Hitachi replacing PCs with thin clients

Data security concerns will lead the company to roll out 16,000 thin clients over next two years

Concerns about data security are making Hitachi, one of Japan's biggest electronics companies, replace more of its employees' PCs with thin clients, the company said at a news conference Monday.

Over the next two years, the company will roll out 16,000 thin clients within the company, according to Kazuo Furukawa, chief executive officer of Information and Telecommunication Systems at Hitachi. Thin clients are computers that can access networks but do not contain hard disks. "Security is becoming an extremely severe problem and passwords are no longer enough," he said.

The decision to replace more PCs with thin clients follows a trial with 2,000 of the company's first-generation Flora Se210 thin clients that started this February, Furukawa said.

Authorized users identify and authenticate themselves with the thin client using a USB (Universal Serial Bus) device that acts as a key. Access to the company server through the client is password protected, Hitachi said. The company is now considering replacing all of its Japan-based employees' notebook and desktop PCs with thin clients, Furukawa said.

Hitachi has about 242,000 employees in Japan, according to Takamitsu Yoneyama, a spokesman for the company.

As well as the Se210, Hitachi will use two new thin client models running the Windows XP Embedded operating system. It will also sell these models to other Japanese companies in the second half of this year, it said.

The Se310 desktop PC and the Se270 notebook PC replacements both have 256MB of DDR SDRAM (synchronous DRAM) memory and use Intel's Celeron processors, the former a 2.4GHz version, and the latter 1.4GHz, Hitachi said.

The Se310 goes on sale on July 15 for ¥124,000 ($1,147) and the Se270 goes on sale Aug. 9 for ¥129,000, the company said.

The company will also sell server modules that are designed to replace the disk drives absent from the thin clients. These modules have 1.4GHz Celeron processors and 2.5-inch, 40GB hard disks. Up to 14 modules can be accommodated in a base unit. One is needed per thin client. The modules and base units will go on sale in Japan on June 3.

The modules will retail at ¥129,500, and the base units at ¥200,000 each, the company said.

While the new clients will use the USB key device, the company will also put a finger vein-pattern reader on sale in the fourth quarter for use with the thin clients, Hitachi said. The price has yet to be announced.

Additionally, Hitachi is also considering selling the thin clients and server modules overseas, it said.

While Hitachi is pushing the system for internal use, potential buyers should remember there are more pragmatic and potentially less expensive ways to bolster security for laptop PCs, said Kazuyuki Ide, an analyst and research manager at IDC Japan. "Their system is easily understood, but there are so many other methods, such as file encryption, that are competing," he said.

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