Dell Launches Thin Client Alternative To Traditional Desktops - InformationWeek

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Hardware & Infrastructure

Dell Launches Thin Client Alternative To Traditional Desktops

Dell says its On-Demand Desktop Streaming technology can reduce IT labor costs by 56%.

Dell on Wednesday introduced a thin-client offering for large and midsize organizations looking to switch from traditional desktops to machines that run off a central server delivering the operating system, applications, and data.

Dell unveiled its On-Demand Desktop Streaming technology at the Gartner IT Expo in Orlando, Fla. The computer maker claims its new alternative to conventional desktops can reduce IT labor costs by 56%. The new product is targeted at large and midsize commercial and institutional organizations, such as call centers and education computer labs.

The Dell package includes OptiPlex 745 and 755 desktops, both without hard disk drives and scheduled for release in November; a PowerEdge 2950 server, a PowerConnect Gigabit switch, Citrix Provisioning Sever for Desktops software, and a PowerEdge 2900 storage server. Dell is the single supplier for all the components, and also offers deployment services and ongoing support.

The average cost of the complete system is $1,100 per user, and each PowerEdge 2950 server can handle as many as 100 OptiPlex machines.

Dell claims the total cost of ownership for the new system is less than a conventional PC, a so-called fat client that's loaded with applications and hard disk drives. The thin-client alternative is easier and less expensive to secure, and only the software on the shared server needs to be patched or upgraded, the computer maker said.

But some experts aren't so sure that the new system would save much money, given the upfront cost of replacing a company's current infrastructure. Also making thin clients less attractive is the low-cost of business PCs, which Dell sells for less than $400. "This kind of solution still requires an initial investment and change in infrastructure that I don't think will appeal to a large number of corporations," Toni Duboise, analyst for Current Analysis West, told InformationWeek.

Dell is not the only computer maker to recently come out with thin-client systems. NEC in April introduced its Virtual PC Center, which is a combination of proprietary hardware and software that NEC says can run PC applications, including audio, graphics, and video, on a thin-client without any latency problems. Dell also claims its system of dumb terminals can deliver applications and data as quickly as a traditional desktop system.

Duboise agreed that thin-client technology is far better than in years past, when delays in running applications made the systems undesirable. "What's different today is that streaming applications are better supported by the technological advancements," she said.

Nevertheless, Dell's latest product is likely to be limited to companies looking for new desktop infrastructure or to replace their current systems, Duboise said. Other potential customers are likely to wait until Dell can offer as references companies that have been successful with large-scale deployments. "It's going to take a couple of (customer) wins," she said.

As to the services and support Dell is offering, the company over the last couple of years has been criticized for failing to maintain the quality of its customer support. The company, however, appears to be solving those problems. "They have definitely shown improvements on their service scorecard," Duboise said.

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