The next challenge is crafting the VPNs to support taking these devices from the office to a home or on the road.
Hewlett-Packard and Wyse Technology, the two leading vendors of thin-client PCs, are attempting to expand their share of this particular niche market and are looking at mobility as the way to gain new users.
At the Citrix Systems Synergy user conference
on May 20 in Houston, HP and Wyse will have new mobile thin-client PCs on display and both companies plan to detail how these devices can enhance a virtual desktop infrastructure, whether it's Citrix XenServer or VMware's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.
HP, which is already the leading worldwide PC vendor and managed to greatly increase it thin-client PC portfolio through its purchase of Neoware in 2007, is using the show to highlight its HP 2533t mobile thin client. Earlier this year, the company offered another thin laptop called the Compaq 6720t.
is rolling out a new line of thin-client PCs, called Viance, which includes a new thin notebook dubbed the Pro Mobile, a laptop with a 15.4-inch display, integrated 802.11 b/g and draft-n wireless technology and gigabit network connectivity.
Thin-client PCs are essentially desktops or notebooks with the moving parts removed and are connected through a network to a centralized server in the data center. While the market for these devices remains small, it's one that is expected to grow by about 20 percent annually during the next few years, according to IDC. In 2008, HP is predicting that it will sell a million thin clients; although that remains a fraction of the 50 million PCs it sold into the market in 2007.
John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research, believes that HP and Wyse are looking to latch onto the mobility craze that helped notebook sales take off in the past few years. If the two companies want to sell more thin clients, they have to allow users to take these devices with them from room-to-room or from one company building to another.
"The bottom line is that it makes thin clients much more attractive and overall they are opening up new markets in areas like health care, where the nurse can take the client from patient to patient and record the information and if it's stolen or lost, the patient information stays intact on the server," said Spooner.
The drawback is creating the right type of VPN (virtual private network) to support taking these devices from the office to a home or on the road. Thin clients are also being challenged by a host of other PCs for niche markets, including tablets, ultraportable PCs and the new types of low-cost notebooks that will use Intel's Atom processor later this year.
HP and Wyse seem to be addressing some of those issues. For example, the HP 2533t thin-client notebook offers a 12.1-inch display, which makes it comparable to other ultramobile PCs.
The two companies are also looking to overcome some of the graphics and multimedia capabilities that have hindered thin clients in the past. HP offers its Remote Graphics Software technology and Wyse is updating its own TCX Multimedia software, which should enhance the Citrix and Microsoft protocols that connect the server to the device and can now offer support for Vista or Server 2008.