ClearCube pushes centralized computing with thin PCs

Two new user port computers launched

ClearCube Technology launched two new user port computers on Monday, adding faster Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) processors to its PCs.

The new I/Port access devices are the I8820, running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP Embedded, and I8020, running Linux. The two models are otherwise identical, both improving on the last-generation Capio One devices from ClearCube by shrinking their weight from 6 to 3 pounds and their size from a cereal box to a paperback book, said Ken Knotts, senior technologist for ClearCube, in Austin, Texas.

Both models have also upgraded their AMD Geode processor from 200MHz to 333MHz. The devices use the processor only for administrative functions, relying on back-end blade servers to handle the rest. The I8820 and I8020 both ship this week, priced at US$599, not counting the back-end blade.

In the PC blade model, IT managers host all their data storage and processing hardware in a central location, while remote users tap into those resources over a network.

PC blade computing is similar to a thin-client design, except that it reserves a single processor for one to four users, instead of sharing that resource among many people and incurring potential network traffic problems, Knotts said.

"The way you look at your PC today is going to be very different in a couple of years," he said. "You have a phone on your desk, but you don't need to know how it works; all you know is that it meets your needs. Your PC should be the same way."

A complete ClearCube system includes a rack-mounted blade computer running Intel Pentium 4 or dual Xeon processors, a cage holding up to eight such blades in a 5.25-inch high enclosure, management software for IT administrators, and a "user port" that connects a worker's keyboard, mouse and monitor to the network.

Since users cannot load software to their local machines, administrators say the system lets them safeguard data on centralized hard drives, avoid viruses and upgrade software and hardware at any time.

John C. Lincoln Hospital in Phoenix began replacing laptops with ClearCube user ports in 2003 to reduce theft, extend battery life and improve data security, said Rob Israel, the hospital's chief information officer.

Hospital staffers use many of those PCs as mobile computers on wheels, or COWS, so the hospital was a beta tester for the I8820. Today the hospital uses I/Ports for about one-third of its 2,800 PCs. Israel expects to add 32 more blades over the next 18 months, adding 128 more users.

"When we had laptops on carts, they had to call the help desk when they lost connectivity, and they would also lose their data input. Now we can restore connectivity centrally, and they can go back to the last keystroke, because their session is still active. If they had typed in the first three digits of your social security number, they can pick up with the fourth digit," Israel said.

ClearCube's announcement came the same day that VMware Inc. announced a technology alliance of hardware, software and service providers to build virtual desktop systems.

This Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Alliance includes 25 companies, encompassing thin-client vendors like ClearCube and Wyse Technology Inc. as well as traditional hardware vendors like Fujitsu Ltd., Hewlett-Packard Co., Hitachi Ltd. and IBM Corp.

Together they will build networks that enable IT administrators to perform centralized maintenance of common desktop problems such as ensuring data security and privacy for outsourced and remote workers.

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