standard short-list options for hardware upgrades, according to Mark Bowker, infrastructure analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.

"We see more interest in VDI when security is the issue or when people say compliance is the issue that lets them sleep at night," Bowker says. "There are a lot of people looking at it on an application by application basis, though."

Customers understand the difference between computing hardware and computing resources and are perfectly happy to shift to virtual editions of one or the other if the performance and price are right, agrees Chris Wolf of the Burton Group.

There are enough thin-client implementations available that it's not hard to match one to a set of requirements, though there's no guarantee they'll work better than traditional versions, Wolf says.

Boulevard Brewing did move almost all its data center applications onto VMware ESX virtual servers, but it wasn't interested in virtual desktops any more than it was in new and unproven brewing technology, Lux says.

A Physical Move and a Virtual One

Three years ago, the 20-year-old company was operating out of a turn-of-the-century brick building in a historic part of the city, using what the company's promotional copy calls "a vintage Bavarian brewhouse," designed for the kind of artisanal brewing founder John McDonald had in mind. The building and the brewing equipment brought lots of historic flavor to the product, but the company was topping out its beer capacity.

"We could only do 35 barrels per batch, so when we hit around 100,000 barrels, that was it," Lux says. "We had to run 365 days a year to do that."

So the company sold th

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