Redar: A Remote Desktop Architecture for the Distributed Virtual Personal Computing

Redar: A Remote Desktop Architecture for the Distributed Virtual Personal
Yuedong Zhang1, Zhenhua Song2, Dingju Zhu1, Zhuan Chen1, Yuzhong Sun1
1, National Research Center for Intelligent Computing Systems, Institute of Computing
Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences
2, Department of Computer Science,University of Science and Technology of China
{ydzhang, songzhenhua, zhudingju, chenzhuan},
Some popular computing technologies, such as
ubiquitous computing, grid computing and thin-client
computing, bring people to a much more distributed
and pervasive computing environment. Based on these
innovative technologies, a distributed virtual personal
computing (DVPC) paradigm is coming into being.
One of the fundamental challenges in the DVPC design
is the virtually integrated but physically distributed
desktop system. We proposed Redar, a remote desktop
architecture for the DVPC. Redar integrates various
user interfaces from diverse service nodes into one
virtual desktop, and present the virtual desktop to the
ultra-thin user client. The user interfaces currently
supported by Redar include the application GUIs as
well as the mobile storage interfaces. The key
components in Redar are the GUI merger, the virtual
desktop manager, the ultra-thin-client and the
transport protocols. We have implemented Redar in a
DVPC prototype system. According to our evaluation,
Redar shows perfect display latency, storage I/O,
overhead, scalability and robustness.
1. Introduction
Personal computing came into a much more
distributed and pervasive environment in the last
decade, and this trend will keep on in the future
decades. Grid computing [1], which is regarded as one
of the technology trends in future decades, advocates
coordinated resource sharing and problem solving in
dynamic multi-institutional virtual organizations.
Ubiquitous computing [2], also called pervasive
computing, enables computers, intelligent terminals
and digital devices to merge into human’s everyday
life. Thin client computing [3] detaches processing
logic and GUI display in the computer systems, and it
provides an approach for terminals or devices with
restricted capacity to borrow power from higher
performance computers across the network.
Based on the technologies described above, we
propose a distributed virtual personal computing
(DVPC) paradigm. Because of the Internet, a modern
PC’s capacity is mainly out of the physical machine
itself,and person really needs now is not a physical
PC, but a networked personal computing environment.
Moreover, the networked personal computing
environment can be accessed through not only fixed
machines on the desk, but also cell phones, PDAs, and
other portable devices. Such personal computing
paradigm composed of various user terminals and
distributed computing resources is what we call
distributed virtual personal computing (DVPC).
There are many challenges in DVPC design, one of
which is the user interface system. In this paper, we
introduce Redar, a remote desktop architecture for
DVPC. Redar provides a virtually integrated but
physically distributed desktop environment for the
thin-client users. It integrates various application
interfaces from diverse service nodes into one virtual
desktop environment, and presents the virtual desktop
to the ultra-thin user client. Redar provides both
application GUIs and some local device interfaces on
the user terminal. We have prototyped Redar in a
DVPC testbed, and the Redar prototype shows perfect
display latency, storage I/O, overhead, scalability and
robustness on the testbed.
In the reminder of this paper, we describe our work
in more detail. As a background, section 2 introduces
the motivation, concepts, and prototype of the DVPC
paradigm. Section 3 describes the design and
implementation of the Redar architecture. Section 4
shows experiment results of Redar and evaluates its
performance. Section 5 examines the related work.
Finally, we conclude the full paper and introduce our
future work in section 6.
and all the experiments presented in this paper were
done on this testbed.
2. Distributed Virtual Personal Computing
3. Redar Architecture
Currently, the concepts of personal computing are
no longer confined to the physical PCs. On one side, a
PC is no more an isolated machine, and its capacity is
out of the PC itself; on the other side, the human’s
computing interfaces include not only the machines on
desktops or laptops, but also portable devices like cell
phones and PDAs. What users really need for personal
computing are not physical machines or devices, but
personal computing environments as well as the
services that the environments can provide, and the
physical machines and devices are mainly of interfaces
to the personal computing environment.
Based on the discussion above, we propose a
distributed virtual personal computing (DVPC)
paradigm. DVPC provides virtual personal spaces to
users in a distributed environment. A virtual personal
space consists of the virtual storages, the virtual
devices, the virtual desktops and the applications. A
user can access his virtual personal space from
anywhere with a network connection, and the user
terminal can be a PC, a thin client, or a portable device.
By the technology of virtualization, DVPC enables
large-scale resource sharing among many users and
enhances resource utilization, which is also advocated
by grid computing, utility computing, ubiquitous
computing and thin-client computing.
Redar is a user interface system designed for the
DVPC, It provides integrated desktop like GUI
environments to users by integrating the users’
application interfaces from divers service nodes into
unified virtual desktops and delivering the virtual
desktops to the user terminals. The application
interfaces here denotes both the application GUIs and
the device interfaces needed by the applications.
Figure 1. DVPC Prototype
We have developed a DVPC prototype in our lab.
The prototype system aims at office applications for
members in our research group. Figure 1 shows the
architecture of the prototype system, which is just a
simplified implementation of DVPC paradigm. We
take the prototype as a testbed for the Redar research,
Figure 2. Redar Architecture
The Redar architecture is shown in Figure 2, and
the main components in Redar are the the ultra-thinclient (UTC), the desktop integrator and the protocols.
The UTC only consists of peripheral devices needed
for user interface, and it is much thinner than the
ordinary thin-client system. The desktop integrator
integrates a user’s applications and other resources into
a virtual desktop environment, and it is composed of a
framebuffer based GUI merger and a desktop manager.
There are three sets of protocols work in the Redar: the
terminal protocol transport data between the desktop
integrator and the ultra-thin-client; the GUI protocol
transport data between the applications and the GUI
integrator; the storage protocol transport data between
the file server and the desktop manager. Out of the
three components above, there are GUI grabbers
running on the application nodes and the user’s virtual
storage space on the file server.
The system works as follows: The user applications
run on the service nodes, and their interfaces are
captured by the GUI grabbers and delivered to the GUI
merger by the GUI protocol. The GUI merger merges
the user’s GUIs into the virtual framebuffer, and the
virtual framebuffer is mirrored to the ultra-thin-client
by the terminal protocol. The inputs go a reverse way.
The user has his own virtual storage space on the file
server, and his local storage is mounted on the virtual
storage space. The storage data are transported
between the ultra-thin-client and the file server by the
storage protocol. The starting and ending of the
applications and the mounting and un-mounting of the
local storage device are all controlled by the desktop
3.1. Remote Display Protocols
The GUI protocol and the terminal protocol in
Redar are all remote display protocols. Generally
speaking, there are two sorts of remote display
protocols. The first sort is the high level remote display
protocol, which delivers high level commands and
throws most of the rendering work to the client side,
and the typical one is X11 [4]. High level protocol has
higher encoding efficiency and brings less bandwidth,
but it usually is platform dependent, and leaves heavy
burdens on the client side. The second sort is the low
level protocol, which delivers low level data, such as
bitmap data, frame buffer information and input events,
and the typical system is VNC [5]. This approach is
platform independent, and lefts little rendering work to
the client side, but brings more bandwidth.
In terminal protocol, we employ our gDevice[6]
design, which a low level protocol like RFB[7]. This is
because: 1) in GUI merger, the display information has
been turned into framebuffer images; 2) low level
remote display protocol enables ultra-thin-client,
because it leaves little rendering work to the terminal;
3) according to our experiments and others’ research
[8], low level remote display protocol performs better
on resource-aware or portable devices.
In GUI protocol, we employ a high level X11
protocol, which transports high level commands. This
is because: 1) in the service area, it is not important
that which side to render the display image, because
whether side renders the image, the rendering loading
still lies on the service nodes; 2) high level display
commands decrease the network traffics; 3) it is easy
to perform window merging basing on X11 protocol.
3.2. Framebuffer Based GUI Merger
The GUI merger is the kernel part in Redar, and its
central part is a virtual framebuffer. The framebuffer is
just an abstract of the display device, and represents
the video memory in a high level view. For example,
for a display device with 1024×768 pixels and 24 bit
color depth, the framebuffer is represented as a 1024×
768×3≈2.3M bytes memory space. To save system
memory, there is no real framebuffer in the GUI
merger, but only a virtual memory address space
corresponding to the framebuffer. The GUI integration
is executed by the inputer of the virtual framebuffer
which writes display information received from
different applications into the framebuffer. The
framebuffer outputer acts as a GUI server for the user
terminal and delivers the framebuffer updates to the
In implantation of the GUI integrator, we take an X
server as the inputer of the virtual framebuffer, and a
modified RFB server as the outputer of the virtual
framebuffer. The X server regards the virtual
framebuffer as an X display, and writes GUIs from
several X clients into the virtual framebuffer to
perform the GUI integration. The framebuffer is a
virtual one, and when the X server writes data into the
virtual framebuffer, it redirects the data to the modified
RFB server immediately.
3.3. Mobile Storage Support
Local mobile storage is often neglected by former
thin client system, but it is important in modern
distributed computing environment. Redar supports
two kinds of storage devices, one kind is ROM disk,
such as CDROM and DVD; the other is USB storage,
including some USB interface digital devices, such as
mp3 player and digital camera. The local mobile
storage is mounted on the virtual storage space as a
network block device (NBD) [9], and the data is
transported by the gDevice protocol.
3.4. Virtual Desktop Manager
The virtual desktop manager (VDM) is the basic
application to a user, and it contains icons, menus, task
bars and window managers. VDM acts as both a
DVPC access interface for the user and a privilege
control tool for the DVPC system.
The fundamental difference between our VDM and
the ordinary desktop managers is that, 1) besides
acting as an interface and tool for users, VDM also
acts as a gatekeeper for the DVPC environment; 2)
behind of the VDM, there exists a distributed
computing environment rather than a single machine,
so many working mechanisms in VDM are more
complex than the ordinary desktop managers.
The virtual desktop manager is implemented on the
GNOME [10] system, which is a widely used desktop
manager on the X11 platform. We make following
modifications to GNOME version 2.0:
1) The work mechanism behind the icons and menu
items is changed. Usually, an icon or menu item on
the desktop maps to an executable file or script file.
When the icon or menu item is clicked, the mapped
file executes. We modify this mechanism: when an
icon or menu item is clicked, a request is send to the
scheduler; the scheduler invokes corresponding
application or virtual devices on the remote node
for the user; the application’s GUI is pushed to the
user’s GUI merger through an X connection.
2) Icons and menus are configured according to the
users’ privilege. To prevent users from invalid
operations, a user’s GNOME session initializes the
icons and menus according to the user’s privilege.
We implement a UTC with KVM (keyboard, video
and mouse) devices, CDROM driver, and USB storage
interface, as is shown in figure 3. We take the Linux
framebuffer device [13] as the video device, which
represents the frame buffer of some video hardware,
and allows application software to access the graphic
hardware through a well-defined interface. Our UTC
implementation is much simpler than the ordinary RFB
clients, which are always high level applications
running on the X window system.
4. Experiments and Evaluations
3.5. The Ultra-thin-client
The Redar terminal is designed as an ultra-thinclient (UTC), that is, the Redar terminal is much
thinner than the ordinary thin-client systems. We turn
the terminal into “ultra-thin” by such measures:
1) The terminal is designed just as a set of networkattached human interface devices, which only
consists of the peripherals needed for the user I/O
and a network component to perform the
communication. The design is just like a prediction
to the future network computer in 1995 [11], and
we have worked a lot on the network-attached
peripherals [12].
2) Little rendering work is left to the terminal.
Because we implement a virtual framebuffer in the
GUI merger, almost all of the rendering work is
done by the inputer of GUI merger, so there is little
rendering work left to the terminal. This rendering
strategy both fits for the design shown in figure 5
and lowers the processing consumption on the
The UTC design greatly lowers the complexity and
costs of the terminal system, and this design extremely
fits for the low-cost thin-client systems and the
resource-aware portable devices.
Figure 4. Experimental Testbed
The topology of the Redar testbed is shown in
figure 4. The testbed consists of four servers and
several clients. Three of the servers act as service
nodes, and the other one acts as a benchmark server.
The computers lie in two 100M bps Ethernets
connected by a gateway. The configuration of the
computers in the testbed is shown in table 1.
Table 1. Testbed Configuration
Server 1
Server 2
Server 3
Figure 3. The UTC Implementation
Intel P3
1GHz ×2
265 ×2
Intel P4
Intel P3
Intel P3
1 GB
8 GB
Core 4,
kernel 2.6
512 MB
256 MB
256 MB
Redhat 9.0,
kernel 2.4
Because the DVPC prototype system aims at office
applications in our lab, we take some typical word
processing programs, network tools and developing
tools in evaluating our system. Further, although
stream media is not a usual office application, it is
generally adopted in benchmarking remote display
system, so we take it into our experiment. For web
browsing and stream media applications, we take the
famous i-Bench benchmark suite [14] in the evaluation.
The system’s overhead is measured by some traces we
plugged into the system, and the CPU and memory
utilizations are recorded periodically by the traces.
4.1. Remote Display Performance
In remote display performance evaluation, we
measure the application startup speed, web page open
latency, stream media packets missing rate, and media
file display lag in the experiment. We compare Redar’s
performance with that of the local and a former DVPC
remote display system. The former display system is
purely based on the X11 protocol, with the application
invoke and close implemented on the terminal and the
access control implement on the gateway. The local
performance is directly measured on Server 1.
Figure 5. Application Startup Speed
Figure 5 shows the startup speed of the typical
applications in our system. As is shown, Redar is much
more instant in startup applications than that of the
pure X11, and it is almost as fast as the local display.
Table2. Web: Average Page Latency
Average Page
Latency (S)
Pure X11
The average page latency benchmarked by the iBench 3.0 is shown in table 2. Redar is a little slower
than the local display, but is more than 2 times faster
than the X11.
Table 3. Stream Media: Packets Missing Rate
Missing (%)
The packets missing rate in stream media display
benchmarked by i-Bench 3.0 is shown in table 3. The
local display misses 7% of the media packets, and
Redar misses 12%. The X11 misses38%, and the video
jumps severely on the client, thus brings very bad
experience to the users.
We measure the display lag of the stream media by
screening a sect of media file with the Realplayer, and
calculating the running time. The media is 29 seconds
long, and its size is 360×240 pixels. We measure both
the original size display and the full screen size display.
As is shown in figure 6 the display on Redar client lags
a little bit, but the lag is hardly perceivable. However,
on the pure X11 client, the display lags about 20% in
original size, and runs more than double time in full
screen size.
Figure 6. Stream Media: Display Lag
X11 performs worse than Redar on our testbed
because the synchronization operations in the X
protocol lead to great latency and lots of additional
traffics. The X11 protocol has a synchronization
mechanism in itself, this mechanism ensures hardly
any packets lost in an X sessions. However, this
mechanism barrages the data transport in an X session,
especially when the data size is large and the network
hops increase.
4.2. I/O Performance of UTC Storage
Table4. I/O Performance of UTC Storage
Average I/O
I/O (KB/s)
Redar provides CDROM driver and USB storage
interface on the UTC, and table 4 shows the I/O
performance of the UTC storage devices. As is show in
the table, the USB reading speed achieves 184KB/s in
maximum, and 137.9KB/s in average, which is 62% of
the total device I/O bandwidth; the USB writing speed
achieves 229KB/s in maximum, and 147.5 KB/s in
average, which is 67.3% of the total device I/O
bandwidth; the CDROM reading speed achieves
85KB/s in maximum, and 51.2 KB/s in average, which
is the full bandwidth the device can provide.
4.3. Overhead
The Redar’s overhead is mainly brought by the
display system, and the storage brings little overhead,
which is often less than 0.5% of the system’s CPU and
memory, so we only evaluate the display overhead of
the Redar system. The display overhead is measured
on both the server side and the client side.
our UTC is based on the Linux framebuffer driver,
which cannot provide hardware acceleration, so all the
rendering work is done by the CPU.
On the server side, we measure the CPU and
memory overhead brought by the GUI merger in three
typical cases, which are standby, i-Bench execution,
and stream media execution. The experimental result in
figure 8 is executed on server 1, which has the weakest
processing capacity in the three server nodes. As is
shown in figure 10, the memory overhead of the four
cases is very smooth and average. The memory
overhead is about 1.3% which affects the system little
(because it is hard to show memory in “%” in the
figure, we use “‰” in the figure). The CPU overhead
varies greatly in the three use cases. When the client is
standby, the CPU overhead is about 1%. When the iBench runs, the average CPU overhead is about 5%,
and the peak is 12%. The heaviest CPU overhead
comes from the stream media display, and the average
CPU overhead is about 15%, and the peak is 20%.
Thus, a Redar GUI merger brings 1% to 15% CPU
overhead to server 1, and the average is lower than 5%;
the peak is about 20%. The CPU overhead of GUI
merger brings a little burden to server 1, but to a
stronger server, such as server 2, the overhead is
i-Bench Media
Figure 7. Overhead on the Client
On the client side, we compare the CPU and
memory consumption of the Redar UTC and the X
based VNC viewer. We take three typical cases in our
experiment, which are standby, web browsing and
stream media playing. The experimental results are
show in figure 7. Compared with VNC viewer, our
UTC saves about 75% memory, but the CPU
consumption the UTC is a bit more than that of the
VNC viewer. UTC saves memory consumption by
loading less software and reducing the data copy
operations. The software suit needed for UTC is
prominently smaller than that of the VNC viewer,
which runs on the Xlib. Further, the data transport and
processing in UTC is simpler than that of the VNC
viewer, so there is less memory need for buffering or
caching data. The reason why our UTC consumes
more CPU cycles is: the VNC viewer runs on the Xlib,
and the Xlib can use the video card acceleration
provided by the device driver below the Xlib; however,
Figure 8. Overhead on the Server Node
4.4. Robustness and Scalability
The robustness and scalability of Redar is measured
both in our everyday using and by the benchmark.
About fifteen members of our group log on the DVPC
prototype system in daily working, and the Redar and
the DVPC prototype system shows perfect robustness
in our working. Further, to test the scalability
quantitively, we execute a stress test on the weakest
node in the testbed, i.e. server 1. The test is perform by
startup several GUI mergers on the same server node
and executing an iBench on each client.
The curves in figure 9 shows the CPU and memory
overhead tracks on sever 1 as the GUI integrators
running on it increase, The memory overhead increase
linearly as the stress increase, and because each GUI
merger brings only less than 1.3% memory overhead to
the system, the memory overhead is not a bottleneck to
the system’s scalability. The CPU overhead hardly
increases as there are more than five GUI mergers,
thus the CPU percentage for each GUI merger
decreases. Concurrently, the average page latency
measured by the i-Bench increase when there are more
than five GUI integrators. Hence, the system’s
scalability is mainly confined by the CPU overhead.
However, a user’s daily working load is much lighter
than the i-Bench running load, so it is easy for server 1
to serve 5 users in average. To the other two servers in
our system, more users are able to be served
There are some recently developed systems similar
to DVPC. HP SoftUDC [17] is a software-based costeffective and flexible solution to the quest for utility
computing. The main difference between SoftUDC
and DVPC is that, SoftUDC mainly concern the
problem of isolation and migration basing on
virtualization, where as DVPC mainly concern the
problem of integration basing on virtualization.
Stanford Collective [18] is a system that delivers
managed desktops to personal computer (PC) users.
The main difference between Stanford Collective and
DVPC is that Collective’s main motivation is to
achieve better security and lower cost of management,
and its server side is a centralized architecture. HP
Interactive Grid [19] is a grid computing architecture
designed to support graphical interactive sessions. The
fundamental difference between our DVPC and HP
Interactive Grid is that we mainly focus on the
distribution features of the future personal computing
environment and we address the challenges brought by
such features, such as GUI merging, virtual user space
construction, etc. Moreover, the system above only
provides remote KVM devices, and no other devices,
such as USB storage or CDROM are provided.
6. Conclusion and Future Work
Figure 9. Scalability Test
5. Related Works
A number of point to point remote display systems
have been developed. X11 was originally developed to
display GUI on the UNIX like operating system, and
now a well-rounded protocol. RDP[15] and ICA[16]
are remote display systems designed for the Microsoft
Windows platform. Because of high-level platform
dependent commands, the clients of the RDP or ICA
system should be MS Windows family operating
system or special terminal software, so the clients are
comparatively “fat”. VNC takes a low-level approach
and uses a single encoding mechanism providing a
simple and portable solution, so the system is operating
system independent. Because most of the VNC
viewers are designed as high-level applications, the
VNC client cannot be very thin without modifying.
The main limitation of these point to point remote
display technologies is that they do not handle the
problems brought by distributed environment, so they
do not fit for our DVPC in default.
We introduce Redar: a remote desktop architecture
for the distributed virtual personal computing (DVPC).
DVPC is a computing paradigm proposed to
accommodate the more and more distributed and
pervasive personal computing environment. The main
innovative works in Redar are: a remote desktop
architecture for the DVPC, which provides an
integrated desktop window-style user environment in a
distributed computing environment; a framebuffer
based GUI merging mechanism, which is perfect for
environment; a virtual desktop manager, which acting
as both an resource manager and a security control tool
for the virtual desktop; an UTC system, which brings
lower CPU and memory utilization than the formers.
According to our experiments, Redar architecture
brings better resource utilization and load balance in
distributed personal computing environment, and it
performs perfect in display latency, overhead,
robustness, and system scalability. Compared with
other similar systems, Redar shows it superiorities in
scalability, efficiency, flexibility, and resource
The research on Redar is still in an initial stage, and
there are many works to be done in the future. Firstly,
more kinds of devices should be supported on the
client side. Personal computing environment consists
of not only GUIs and local storage interfaces, but also
audio devices, printing services, etc. In the next stage
work, more kinds of devices should be supported on
the user terminals. Secondly, a more flexible rendering
strategy is needed. In current version of Redar
implementation, we adopt an absolutely server-side
GUI rendering strategy. To some stronger clients, this
strategy wastes client processing capacity and
consumes more network bandwidth. So a more flexible
rendering strategy, which can automatically balance
the loadings between the server and the client, should
be developed. Thirdly, more technologies should be
developed to guarantee the system’s performance in a
more complex network environment. The experiments
in this paper are made in a stable network environment.
When the system is ported to a more complex
environment, its performance, such as latency,
overhead, robustness and scalability, will be greatly
affected. So many technological measurements should
be developed to guarantee the system’s performance in
a more complex environment.
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