Thin, mean and green – a quick way to save corporate IT cash while cutting CO2

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Content Copyright © 2007 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Could the days be numbered for desktop PCs
in large enterprises? I think so. Several factors have come together to finally
ratchet up acceptance of thin clients (although not quite as we knew them) and
all of them tell me the corporate ‘fat client’ PC has now had its day.

First, the lack of security and control
over distributed enterprise infrastructures, coupled with intensifying
compliance and governance issues, is leading to a return to centralised
infrastructure management. Next comes pressure on IT departments to cut costs
while maintaining performance and (incidentally) be seen as more green. Thirdly—and most interesting to me at least—is innovation on the part of some thin
client vendors which has opened up new possibilities.

Thin clients have been around for a couple
of decades and more. So a quick recap on what they can do is probably useful before
describing where we are today. Typically they replace desktop PCs so that users
still experience the familiar PC look and feel; they contain no operating
system or user application software and internally carry flash memory rather
than hard disk; so communication is directly with the server-based

Some obvious benefits of this approach are:
a tiny processor footprint, reduced concerns about remote users either taking
away sensitive data or losing it through failing to take a local backup, reduced
capital outlay and especially hugely reduced running costs versus PCs. For
example, a thin client may use as little as 24W of power (more typically 40–50W
for feature-rich models) versus a desktop PC using, say, 85W; this indirectly provides
the green (CO2) saving from less energy production.

Thin clients nowadays come with a number of
form factors and capabilities. What these do is increase the flexibility and
options for how and where they can be deployed.

To illustrate this and give a flavour of
what is possible I shall here concentrate on one vendor—German manufacturer IGEL
Technology. This company carries no less than seven different thin client product
ranges. Formats include: traditional desktop, LCD integrated, mobile rugged tablet,
quad screens controlled from a single processor (for design studios for instance), integrated
smart card reader (some models).

Moreover, Stephen Yeo, IGEL’s worldwide strategic marketing director, told me recently: “There will be amazing ground-breaking new products in first half 2008.”

So what will these be? I could be
completely wrong, but I will dare to speculate that there will be some devices
to attack the mobile laptop and PDA territory with Wi-Fi connection, since the
‘desktop-killer’ products are already out there.

Returning to the present, all models come
bundled with a powerful remote management suite so that IT support staff will
probably never need to physically visit an unit throughout its working life—and the life should anyway far exceed that of a PC since new operating systems
and standards are typically supported through a small firmware upgrade. (Another
option is to take legacy PCs that cannot accommodate the latest Windows
‘bloatware’ and revitalise them as thin clients which can, just using an adapter

In September 2007, IGEL joined the VMware
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) Alliance
program and all its models now support VDI. Through VDI, IGEL client ‘virtual PCs’ can run almost any
operating system including Microsoft Windows and Linux, deployed using the ICA,
RDP or NX digital services standard.

By this means, customers can now deploy
server-based applications straight to the IGEL client, bypassing the virtual PC, for
instance to run Voice over IP (VoIP), SAP or mainframe terminal emulation. IT managers
can select the appropriate digital services for their VMware environments, so consolidating
devices, simplifying management, reducing costs, and achieving faster roll outs.
This allows them to deploy thin clients almost anywhere in the

Through the VMware VDI Alliance programme, technology vendors and service
providers (SPs) will offer their own solutions for VMware VDI deployments. The
technologies include servers, thin clients and software covering user
management and application provisioning.

Whether or not VDI is used, Yeo pointed out that re-purposing thin clients (from
IGEL at least) no longer involves scripting to change anything (which requires
an expert), but is now a simple point-and-click user function. “This increases customers’ abilities to deploy devices, consolidate networks with one management
tool, even take the VoIP telephone with them for home virtual offices.”

Thin clients are typically operating system
agnostic and so can communicate with almost anything and everything if the
firmware has appropriate communication format support. IGEL thin clients come
bundled with a range of standard communications support types for Linux,
Windows XP (and also Windows CE for appropriate models).*

So where is all this going? “The whole
strategy may lead to a more flexible organisation that is different day to day,”
says Yeo. “[IGEL’s approach] is very network friendly with no special
requirements and a fairly advanced management tool with second generation
remote management there.”

I can see no good reason why corporate
desktop PCs should not now rapidly fade away in favour of the thin (small),
mean (low cost/low energy) green desktop clients—which are also far more flexible to accommodate corporate needs in the longer term.

[*For the techies, IGEL thin clients support
(mostly) as standard according to model: Citrix ICA, Extended or Lite Program
Neighborhood, RDP including native Microsoft RDP, NoMachine NX client,
ThinPrint, X-Server, Cisco VPN, 802.11b/g driver, VDI and a local web browser.]