Will Virtualization Bring Thin Clients To SMBs? - InformationWeek

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2/12/2009
02:53 PM
Fredric Paul
Fredric Paul
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Will Virtualization Bring Thin Clients To SMBs?

If you work at a small or midsize business, you probably haven't seen a so-called "thin client" for a long, long time. If you've ever even heard of them, you may have thought they were almost extinct, living on only in the dusty corners of huge bureaucratic organizations that never got the memo about personal computers. Well, Wyse Technology says they're ba-a-a-ck! Sort of.

If you work at a small or midsize business, you probably haven't seen a so-called "thin client" for a long, long time. If you've ever even heard of them, you may have thought they were almost extinct, living on only in the dusty corners of huge bureaucratic organizations that never got the memo about personal computers. Well, Wyse Technology says they're ba-a-a-ck! Sort of.According to Jeff McNaught, Chief Marketing Office for Wyse Technology -- the number 2 thin-client maker behind HP, they never really went away, they just changed their role in the computing world. And now, he says, they're coming to an SMB near you.

Why? For the same benefits thin clients, or terminals, have always promised: low per-user costs and complete control of what happens on the desktop.

Cheaper Than Already Cheap? These days, you can buy a complete thin-client terminal for less than $200 (not including monitor). That may not seem like such a huge bargain in an era when netbook computers sell for $300. But the actual terminal cost is only the first part of the cost equation, McNaught says.

Wyse_Vclass_175x264 Wyse Viance Desktop Appliance for Citrix XenDesktop

The big savings comes in changing the IT profile. All the boxes run off a $1,500 terminal server running Microsoft Terminal OS. You just hook up the thin clients to the server and you're done. The "appliances" have no hard-drives for users and IT staff to monkey with, no Microsoft operating system on them (just the Wyse ThinOS which takes up less than 10MB).

By eliminating several layers of complextity, there is "no local IT staff needed," "no personalization of the devices," and "fewer places to have have problems," McNaught claims. Security is enhanced with an additional layer of policy controls on top of the operating system, so IT has a much higher degree of control. And he cites studies reporting that thin clients consume up to 70% less energy than standard PCs.

How Many Second Chances? Sounds good, right? But if thin clients are so wonderful, why don't they dominate the industry, as many observers predicted they would back in the '90s?

Turns out that while many apps ran great in the client/server environment, others didn't. Video, 3D graphics, and multimedia didn't work -- or didn't work fast enough -- and non-standard applications caused problems when dealing with a server and a terminal. Thin clients were mostly relegated to what McNaught calls "task-based work" -- filling out forms and such. Knowledge workers simply wouldn't put up with 'em.

Virtualization software, however, rewrote the equation, allowing the server to put whatever OS was needed where it was needed. Suddenly, you could isolate those non-standard apps in a single virtual machine, and they would run just fine.

But what about those multimedia apps? Us fussy knowledge workers don't want to live without our YouTube videos when we're supposed to be doing the budget, now do we? To address that problem, McNaught says, Wyse built a brand-new software practice to improve provisioning, management and virtualization of thin clients. I didn't get to test it, but he says that multimedia and performance are no longer issues. And as desktop virtualization takes off, McNaught says, Gartner estimates that 40% of new virtualized desktops will be thin clients.

There's some support for McNaught's views from other thin client makers. In a recent InformationWeek article, Charlie Babcock notes that Germany's IGEL Technology recently became the world's Number 3 producer of thin desktops on the strength of a universal Desktop that supports major virtualized desktops.

Thin Clients Of The Cloud Eventually, McNaught predicts, cable companies and telcos may deliver computing directly to thin clients from the cloud. "They've gotta do this," he says. They have data centers and home and business connnectivity they want to keep from becoming "irrelevant." Think of it as "Centrex for data -- voice, data, video."

Sounds crazy, but McNaught counters with an ATM analogy. At first, banks had to pay people to use cash machines, but eventually they became part of the everyday landscape -- and now banks charge you to use the ATM.

If he's right, small and midsize companies would likely be first in line - especially for remote users. As McNaught puts it: "PCs are the SUVs of the computing world." Think about it that way, and ask yourself why do you even need or want "thick clients" in your business?

Maybe not, though I bet you still want a full-fledged PC on your own desk, right?

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