Neverware Means Never Buying a New Computer Again
Heftner has transformed this old Dell into a what’s known as a virtual desktop. The processing power, the memory, even the operating system itself are being delivered from a small unit the size of a pizza box tucked into a closet down the hall. That single piece of equipment, dubbed the “juicebox” by Hefter, can power hundreds of terminals on a cloud based network.
There is something odd about the computer Jonathan Hefter keeps at his desk in the Dogpatch Labs tech incubator just off of Union Square. The space is filled with employees from some of New York’s most promising startups, most of whom are coding away on top-of-the-line-machines or fiddling with their cherished iPads. But Hefter sits me down at his workstation in front of a Dell GX150, considered state of the art in 2000, now available for $70 from a second-hand dealer online.
“Most people are surprised when I show them how well an old machine can handle a new operating system,” says Hefter, cracking a grin. “Especially when I tell them I also took out the hard drive.”
“Most schools and city governments and non-profits in America are stuck on an expensive treadmill,” Hefter explains. Every four to five years they have to upgrade their computer systems, a process known as the hardware refresh cycle. “If you could break that pattern of planned obsolescence, you would generate huge savings, not just on the economic level, but from an environmental standpoint as well.”
It’s an idea that excites cash strapped institutions looking for a new model, and terrifies the big PC manufacturers accustomed to annual paydays. Hefter has named his company Neverware, “Because with us, they will never have to buy a new computer again.”
Despite his lack of formal training, Hefter, a self-taught computer whiz, created a working prototype of the Neverware technology in under a year and in May of 2010 was invited to join Dogpatch Labs in New York. There he caught the eye of Diana Rhoten, co-founder of Startl, an organization that looks to identify and accelerate interesting projects in the realm of education technology. “Jonathan fit the profile of entrepreneurs we’re looking for,” says Rhoten. “Young, passionate and committed to a truly disruptive idea.”
Take this case study offered by HP about how they helped St. Peter’s Anglican Primary School. In it they replaced 160 traditional PCs with 80 blade PCs and 90 thin clients. That costs approximately $100,000 and generates 2 tons of e-waste. Hefter solves the same problem with two “juiceboxes” powering the original 160 PCs. Cost = $20,000. E-waste = 0.
Rhoten eventually showed Neverware to an ex-Google engineer, who like everyone else, dismissed it at first. “I’ll never forget, about a week later this engineer emailed me up, it was on Thanksgiving day,” says Rhoten. “He said,I might have been wrong. I can’t stop thinking about Neverware. This might actually work.”
The big PC companies, however, aren’t going down without a fight. Early on in Neverware’s history, Hefter contacted Dell and Intel, eager to share with them his approach. It was the equivalent of calling the major oil companies to show them a design for a solar powered car. “I also don’t know that we’d be interested in “radically extending the life…of desktop PCs,” was the reply Hefter got from a higher up at Intel.
“Sometimes I just feel like screaming,” Hefter told me one afternoon, as we walked briskly down University towards Union Square. “It’s like I’m Russel Crowe from The Insider, and I have this truth that I just want to get out there, but nobody wants to listen.”