While hard economic times have pummeled commercial PC sales, enterprise demand for thin clients remains strong.
Once belittled as dumb terminals, thin clients, featuring Internet browsers and multimedia capabilities, are now winning over enterprise users. In a move that should help foster further growth in thin-client sales, Wyse Technology Inc., which produces about half of all thin clients sold, will unveil two Windows-based appliances this month.
Wyses Winterm 9235LE and 9440XL will offer enhanced multimedia capabilities and come with the Windows XP Embedded operating system, which will support applications that can be run on a thin client. In addition, support for Microsoft Corp.s .Net platform will be integrated with the operating system. Both thin clients can be outfitted for 802.11b connectivity.
Prices for the Winterm 9235LE will start at $649 for a memory configuration of 128MB/256MB (flash/RAM). The more robust Winterm 9440XL, which will have the flexibility to be upgraded with PC-type peripherals, such as a hard drive, will start at $869 for a configuration of 192MB/ 256MB.
In addition, Wyse, of San Jose, Calif., this month will announce a partnership with Netilla Networks Inc., of Somerset, N.J., under which Wyse will offer Winterm clients featuring data security enhancements from Netilla.
Global thin-client sales are expected to climb almost 30 percent this year, in contrast to commercial PCs, sales forecasts for which are expected to be flat, according to data released this month by International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass.
Enterprise users are unlikely to notice differences in comparing thin clients with a PC platform, but for system managers, those differences are dramatic. Most thin clients lack hard drives and fans, reducing repair costs. In addition, the lack of hard drives ensures that vital data resides on servers. Software upgrades and revisions are easier to deploy, since they can be done from the server, rather than rolled out across multiple PCs.
"Most of our workers dont really require PC capability," said Robert Reeder, vice president of information and communications services at Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, which has begun rolling out wireless and conventional thin-client terminals from Wyse. Probably two-thirds of our PCs are in a smart-terminal environment," where they essentially serve as an access device to a server, Reeder said.
And Reeder said hes not interested in more powerful PCs. "We certainly dont need the next chip-speed upgrade," he said. "Were focusing on spending more on building up our infrastructure, like networking, rather than on peripherals, like PCs."
The migration to thin clients is particularly strong in certain vertical markets, according to IDC analyst Bob ODonnell.
"In several industries, youre seeing some strong support for thin clients, such as retail, banking, hospitality and education," ODonnell said. "Theres growing recognition that thin clients are a solid alternative to PCs.
An executive with Wyses top thin-client rival, Neoware Systems Inc., said increasing understanding and acceptance of thin clients by corporate customers will ensure future growth.
"Over the last several years, it was very much a show me kind of situation," said Howard Hunger, executive vice president of Neoware, in King of Prussia, Pa. "Today, many large companies now understand it, see the value in it and are looking for opportunities to deploy it."