Time to Think Small?

You can still see the faded high occupancy vehicle (HOV) diamonds painted on the left lane of Interstate 80 in New Jersey.

You can still see the faded high occupancy vehicle (HOV) diamonds painted on the left lane of Interstate 80 in New Jersey. If anyplace needed an HOV lane, it was the commuter-clogged expressway.

But people hated it, and driver backlash forced the state to eventually abandon the experiment.

IDC analyst Ann Bui sees similarities between HOV lanes and thin-client computing. Both ideas make sense in terms of logic and efficiency. "Car-pool lanes totally maximize the lane," observes Bui. "When youre carpooling, you look at those to your right and you say, What a waste of freeway! "

Not every employee needs a full-fledged PC when dozens can hop on buses, so to speak, and use thin clients connected to common servers. But just as they put up with bumper-to-bumper traffic jams instead of sharing with other commuters, many workers prefer coping with hard-drive crashes, e-mail viruses, lost floppies and Windows bugs in lieu of giving up desktop PCs.

"I think corporations are becoming more aware of the benefits of thin clients, and I think the adoption rate is getting up," says Bui. "But ... one of the obstacles to the thin-client market is the unwillingness of users to give up their PC-based environment." However, says Ryno Technology president Steve Kaplan, most employees primarily want to do good work and soon realize the benefits of thin clients. "We find if users are properly educated ahead of time and they understand the benefits of thin clients to themselves and the organization, they get enthusiastic."

Even if dumping $1,500 PCs in favor of $500 thin clients makes sense for a company, why would a systems integrator recommend such a move if it means giving up revenue from all of those PC upgrades and repairs? "To improve the customer experience and satisfaction with the goods and services you sell," says Jeffrey Knight, manager of channels marketing for Wyse Technology.

Dean Maire, VP of strategy and business development at thin-client specialist Imagecom, sees thin clients gaining ground. "Corporate America has embraced centralized computing, and that trend brings the intelligence back from the end-user client device to the central data center," he says.

To get in the thin-client business, your networking pros will probably also need knowledge of W2K terminal server, and training in Citrix or SCOs Tarantella, because most thin-client rollouts rely on Citrixs or SCOs middleware.

An informal [email protected] Partner survey found that thin-client specialists with Citrix know-how earn between $65,000 and $120,000 annually, and are billed out at rates ranging from $200 per hour to $250 per hour.

Wyses Knight says many company officials agreed long ago that the client/server model made sense. However, instead of immediately converting to thin clients, some organizations tried to get more life out of their already long-in-the-tooth PCs.

"But," he adds, "ultimately, they see that switching to the thin client is a better long-term solution for them." Knight also suggests that integrators now focused on PC deployments might add new lines of business by considering thin clients. "It permits resellers in the PC world to perhaps tackle the enterprise and Unix world," he says.

It might be time to look into partnering with a thin-client maker, with everything looking a bit thin in the IT world.