These days, virtually every new gadget we buy seems destined to become obsolete faster than we can tear it from its shiny packaging. New smartphones and tablets are released barely months after their previous versions, and the hardware and software quickly become incompatible. Tablets won’t allow you to swap out parts, new laptops won’t let you remove batteries, and the whole lifecycle of technology is becoming shorter, less sustainable, and more expensive for consumers.
But what if you could help extend the lifespan of technology that already exists? Give it a little boost, perhaps?
That’s the solution a New York City-based startup called Neverware is proposing. Its Juicebox promises to make “old computers run like new”.
Now, I know what some early adopters may be thinking. For those who believe that the age of tablets, smartphones, Google Glass and the “cloud” has heralded the demise of desktop PCs, there’s still one place you’re guaranteed to find a growing need for them. And that’s in schools.
Robert Hornik, Assistant Principal at East New York Family Academy in Brooklyn, remembers weekend trips to far-flung corners of New York City to hunt for old desktops from other city agencies – like the Police Pension Fund – that were giving them away for free.
“We had about 20 computers working, at best, out of about 100,” for a school with 450 students and 50 teachers, he recalls. “They were mostly the big, boxy computers, like the Dell GX270, all about 8-10 years old.” With an entire technology budget of just $12,000 per year, including one part-time IT person (an undergraduate at a local university), new desktops at around $500 a pop was not an option.
“Schools usually acquire computers in big batches all at once in hope that they don’t have to get them anytime again soon, “which of course, never happens,” says Steven Hodas, Executive Director of Innovate NYC Schools, part of a broader initiative by the NYC Department of Education to adapt technologies in classrooms for learning. Computers eventually breakdown, wear out, or become overloaded with junk and must be replaced over time with spare parts and hardware on a limited budget – resulting in a jigsaw puzzle of infrastructure, like at Hornik’s school. Then, when the computers start to get sluggish, preventing even basic browsing and application use, getting them all back up to the same speed becomes practically impossible.
Neverware’s Juicebox fixes this problem by turning school PCs into a “thin client”. Inside the physical box is a server with virtual machines and computing power that many computers share across a single network. So, instead of each computer being stuck with ageing components, suddenly all the computers have access to this powerful central store that does all the “heavy lifting”, allowing the computers to run like new. The Juicebox can supercharge any PC or even laptop – even if it’s missing a hard drive – and the whole system is completely wireless.
Since Hornik installed Neverware’s Juicebox over a year ago, East New York Family Academy now has over 100 working computers – almost four in every classroom, with two fully functioning computer labs. They haven’t slowed down a bit.
“The Neverware system gave us a big break. We were able to make all those old computers work,” Hornik says, adding “and lightning fast.”
This idea of “desktop virtualization”, has been around for over a decade, says Neverware’s 27-year-old founder Jonathan Hefter. “This is something banks and Fortune 500 companies around the world are using,” he says, and something that cloud computing now offers. “But no-one has created a simple cost-effective methodology, and automated it, so that you can operate without expensive IT departments.”