Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Cambridge
Unit of AssessmentComputer Science and Informatics
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Information and Computing Sciences: Artificial Intelligence and Image Processing, Computer Software, Information Systems
Summary of the impact
RealVNC is a spin out company launched by the University of Cambridge
researchers who developed Virtual Network Computing (VNC) remote access
technology. VNC allows connection and control of devices from anywhere in
the world, irrespective of operating system. VNC is now the default
mechanism for remote sharing of graphical desktops across the internet.
RealVNC has sold over 300 million licences across 175 countries. The
company has won three Queen's Awards for Enterprise and the Royal Academy
of Engineering's MacRobert Award, the UK's premier engineering prize.
The research was undertaken by Professor Andy Hopper [1-6], who joined
the University of Cambridge in 1977, became Reader in 1992 and Professor
in 1997 (see note below). He was appointed Head of the Computer Laboratory
and Professor of Computer Technology in 2004. The research was undertaken
collaboratively with Olivetti Research Labs in Cambridge (which became
Oracle Research in 1987 and then AT&T Research from 1999). Professor
Hopper led the research project throughout. Other key members of Hopper's
University research groups were Quentin Stafford-Fraser [1,5], Research
Assistant at the Computer Laboratory,1991-1992, who joined Olivetti some
years later; Mark Spiteri , Research Associate in Hopper's Laboratory
for Communications Engineering 1999-2001; John Bates , Lecturer in
Hopper's Laboratory for Communications Engineering 1998-2000; and Glenford
Mapp , who was a Visiting Fellow in the Computer Laboratory.
The research project began with [text removed for publication] funding
from Oracle to develop network computing software. The software was open
sourced during its development in the 1990s. During the key research
period (1991-98), there was a free exchange of ideas between the Cambridge
University research groups and the staff at Olivetti Research. Hopper
operated an "open door" policy in both directions so that members of each
lab were free to meet, work, and discuss ideas with one another.
The underpinning research addressed the problem of remote user
interaction with emphasis on the range of remote device capability, the
mobility of users, and disrupted communication. The approach was
empirical. By considering the diversity of available devices in
formulating device abstractions, rather than by starting with an idealised
device model, a simpler client model than, say, that of the X windows
system, was developed. This model was stateless in the client (device)
end, leading to toleration of disruption and more significantly of a
change in association between user and device, the latter being informed
by the location awareness research being carried out by Hopper's group.
Reference 1 is the key publication that describes the VNC technology used
to break down the screen image produced by a particular software
application into a representation of the pixels, which can then be
reproduced on another remote screen. The keyboard strokes and mouse
actions made remotely can then be transmitted back to affect the original
application. This means that a very simple screen and keyboard can be used
to remotely complete tasks that require a large amount of computing power,
provided that the less powerful receiver has the prerogative of requesting
Reference 2 describes earlier collaborative work between Olivetti and the
Cambridge Computer Laboratory on which the later VNC work built.
Reference 3, Section 3, summarises the work and puts it in the context of
"sentient computing", Hopper's major strategic research goal at the time.
The other three references document some of the subsequent projects
undertaken in the Cambridge Computer Laboratory, which investigated the
potential of VNC in various application domains.
References 4 and 5 discuss how VNC can be extended to support
co-operative work, including asynchronous co-operation, student-teacher
interaction, and distance learning.
Reference 6 discusses how VNC permits the capture and indexing of
computer-based activities, enabling the review of work and work flow.
Note: For most of his career at the University of Cambridge
(1977-1997, 2004-present), Hopper was affiliated with the Computer
Laboratory. For the period 1997-2004, he was head of the Laboratory for
Communications Engineering at the Department of Engineering. That
Laboratory was transferred in its entirety to the Computer Laboratory in
2004, being renamed the Digital Technology Group. Hopper, his research
group, and any research produced by them are therefore considered part of
UoA 11 for this REF exercise.
References to the research
*. Tristan Richardson, Quentin Stafford-Fraser, Ken R. Wood, Andy
Hopper, "Virtual Network Computing," IEEE Internet Computing, pp.
*. Andy Hopper, "The Royal Society Clifford Paterson Lecture, 1999 —
Sentient Computing", Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. A (2000), vol.
358, pp. 2349-2358, Royal Society, Aug 2000 Hopper gave the lecture in
September 1999. This is one of the Royal Society's prize lectures, which
comes with the award of a medal.
. Sheng Feng Li, Andy Hopper, "What You See Is What I Saw:
Applications of Stateless Client Systems in Asynchronous CSCW," Proceedings
of the Fourth International Conference on Computer Science and
Informatics(CS&I'98), The Fourth Joint Conference of Information
Sciences(JCIS'98), Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, vol. 3,
pp. 10-15, Oct 1998
. Sheng Feng Li, Quentin Stafford-Fraser, Andy Hopper, "Frame-buffer
on Demand: Applications of Stateless Client Systems in Web-based
Learning," Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on
Information Systems Analysis and Synthesis (ISAS`99), Orlando, Florida,
Jul 1999 Web: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.45.9089
*. Sheng Feng Li, Mark Spiteri, John Bates, Andy Hopper, "Capturing
and Indexing Computer-based Activities with Virtual Network Computing",
SAC'00 Proceedings of the 2000 ACM Symposium on Applied Computing,
Como, Italy, vol. 2, pp. 601-603, Mar 2000
*Indicates those references most representative of the overall quality of
Details of the impact
The research into VNC created the remote access market. RealVNC was
founded in 2002 by Professor Hopper and Dr Andy Harter to promote, enhance
and commercialize VNC. Today, Hopper is Chairman and Harter is CEO.
RealVNC is the only organization offering commercial licenses to embed
remote control and access capability into third-party products and
VNC is an extremely widely ported piece of cross-platform software:
"Over 300 million licenses have been sold across over 175 countries, and
given that our software is also available in free and open source
versions, this makes VNC the most widely ported piece of cross-platform
software." (CEO RealVNC) 
VNC is the default mechanism for remote sharing of graphical desktops
across the internet.
One of the major benefits that RealVNC offers to customers is the ability
to resolve IT issues remotely, minimizing downtime and leading to
associated savings in cost and efficiency.
In 2010 Intel embedded RealVNC software into their vPro and i5 & i7
processor chipsets. This allows remote maintenance irrespective of the
main processor state. One hundred million VNC-enabled chips have been
manufactured to date. This initiative enables IT technicians to boot
machines from a remote location, meaning that machines no longer need to
be left on overnight to allow time-critical software patches to be
deployed. This in turn has led to energy efficiencies and cost savings
from reduced power consumption. For example, an ROI Analysis conducted in
2009 for Intel at the California University of Pennsylvania, which has
2,170 desktop PCs across its campus, found that the ability to remotely
boot up machines in this way was likely to save around [text removed for
publication] per year in reduced energy costs.
In January 2011, Google purchased a [text removed for publication]
license to embed remote access capability in Chrome products . An
Engineering Director at Google, said `We are thrilled to tap into
RealVNC's proven technology and expertise.'
The company won two Queen's Awards for Enterprise in 2011, for Innovation
and for International Trade . In the same year, the company was
Cambridge Ring Company of the Year and Business Weekly Private Company of
the Year. In 2013 it won a third Queen's award, again for International
Trade, and the Royal Academy of Engineering's MacRobert Award, the premier
award for UK innovation in engineering.
The following examples demonstrate the wide deployment of RealVNC systems
and the commercial advantages of using RealVNC software [7,12]:
Example A. Since 2009, Alexandria Police Department Tactical Computer
Section, Virginia, USA, have used RealVNC with an Enterprise License to
support its fleet of mobile computers. The ability to fix problems in real
time has allowed officers to remain in the field serving the community
rather than returning to headquarters to fix their PC.
Example B. Telesat Canada operates 25 orbital satellites. It requires
24/7 access to multiple remote sites plus cross-platform support for UNIX
and Windows systems. Since 2010, RealVNC's cross-platform remote support
has enabled Telesat's satellite controllers and antenna engineers to
remotely access all the networks required at any time of day or night,
which is critical to success when the time taken to drive into work could
be enough to lose a satellite.
Example C. The W. M. Keck Observatory adopted VNC in 2009 to remotely
display screens from their telescope systems, based near the 4200 meter
summit of Mauna Kea, and to manage and administer its systems whether
Windows, Mac or UNIX. The performance of RealVNC has enabled the
Observatory to reduce its operating costs.
Example D. The ability to fix problems without the need for inconvenient
travel has also been of benefit for Boston Valley Terra Cotta, who have
used RealVNC since April 2010 to minimize the risk of expensive product
damage in their kilns and dryers. They have also made use of RealVNCs
iPhone application `VNC Viewer' to effectively manage the production
process when access to a PC is not possible.
Example E. Burwin Leighton Paisner LLP have used RealVNC since 2008. They
use VNC with an Enterprise license so that their IT helpdesk, based in
London, can remotely support their offices in Abu Dhabi, Brussels, Paris
and Singapore, resolving 95% of IT issues in this way. VNC is also used to
provide internal training to new starters, providing an efficient and cost
effective alternative to travel for such purposes. Dartford Borough
Council have similarly found that deploying VNC enables their technical
support time to resolve 90%of issues remotely, saving on off-site travel
costs and making the best use of Council resources.
Sources to corroborate the impact
. Letter from CEO, RealVNC
. Queen's Awards for Enterprise:
. Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award
. Information on Google collaboration:
. Intel vPro ROI Analysis: Document on file
. Details of VNC's case studies:
. Information on Intel collaboration: