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Interview: Cristiano Fumagalli of CloudProject about the invasion of ARM PCs in the enterprise & building a rival Dell Ophelia

There are a number of companies looking to sneakily infuse ARM DNA into the enterprise bubble beyond tablets and smartphones. Dell is possibly the best known of these companies with its Project Ophelia HDMI-based PC dongle that runs on Android. We approached Cristiano Fumagalli, the CEO of a new venture called CloudProject to find out more about this trend and check out its new PocketKey product and what's coming up next for it.

There are so many HDMI dongles already on the market and so how does your differs from them?

The fact that other vendors that currently have an important market share in the client arena are investing into the same platform confirms once more that the technology and the concept behind it are mature as a valid alternative to the traditional thin client approach.

However, although other companies announced the Android HDMI dongle as their new product of year 2013, we began the development of our product back in 2011, when the CloudPocket Team developed its first dongle (at that time it was an ARM Cortex-M3 based single-core Android ICS device) under the LiquidTV brand for the Italian IPTV and video-on-demand market. We've been among the first to integrate DRM solutions and the adaptive streaming technology on Android devices.

At the same time, we were working on the PocketKey project, with the aim of proposing the Android dongle as an alternative device to the traditional desktop and the traditional thin client for the Enterprise market (so called "mini-PC" solution). In June 2012 we filed the records to register the intellectual property in 144 countries of this solution.

Can you explain exactly what the PocketKey is?

The PocketKey is a green device (7W maximum energy consumption) that was designed to exploit the latest and most innovative multi-processor SoC technologies in order to perform at levels very similar to traditional computers, but with five big advantages:

It's small and fits in your pocket! It provides flexible connectivity, supporting Wi-Fi, wired Ethernet and Bluetooth. It's expandable as it has USB and MicroSD ports., It is versatile, running all Android apps natively and granting access to legacy applications via Terminal Server/RDP or VDI (VMware, Citrix, Microsoft), It's green, needing at most 1.1 A at 5V (i.e. less than 7W) and It's affordable, the client device with the lowest TCO ever.

Do you fear the competition from Chinese vendors?

Not at all, as our offering goes well beyond the device itself, it's a complete solution thought for the enterprise market. We reckon that the quality of the solution, from the hardware components to the kernel, up to the application layer (i.e. Mobile Management Solution, central management console, etc) have to comply with the highest levels of security and reliability required by the Enterprise/business segment.

The Android kernel developers that do work in our team are among the smartest and most active developers in the Android communities, XDA-Developers, just to name one. We invest a considerable portion of our resources into the kernel optimization, in order to provide our customers with devices that guarantee the highest level of performance and security on the market.

Another very important aspect that differentiate our business from the competition is that we can deliver customized devices to our major customers, i.e. devices with a firmware customized under the specifications of the client like specific applications tested and pre-loaded into the firmware, functionalities and so on.

Since your solution is meant for the Enterprise, do you consider Android to be a secure working environment?

We often hear of security weaknesses about Android in general, however all operating systems are vulnerable in some way or another. Think about the Jailbreak for iDevices, just as an example. Certainly, Android is an extremely targeted system, due to its pervasive presence in the mobile world.

Security plays a central role in the development of our solutions, this is the reason why we identified in Symantec a strategic partner. With the integration of the Symantec Appcenter suite (a.k.a. Nukona) and the Symantec Mobile Management Suite in the kernel, we're pretty confident that all the apps, the data and the devices of our customers are safe from all the security threats that relentlessly appear on the mobile scene.

Can you share your product roadmap?

As far as devices are concerned, the quad-core version of the product is basically ready for mass-production. It comes with a brand new 802.11ac Wi-Fi module that supports speeds of up to 1Gbit/s. Also, we are integrating Bluetooth in the dual-core version one that was initially planned only for quad-cores. We also baked in biometric strong authentication and RFID solutions on all versions of the product. Google's DRM solution, Widevine, will also be integrated on the quad-core version.

Thanks to a partnership with an Indian software house, we can ship the devices with a RDP 7.1 and 8.0 client that supports Microsoft RemoteFX technology. Citrix HDX support is planned to be developed by end of year. Also later this fall we will release the first version of an iOS app to remotely control the devices. Finally, we can disclose that we're working on the integration of the 3G and 4G connectivity on the quad-core version. The first prototype will be ready by later this autumn.

What kind of feedback does such a device get from the major VDI vendors?

In August 2012, at the VMware World in San Francisco, we were given the opportunity to introduce our solution (at that time it was merely a prototype) to the Chief Director of the End-User Computing in VMware. As we raised a great interest, we felt that we were on the right path with our development strategy. in March 2013, our devices were the first Android HDMI dongles to be certified Citrix Ready in the world. At the CES in Las Vegas and at the Citrix Synergy in Los Angeles, we heard that even Dell, which is a major player in the client arena, has a similar device under development, therefore we feel that the way is paved with great opportunities for this business.

What are CloudProject's strengths?

Our solutions come from years of working experience for the Enterprise sector. We know very well the needs of our customers and the challenges that the IT industry is facing nowadays. Being a small company, we're quite flexible towards any request that comes from customers and we do have a pretty fast decision process. Virtually any customer can have a customized version of the PocketKey, tailored to the needs of his/her company, or distribute the device with dedicated applications through an OEM contract, typical for ISP or Cloud providers.

How do you address the different strata of the market.

We defined three different product classes to fulfill all market segments:

The Enterprise Edition was specifically designed to target the business sector and it is provided with all the tools to efficiently deploy the solution across a company, like a Central Management Console and a Mobile Management Application to grant access to a Private App Store. Moreover, it come preconfigured with all the apps required to access a VDI infrastructure (VMware Horizon View, Citrix Receiver, etc).

The device which looks likes a USB key, comes with all the accessories, i.e. USB power adapter, HDMI 15in extension cable, USB Ethernet adapter, 4-port USB hub. software and hardware maintenance are included for one year, but they can be extended over three years under request.

The Personal Edition, although very similar to the Enterprise Edition, mounts a firmware that doesn't include all the management tools, therefore is more suitable for small offices.

The third option is an IPTV version that was designed for consumers. It's typically used as a powerful media center with Internet connection, comes preinstalled with the well known XBMC multimedia front-end user interface and transforms any TV (equipped with an HDMI port) into a SmartTV, with access to the Internet, movies, apps and games.

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