Why Now

By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2006-05-08 Print this article Print

?"> Why Now?

Its natural to ask "Why now," given that thin clients have been around since at least the late 1980s, when Citrix began championing remote access to applications.

Part of the answer is that new legislation—such as the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, for example—is forcing senior technology managers to think about how to lock down the sensitive data located on PCs that can be stolen or hacked. For its part, HIPAA requires medical facilities and related companies to, at a minimum, ensure that they limit unnecessary or inappropriate disclosure of protected health information.

Meanwhile, new technologies, including hardware and virtualization software, all make it easier to host desktop environments on a server and transmit them to workers desktops. Blade desktops, for example, work on the back end like a server but host users desktop environments.

These technologies offer greater benefits and fewer drawbacks than previous thin-client generations when it comes to delivering computing resources. However, cost is often the main reason that companies choose to make the leap to thin clients, industry watchers say.

To view eWEEK Labs slide show on thin clients, click here. "The problem had been that thin clients were great, but they couldnt replace the desktop. The reason VMware and other virtualization schemes have taken off over the last year is that they afford IT departments the ability to completely replace a PC ... at a cost that is lower than having a desktop," said John Kish, CEO of Wyse Technology, in San Jose, Calif.

Indeed, generating a quick return on investment ranked high in Foss decision to use 300 ClearCube blade desktops, he said.

Some of the perks included storing data remotely inside server rooms only accessible to IT staff and shuttering USB ports on the desk side.

To be sure, the number of thin clients shipped each year is still relatively small; there were roughly 2.4 million units shipped in 2005, versus the tens of millions of corporate desktops shipped the same year, according to IDC.

"The question really is how big [of a market] is it going to be," said Howard Locker, chief architect for PC product design at Lenovo Group, in Raleigh, N.C.

Locker said he believes that the desktop PC market will fragment over the next several years, producing a much higher percentage of notebook users—most so-called knowledge workers or content creators will use notebooks, he predicts—leaving traditional desktops to fight it out with desktop blades and other thin clients, he said.

But the trend for thin clients is still up. Thin-client shipments grew a whopping 42 percent in 2005. That growth wasnt a fluke, said Bob ODonnell, an analyst at IDC, in San Mateo, Calif.

By 2010, IDC predicts that thin clients will grow to take up as much as 15 percent of corporate desktop shipments in the United States and somewhat less worldwide.

"The benefits are that thin clients have about two times the lifetime of PCs—six to seven years—and [there are] no OS upgrades to worry about, necessarily," he said. "You can combine thin clients with some level of virtualization and come up with some interesting models."

Next Page: Thin-client parade.

John G. Spooner John G. Spooner, a senior writer for eWeek, chronicles the PC industry, in addition to covering semiconductors and, on occasion, automotive technology. Prior to joining eWeek in 2005, Mr. Spooner spent more than four years as a staff writer for CNET News.com, where he covered computer hardware. He has also worked as a staff writer for ZDNET News.

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