By Matt Hines  |  Posted 2006-09-25 Print this article Print

Despite the security benefits promised by thin clients, some industry watchers remain skeptical that enterprises are going to make major investments soon. While the computing model works well for employees such as bank tellers and customer service representatives who dont typically take laptops home from work with them, information workers such as engineers and consultants still need the ability to access business data when they cant get online, said Natalie Lambert, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.

"Theres no doubt that thin client is a hot topic and CIOs are talking about it, but I think the pure thin-client model wont work for a lot of companies with large numbers of information workers who need access to data when theyre on the road or flying in airplanes," Lambert said. "Technologies such as full disk encryption and information leakage prevention will allow companies to keep their laptops while lowering the security risks."

Lambert pointed to Microsofts Windows BitLocker disk drive encryption technology as an example of the kind of tools already being adopted to help better protect data on desktops and laptops, along with data leakage applications made by companies including PortAuthority Technologies and Vontu. The analyst said that businesses are also exploring the use of so-called hybrid computing clients that will allow workers to store some data on their devices, but not in the same volumes as in traditional laptop file platforms.

Of all the reasons being given by CIOs for employing new security technologies, Lambert said that for many the No. 1 concern is keeping their names out of the headlines that have followed high-profile laptop and computer thefts at organizations like AIG, Fidelity Investments and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Click here to read more about the recent spate of computer thefts. California and a number of other U.S. states have enacted legislation that requires companies to publicly report potential data breaches, and protecting the corporate image often rivals any concern over the actual loss of the sensitive information, the analyst said.

"Public disclosure is a huge security driver, and encryption is being deployed by a lot of firms to solve this tactical issue specifically," she said.

CIOs may be calling technology vendors and industry analysts to talk about solving security headaches using thin clients, but at least one IT executive said that the potential productivity loss that could result in making such a shift remains too significant of an issue to adopt thin clients on a widespread basis.

"We have a project going on to lock down mobile devices, but were not going to thin client. There are too many impractical aspects and people still need to be able to work offline and have the necessary resources available on their machines," said David Webb, chief information officer for Silicon Valley Bank, based in Santa Clara. "You can do a lot of things to manage data on the machine to help protect yourself; end users get mad when they cant access data, and something like full disk encryption goes a long way toward solving many problems."

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.


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