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The Rise of the Thin Client

Thin clients are basic computer systems that work with a server to process applications and store data through virtualization

Imagine there was a technology that could solve some of the top issues for IT managers of large companies: managing a large fleet of users' devices, with all the associated maintenance tasks, and maintaining the security and integrity of devices by preventing malicious software installation. Now imagine this solution also provided unparalleled energy efficiency. Thin computing is the answer.

Thin clients are basic computer systems that work with a server to process applications and store data through virtualization - almost all of the actual computing occurs on the server, and most of the software is installed and managed virtually by an IT manager. Many clients can run the same applications on a shared sever, which finds its best usage among workers in massive buildings, with a lot of turnover, where many employees will use the same fundamental programs repeatedly.

In large employee environments, where workers use a limited variety of programs, a client virtualization model makes sense as IT managers are more able to ensure security, manageability and energy efficiency.

Security
A thin computing model is ideal for when data must be kept in secure, remote locations, and provides peace of mind for businesses that need help complying with laws like HIPAA or Sarbanes-Oxley. If you have ever been caught in an airport or hotel and realized you left your laptop behind, you understand how easy it is for company data to be stolen or abused. While hard drives are a way of life for most workers and students, they cause unnecessary headaches in environments such as manufacturing, elementary education, data entry, retail chains and call center, which are environments better suited for client virtualization. When there is no need for each person's computer to be a complex machine and many upgrades can be made via the server, rather than on each individual PC, IT teams experience fewer bottlenecks, and entire departments can experience overall cost benefits. It's virtually impossible for a thief to steal data, since applications and programs are only controlled and located on the server. Plus, those in charge never have to worry that a user is installing unauthorized programs the way they could on PCs.

Energy Efficiency and Cost Savings
Typical thin client devices consume anywhere from 2-10 watts of power, while typical PC systems consume anywhere from 20 to 60 watts. This dramatic reduction in power consumption translates to real cost savings, even with the back-end infrastructure considered. In fact, a recent Gartner study* measured thin client TCO annual savings as high as 79% downtime cost-per-user; 16% capital cost savings; 34% less in maintenance, 19% less to operate, and 48% overall lower total cost of ownership.

Manageability and Usability
IT managers must be able to control what different users can access, and thin clients are easy to deploy - out-of-the-box in less than 10 minutes - with just a web browser or remote desktop software to connect thin clients to your server. Whether one prefers simple, single-application kiosks or a familiar Windows environment, it's easy to customize client desktops for your users. One of the major questions that arise with those new to client virtualization is what can I use in my data center to provide a secure and reliable connection point for my devices. Citrix, VMware and Microsoft provide the software solution for your servers and can assist in the setup to ensure the technology works for each unique environment.

Unlike the thin clients of yesterday, the desktop hardware has many forms and users might not even realize they are working on a thin client. For example, HP's innovative t410, the all-in-one device where the screen is the thin client (just add mouse and keyboard of your choice), runs on Power over Ethernet and needs only 13 watts of power. In addition, there are thin clients that run up to six displays, like the t610; thin clients that allow touch, via Microsoft Windows Embedded 7 software, and thin clients that can run full-fledged VoIP calling when paired with Avaya or other Unifed Communication solutions.

Next time you find yourself frustrated by the myriad problems and costs that arise from dozens of workers using expensive machines, or find yourself navigating a new security issue, consider the benefits of client virtualization and HP Thin Clients.

* Source: Gartner August 2008 http://web.citrix.com/go/m2l/hi/pdf/GartnerReport.pdf

More Stories By Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn is Chief Technologist of Thin Client Computing at Hewlett-Packard.

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