Hewlett-Packard believes the sweetest spot of the PC market is also the thinnest.
The company, which remains the world’s top PC vendor, is announcing three new thin-client PCs Jan. 24, including a new laptop model and two other standard thin clients that support either Microsoft Windows or Debian Linux.
The three new thin clients mark the first time that HP is rolling out new hardware in this space since it paid $214 million in 2007 for Neoware, a leading designer of thin client computers that offered a range of hardware and software for its customers. The new products also signal HP’s willingness to invest in alternative methods of delivering computing to enterprise clients.
“There are a lot of changes taking place in the desktop environment,” Klaus Besier, the former CEO of Neoware and now vice president of HP’s Thin Client Solutions, told eWEEK. “The desktop is a complex infrastructure and it is not always necessary for all types of users that are out there to have a full blown PC. I think that in business you are finding more and more people in IT and executives looking at that opportunity to simplify the infrastructure.”
While thin-client PCs-essentially computers with no moving parts that connect through a network to a centralized server in the data center-remain small compared to the larger market for standard desktop and notebooks, it is a market projected to grow by about 20 percent annually during the next several years, according to IDC. In 2008, HP is projecting that it will sell about one million thin clients into the market. (By comparison, HP shipped a total of 50 million PCs worldwide in 2007.)
In offering more thin clients, HP rolled out a familiar list of benefits thin clients can offer to businesses, including better security, better return on investment, longer lifecycle, easier management and being less of a drain on the electric bill. For example, while HP’s most energy-efficient desktop uses about 80 watts of power, an HP thin client uses about 16 watts and makes less noise.
HP offers expanded back-end support
In addition to the actual clients, HP is offering expanded back-end support for developing a centralized computing model, including a range of PC blades and servers for this type of deployment. One of the reasons it acquired Neoware was to tap that company’s software suites that offer better management tools, graphics capabilities and ability to stream applications from a Citrix server. While Thursday’s announcement centered on hardware improvements, HP is also planning to integrate more Neoware software into its centralized computing solutions starting this year
“Neoware had a pretty good manageability stack and it also had pretty good imaging software that allowed for better utilization of the thin client,” said Mark Margevicius, an analyst with Gartner. “Neoware also has a very large customer base and a huge portion of that base was outside of the U.S., which also gives HP a foothold in the emerging markets.”
HP is not the only major vendor to offer an end-to-end centralized computing solution. In 2007, Dell offered its own version that uses its PowerEdge servers, traditional Dell desktops with the hard drives removed and back-end streaming and virtualization technology from Citrix.
The idea of the centralized model is to move thin clients out of their niche as PCs for call centers and other temporary workers into mainstream enterprises and vertical markets, such as health care and education.
Analysts have said that one of the main obstacles in the way of developing this type of computing, besides finding the right combination of software and hardware, is changing the mindset of a workforce that still sees value in traditional desktops and notebooks.
Tad Bodeman, the director of HP’s Thin Client Business Unit, admitted there were problems in developing this type of computing model. However, he noted that many companies may chose to make incremental deployments as they look to replace older PCs.
Younger generations will respond to thin clients
Bodeman also believes that a younger generation of workers, who are more accustomed to Web-based applications and less concerned with the actual hardware, will respond to a centralized model with a thin client as an end device.
“The kids that are coming out of college today have grown up on-line,” said Bodeman. “They are coming out of universities and they don’t want to have [Microsoft] Outlook because IT went through this process of updating the PC environment. They just want to come in and go to a Web-based application and do what they have to do to be productive. So there is a very cultural transition that is taking place…We will increasingly see the PC become an on-line experience.”
As part of its new portfolio of thin clients, HP is adding a laptop called the Compaq 6720t, which is based on an Intel Celeron M processor. It has a clock speed of 1.06GHz, a 15.4-inch display and also uses a solid state drive. The laptop also supports 802.11 a/b/g WLAN (wireless LAN) technologies and it also supports 3G broadband wireless.
The starting price for the 6720t is $725 and the laptop will go on sale later this month.
In addition, HP also has two new desktop models, the Compaq t5730, which is based on Windows XPe, and the Compaq t5735, which used Debian Linux. The two thin clients, which both use Advanced Micro Devices processors and offer a number of USB 2.0 ports, are available now from HP with the Linux-based model starting at $450.
The t5730 also offers integrated WLAN capabilities as well. Both of the new thin clients offer HP’s OpenView Client Configuration Manager software and HP is also working to integrate more and more of Neoware’s imaging and streaming software with its complete centralized computing solutions.