Hewlett-Packard (HP) on Tuesday took the wraps off new thin-client devices designed to help IT managers provide basic computing power for low-end users with greater control over those systems.
Thin-client computing is not a new idea, and has never captured broad interest across the desktop computing world. But the concept is getting a fresh look from IT managers fed up with maintaining PCs for users who run a limited set of applications. Thin-client hardware sits on a user's desktop and provides a small amount of computing power and storage resources, but the majority of that user's computing needs are handled by a central server and coordinated by thin-client software.
Low acquisition costs and security are two of the primary reasons to consider a thin-client architecture, said Greg Schmidt, product marketing manager for HP. At around $300 per device, HP's three new thin clients in its Compaq T5000 family are cheaper than low-end PCs. And since just about all of the user's data and applications sit on a central server, it becomes much easier for the IT department to update security policies or manage the rollout of new software by updating just one server, rather than a disparate network of PCs, he said.
This is recommended for groups of workers who use a limited and predefined set of applications, Schmidt said. Groups such as call-center staffers, financial analysts and bank tellers are some examples.
However, IT managers are conservative folk, and many fear they will be locked into an unfamiliar thin-client architecture if they move away from their traditional PCs, said Roger Kay, vice president of client computing for IDC in Framingham.
"Even though you can demonstrate a lot of savings and benefits, it's different. IT departments decide to go with the fat client we know, rather than the thin client we don't," Kay said.
In any event, around 80 percent of thin-client deployments wind up on a traditional PC, HP's Schmidt said. Some IT managers like the idea of centrally managing applications and security policies but want to give their employees the flexibility to download and work with a new application that requires more computing power, he said. Citrix Systems Inc. makes software that allows them to do this on existing PCs.
Another option for thin-client computing with a little more muscle is an emerging technology known as blade PCs. Blade PCs are similar to thin-client devices in that computing resources are centralized, but each user of a blade PC has their own dedicated processor and storage device like a standard PC. The blade PCs are stored in a cabinet in an IT department's server room, and are connected to the user's desktop through Ethernet cables and a small user interface box that resides on the desktop. ClearCube Inc. is a leader in the market for blade PCs, and HP also sells its own blade PC products.
Blade PCs overcome some of the performance complaints that have plagued thin-client rollouts and still give IT managers control over a user's security software and application deployment, Kay said. However, they don't offer the same performance as a mainstream desktop or notebook PC, and the IT manager still has to maintain individual pieces of hardware, he said.