During the past year, Canyonlands converted from Windows PCs to Hewlett-Packard thin clients in five health clinics spread across a remote part of the state. The clinics communicate with the datacenter by microwave link. When the link goes down — which seems to happen once a week, says Martin — the clinics can’t access their patient charts, which means they can’t treat anybody.
Martin’s solution is to install HP servers in each office containing the clinic’s medical records. Now, when network outages occur, the clinics can keep operating, then synch back up with the servers in his Page, Ariz., office when they come back online.
Yet for some IT managers, the biggest problem is prying the PCs from the clutches of users convinced that going thin means getting something less in return.
“We had some people who considered themselves ‘power users’ who had to have a PC because they’re special,” says Dayton’s Bill Hill. “They managed to put up a good political fight, so they still have a desktop. But they’re running a [Citrix] metaframe session, so they have PCs that are really just thin clients.”
A Phat Future
Not everyone believes that thin clients are the holy grail of enterprise computing.
The Gartner Group’s Martin Reynolds sees thin clients as a natural choice for niche markets and companies moving operations offshore, where data security can be an especially thorny issue, but he doesn’t see them replacing mainstream business desktop computers. In part because they’re less powerful and flexible than PCs, and partly because many businesses are moving away from desktops and toward notebooks, which can pose problems for traveling execs who need to log in to the corporate LAN to access their apps.
Wyse CEO John Kish predicts thin clients will continue to enjoy strong growth in enterprises, but believes the real revolution will take place in the consumer market, as telcos and ISPs provide low-cost appliances that deliver digital services to the home.
“New consumer devices are being designed that have the same characteristics as the enterprise thin client — no persistent storage or memory or operating environments — which will forever alter the consumer economic landscape,” Kish says. “As devices become less expensive, services will proliferate and the big winner will be the consumer, as it should be.”
But for CIOs like Sparkasse’s Neumaier thin is definitely in, and Windows PCs are on their way out.
“When the PC first came out, it was great for lowering our costs, ... but those days are over,” Neumaier says. “I think the whole IT world now sees it’s not really such a good idea to have a PC on every desktop. We’re an enterprise; we need enterprise computers. We must go back to where we started, go back to the roots, back to the host.”