Yesterday Hewlett-Packard acquired Neoware for $214 million. This was the same day that Hewlett-Packard also acquired Opsware for $1.6 billion. While Opsware is designed to rectify data center provisioning and system management problems of the past, Neoware is much more a bet on the computing model for the future. If you were designing a computer system for your business without any thought of past legacies of Windows and client/server computing and client-based applications, you would opt for thin clients. Here’s why.
Pushed along by Google, even Microsoft is acknowledging that the future of computing will be applications running as services that are mashed together and presented to the user through a browser interface. While that future for business is still a few years off, thin-client computing can bring a business a lot of those benefits right now. Applications running on a host and delivered over a network to a thin client are easier to deploy, easier to upgrade, easier to manage and far more secure.
The issue used to be latency and scale, as slow networks made applications crawl from the server to the client and the system slowed even more as more clients came onto the network. Mobile users on laptops were often seriously out of luck. Disconnected users were simply not able to access their required applications. Increased bandwidth, tighter coding and widespread Internet access have eased most of the big issues, and the ability to operate in a disconnected mode and replicate on reattachment has been answered since the days of Lotus Notes. If you are a business where most of your employees are working in offices, thin-client applications will save you many hours of help desk calls and virus sweeps.
The reason, I think, why thin clients are still only a fast-growing but small niche is inertia. It is still easier to upgrade systems and hardware than embark on a new model. That is a shame, and it will change. Application distribution, hardware upgrade costs and even energy consumption all seriously favor thin computing.
And Comcast? I’ve always thought thin clients and cable-based computing made great sense for home users. I have still not been proved correct on this as the cable and telco operators have all opted for three-in-one packages (phone, television and Internet access) rather than taking that access to the logical conclusion by also offering computing capabilities. But I’m still hopeful.