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The biggest savings, however, come from slashing support costs. IT shops no longer have to send techies out to replace a dead drive or disinfect a virus-plagued OS.
“Most problems we have are from lightning strikes, power surges, or when somebody drops a client and runs it over with a forklift,” says Keystone’s Arriaga. When a Neoware machine does fail, he simply swaps in a new one. A similarly afflicted PC would require one to two weeks’ downtime, he adds.
That, in turn, allows organizations to offer higher quality support, says Sparkasse’s Neumaier. “With thin clients, we have more time to support the applications and needs of each user, and not just their PCs.”
Too Rich, Too Thin?
If thin clients are so great, why don’t all enterprises ditch those troublesome security nightmares on their desks?
One obvious reason: Network-based computers can’t match PCs for performance, especially with graphics-intensive applications. “If you’re doing 3D solid modeling, digital video editing, or any other highly graphics intensive apps, you’ll want a dedicated high-performance PC,” admits Michael Kantrowitz, CEO of Neoware.
Compatibility problems with delivering line-of-business apps to thin clients have largely disappeared, says IDC’s Bob O’Donnell, but trying to integrate in-house or custom apps with Citrix or Microsoft Terminal Services can still be a bear. Support for peripherals such as scanners and PDAs can also be spotty, depending on the client, but machines running embedded XP can support more than 9,000 devices.
Thin clients may be cheaper than PCs, but they aren’t necessarily cheap. The money IT departments save on desktops often translates into higher server costs, as well as higher salaries for network-savvy support staff.
For example, when the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school district moved from PCs and Macs to a Citrix-based solution, it jumped from just a few servers running specialized applications to 42, says Ray Reitz, CTO of the North Carolina district. Yet Reitz says maintaining 42 servers is easier than managing 4,000 unique desktops.
Another big downside, unlike those with desktops, employees with thin clients can’t keep working offline when the network goes down. For Garrett Martin, IT Director of Cayonlands Community Health Care in Arizona, that was a real problem.