Thin clients: The time is now

Virtualization technology could push that old desktop PC right off your desk

Consider your current computing situation. A few hardy souls reading this are squinting at their Blackberries, cell phones, or even iPhones and scrolling furiously from screen to screen. Most of you, though, are staring at a standard computer monitor, which is tethered to a conventional, full-featured PC -- of either the desktop or notebook flavor.

A year from now, I suspect, the mix will be a bit different. Laptop and handheld solutions will continue to proliferate. But technological advances are finally getting ready to give the desktop PC the old heave-ho, at least in larger corporate environments. Their replacement? The thin client: a dumb, network-connected terminal capable of delivering a desktop-like experience without all that costly, energy-draining hardware on the desk.

I know, you’ve heard this before. Thin-client computing was supposed to overthrow the desktop years ago. It never happened. Application compatibility issues scuttled that dream, as did dissatisfaction with the user experience. The difference today can best be summed up in three words: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), a virtualization technology that has recently come of age.

No surprise then that InfoWorld has an analysis of how VDI works and how it is changing the landscape -- see today’s “Virtualizing the desktop.” The initial impetus for companies to adopt the technology is cost, as a two-way quad core VDI server can easily handle more than 50 users, all outfitted with inexpensive thin-clients. In addition, terminals draw much less power and throw off less heat than a full-fledged desktop, which is both fiscally and environmentally correct. So it’s obvious why management is embracing the concept. Will users follow suit? Maybe so, since VDI delivers desktop computing that feels like the real thing.

Speaking of users, we're tweaking “Off the Record” -- those real-life user-contributed tales of workplace woe and wonder -- to introduce a monthly theme. First up: frustrating tech. If you’ve ever worked with a technology that seemed to defy all logic or simply drove you up the wall, share your experience with other readers. As an added incentive to contribute, one chosen storyteller per week will snag a T-shirt that proclaims "I went ‘Off the Record’ at" (along with the customary $25 American Express gift check).

If you’re really lucky, maybe you’ll also contribute a tasty tidbit to Cringely’s Notes From the Field blog and be picked to received a garish yellow “I Spy 4 Cringely” bike messenger bag to go with your T-shirt. Wouldn’t that make a stunning fashion statement on your next geek vacation?

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