Thin Clients Essay, Research Paper
In an ideal world, it would be easy to deploy and manage the robust client/server applications that tap today s abundant PC power. But if you support a distributed computing environment built around the Wintel computing architecture, you know better. To a large extent, the culprit is a Microsoft OS deign that s not quite at home in the enterprise. While hundreds of add-on products promise to reduce cost of ownership though centralized desktop management, few deliver benefits that justify their costs. Most managers simply resign to the fact that supporting large numbers of PC workstations will be incredibly expensive and inefficient, and chalk it up to a cost doing business. So which is better for your organization, PC or thin-client?
Thin-client computing now offers real hope for progress. The state of affairs described above is like a fat pitch don the middle of home plate, just begging for thin-client computing proponents to smack it out of the park. When it comes to total cost of ownership for desktop computing services, thin-client computing is a bottom-line winner. Yes users will have to five up some control of their desktops. Any yes, administrators will need to learn a new approach to application deployment. But the payback is so clear; thin clients arrival is almost inevitable.
What about $500 PCs, you ask? Why buy a brain-dead thin-client device when PC prices are in free fall? Here s another chance for thin-client proponents to swing for the fences. First, while $500 PCs exit, most large organizations spend significantly more than $1500 per new PC, or about twice the cost of a well-equipped thin-client device. Their money flows to high-end systems in the hope these computers will have a longer useful life. This strategy makes a lot of sense, because upgrading a PC is a time-consuming, costly exercise that almost always includes follow-up support calls.
More important, savvy organizations know that less than 20 percent of the true life-cycle cost of a PC is reflected in its initial cost. There s a mountain of evidence to support this assertion, as well as the corollary that thin clients save money. For example, a survey of 25 sites using thin-client technologies conducted earlier this year by Datapro concluded that on average, deploying thin-client devices cut support costs by more than 80 percent. If a thin-client s purchase price were twice as high as a PC s, its cost of ownership would still be considerably less expensive.
But there is a catch of two. Even if you take into consideration the economic advantages of thin clients, it s fair to question whether the approach represents technological progress. Many argue that it s a return to the old model of centralized host processing. You d better be prepared to take into account that argument and make the case that the previous way of doing business has benefits today. Thin-client deployments are most successful in organizations where centralized IT management can be embraces as more effective, not just more efficient. Even then, the systems have to deliver the applications users need with performance and functionality rivaling that of today s PCs.
These goals are not so easy to accomplish. While the momentum certainly is with thin clients, there are significant obstacles to successful implementation. Perhaps the greatest challenge lies in thin-client computing s lack of a clear identity. A PC is a PC, no matter who manufacturers it, and 95 percent of PCs use the Windows OS. It s clearly a commodity market around which a vast array of software applications has been built. Thin-client devices do not draw on such a common identity. There are Windows terminals, Java computers, network computers and even a new breed of ultra-portable PDA devices. Instead of being characterized by a specific architecture and PS, thin clients represent more of a new approach to computing. Don t think of the move so much in terms of replacing PCs with thin clients. Think of it as a new way to deploy application across a range of devices, including PCs and, where appropriate, limited function thin-client computers.
So, is thin-client computing the kind of technology your shop should dive into headfirst or does a wait-and-see approach make more sense? Even though a total shift to thin-client devices promises significant financial benefits, relatively few organizations are likely to replace their PCs entirely, both for technical and political reasons.
Somewhat more likely is the replacement of dumb terminals with thin clients or the adoption of thin-client devices by workers who-be never had desktop computers. In most organizations, thin-client computer will be linked to application rollouts or upgrades, and must therefore integrate with, rather than replace, the existing PC infrastructure.
So what s next for the thin-client market? With promises of rapid deployment of new applications and a reduction in support-staff costs of up 8- percent, thin-client technology sounds like a panacea for much of what ails IT. But evaluating trends and cutting through the hype in this developing market isn t easy. For the immediate future, developments in software architecture are expected to drive the market. Hardware solutions will emerge as the software architecture stabilizes and currently deployed PCs age out of service. Many predict what may lie ahead for this market.
The Windows NT server 4.0 Terminal Server Edition (TSE) software model dominance will be short-lived. The Gartner Group predicts that by 2001, 80 percent of host access and terminal emulation will occur via browser or Java functionality, and the overall thin-client market will reach $3 billion. Zona Research predicts shipment of 600,000 thin-client devices in 1999, for a total market value of $390 million. Robust growth will follow, but the exact size of the thin-client hardware market could fall anywhere within a wide range. Gartner predicts that by 2002, the market for Java computers and Windows terminals will range from 5 million to 25 million unites probably closer to the lower figure. In contrast, PC shipments may reach 110 million in the same year.
So what should be the decision for your organization? In short, if applications must be rolled out quickly, think thin. If network bandwidth is limited, think thin. If employees use a limited number of applications, think thin. If applications must be accessible by users whose desktop environments you cannot manage, think thin.
Microsoft Corporation. Executive Overview : [Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0, Terminal Server Edition; Terminal Server overview] Internet. 06 Nov 1999. Available HTTP: www.microsoft.com/ntserver/terminalserver/exec/default.asp
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Citrix Systems, Incorporated. Citrix Systems, Inc. Internet. 07 Nov 1999. Available HTTP: www.citrix.com
Molta, Dave. For Client/Server, Think Thin.
Network Computing 28 June 1999: 46-64