By Scott Ferguson  |  Posted 2007-11-07 Print this article Print

-Based Momentum Builds"> If Alessandra Nicoletti could point to one time that her investment in thin-client computers paid off, it happened when someone walked out of a Jenny Craig fitness center with one in the middle of the day.

Surprisingly, it was a relief.

"We have had incidences where people have picked up a thin client and monitor and have walked out of the center, which Im not exactly sure what they are going to do with it once they get it home, but when they walked out, the worst I had to think about was, OK, Im going to replace a thin client," said Nicoletti, director of IT operations at the Carlsbad, Calif., fitness business, which has about 6,000 employees.

"I didnt lose any customer data and nothing was stored-Im safe," Nicoletti said. "If that had been a PC that somebody walked out with and had information on it, I would have been running around for months."

Since the start of the year, thin-client vendors, along with those companies selling PC blades, have been touting centralized computing technology as the clear alternative to traditional desktop computing. Familiar stories, such as those from Jenny Craig, show the security benefits of storing important information back in the data center.

If these types of arguments-security, manageability, better return on investment and lower costs-seem familiar, its because IT managers have heard them for years. For more than a decade, thin-client and PC blade vendors have been trying to break the hold traditional PCs have within the enterprise.

IDC analyst Bob ODonnell said he has been studying the thin-client field for years and has watched it grow from zero to a market that looks to expand about 20 percent each year. However, while this is better than annual growth for desktops-about 4 percent-the number of PCs deployed throughout enterprises dwarfs those of thin clients, which are only now looking to break out of their niche in call centers.

While thin clients and PC blades have been widely talked about, these types of clients have failed so far to live up to expectations. ODonnell, while seeing their benefits, said he remains skeptical that IT departments will adopt the technology.

"Its easy to talk about casting aside the old model, but then you have to confront a different experience and try to determine if this really is the better solution," ODonnell said. "Its not that easy, and there are requirements that go with it and, for one reason or another, the IT people have to figure out what they are comfortable with in the data center. ... The IT folks need to get it configured right and have a transition plan in place and figure out what is the right way to do it."

While this type of centralized infrastructure has been tried in the past, there have been some significant developments that vendors are now pointing toward to bolster the arguments that thin is finally in.

The first, and arguably the most important, is virtualization. Unlike older central computing models, virtualization allows IT departments to set up multiple virtual machines-through such offerings as VMwares VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure)-within one system that allows the desktop to draw on its own version of the operating system and applications.

Click here to read more about how a startup is bridging the gap between thin client technology and application virtualization for desktop software.

"Instead of a single OS and then running [Citrix Systems] Presentation Server, you can now have an OS in one virtual container and that now is a single instance dedicated to one user," said Amir Husain, chief technology officer of ClearCube, a PC blade vendor in Austin, Texas. "This is a really centralized infrastructure, and inside one VM there is everything an end user needs. Theres the OS and the set of applications."

The second development is that the hardware and software technology needed to deliver a richer desktop experience to the user has greatly improved, thanks to better graphics technology and new streaming software from the likes of Wyse Technology and Citrix, which snapped up open-source virtualization vendor XenSource for $500 million in August and plans to deliver a product called Citrix XenDesktop next year.

Several companies, including IBM, Dell, NEC, ClearCube and Wyse, have been pushing centralized models to catch the trend early.

Wyse CEO Tarkan Maner said he feels the market is ready to take a hard look at what thin-client vendors can offer.

In terms of power savings and ease of use, Wyse is beginning to promote a concept called "zero computing," which looks to reduce the power the companys devices use by removing all the operating systems and leaving only the BIOS and firmware that will use about 5 watts of power, while increasing the thin clients longevity. The average desktop can use as much as 150 to 200 watts.

Page 2: Server-Based Momentum Builds


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