The skinny on thin client mobility

How far are we from a world where every client is always connected?

True thin clients, by definition, require a constant network connection. To untether a thin client and use it for anything more than an expensive fashion accessory, it must travel within a pervasive wireless cloud.

In circumscribed areas such as warehouses, manufacturing plants, hospitals, and corporate campuses, mobile thin clients can be an excellent fit. At Wellspan Health in York, Pennsylvania, for example, nurses and doctors are trying out thin tablet PCs as well as COWs (computers on wheels) instead of paper charts. These Wyse thin clients and LCD displays sit on carts powered by a huge 14-hour battery; doctors and nurses wheel a COW into a patient’s room and record their vitals; the data is uploaded through an internal Wi-Fi network to a central database.

For traveling executives, mobility and thin client computing make for an uneasy compromise between the power of working offline and the insecurities it brings. The result is frequently a hybrid solution using conventional hardware. When notebook toters log into the City of Dayton’s terminal servers, for example, all their offline work is copied back to the City’s MetaFrame servers and scanned for viruses. Dayton IT director Bill Hill is mulling a solution that would allow him to put a local OS on a thumb drive; travelers would check out the drive when they leave, plug it into their mobile thin client when they need to work offline, and hand it back when they return.

Even when executives who work for thin client vendors take standard Windows laptops with them when they travel, they continue to log into their company’s thin client servers.

Bob Gardner, director of corporate development at Citrix, says it’s a rare day when he can’t find some way to connect to his company’s servers. “Worst case scenario, I can still get along fine at 56K,” he says, noting that Citrix sessions consist of keystrokes and screenshots that require little bandwidth.

Others say it’s merely a matter of time before wireless net connections are inexpensive and ubiquitous enough to make such questions moot.

“I have a thin client in my office, but I still carry a laptop,” says Robbie Robinson, senior vice president of worldwide sales at Wyse. “But in two years’ time I see the day where I can fly to Singapore with a thin client laptop and pull down data and applications to refresh the machine, just like you can do with a Blackberry today. Over the next two years, I believe a portable thin client will become the most common mobile executive device.”

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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