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Thin client swells the channel

Thin client swells the channel

In discussing the state of play in thin-client computing, Citrix has become the default standard. Nabeel Youakim, managing director of Citrix Systems Asia Pacific, spoke to ARN about some of the developments and opportunities for the channel in the Australian market. We also look at some of the related issues.

There are over 2000 Citrix customers in Australia, including sites with 500 and 1000-plus users. Worldwide, there are 8 million users of Citrix ICA. According to Youakim, the relationship with Microsoft has helped that enormously, and its latest pricing change is recognition that this market is very relevant to its technology. (Microsoft recently announced a cut in the cost of thin-client access, with users now only required to pay for a Terminal Server Client Access License.)According to Citrix, customers want the world of control, centralisation, easy management and deployment of applications. But they want it in a world of thousands of PC applications with graphical user interface. The way Youakim puts it: "That's what Citrix does in thin-client computing, it brings both of these worlds together."

He said that the Citrix margins are very good, and because the solution is so attractive, there is no need to discount very much. It is also a services-oriented solution which, for the channel, represents a substantial opportunity for revenues.

To reiterate where the company fits into the equation, Youakim explained: "Windows Terminal Server and NT is an operating system platform on which you build applications, and Citrix is about application deployment, and that's what MetaFrame is. So you need Metaframe or the older version called WinFrame on top of Terminal Server to really get the value and benefit out of thin-client server based computing. Terminal Server by itself is really just a base product. The new pricing from Microsoft means that the overall solution including MetaFrame has now been reduced."

"Microsoft provides the platform in the operating system - NT - and it's Citrix that extends the core functionality of Terminal Server to an enterprise WAN environment. Where Terminal Server is not suitable for more than about 50 users, our products can cater for the needs of thousands of users," said Youakim. "Microsoft and Citrix work together as partners because, ultimately, customers want to be able to deploy applications on an enterprise-wide scale."

"The Citrix MetaFrame extensions on top of Terminal Server increase the number of clients that can connect to the Windows NT server. Not only Windows 32-bit desktops, but also DOS, Macintosh, Unix, Windows-based terminals, Linux, Network Computers via Java and a range of new devices. So the first thing MetaFrame adds to Terminal Server is the range of connection devices, practically any client device, including OS/2." This means that solution-oriented resellers can to a customer offering the latest Windows applications using MetaFrame on legacy environments. This helps those resellers who want to sell the latest applications but are held back by the hardware upgrade cycle.

"It also provides extra functionality, in terms of the management of a larger installation of, say, 30 users or more, such as load balancing into a server farm. Our biggest site today includes 10,000 users and 255 servers in one big farm. The resellers can provide a solution that's scalable," Youakim added.

State of the channel

"We have three distributors in Australia: Express Data, MUA and CHA. Resellers tend to favour one or another based on their relationship. It also sometimes depends on the requirements of the customer, in that one distributor may better cater for the type of server or thin-client solution than another. In some cases one distributor may also be able to supply more of the total solution. Express Data supplies Tektronix terminals and MUA sells Wyse terminals. We are very happy with our distribution model at present in Australia, with three distributors being the right number for our product set in this market.

"We have a successful channel program that we launched last year called the Citrix Solutions Network (CSN) channel program with more than 300 Australian resellers. It's a tiered program and we have 70 resellers at the gold level, and around 230 at the silver level. These resellers are growing with us very quickly, and the momentum is very strong as they find the selling of this solution is becoming easier, and the awareness by the customer base increases. This realisation is leading to new resellers being asked: "What is thin-client computing all about, what is this thing called Citrix?"

Craig Hawkins, managing director of Sydney-based reseller BDO Synergy, said that his company has been working in this market fairly extensively for the last two years with the rationale that thin client is a great solution for organisations at the low end and growing end of IT. "They have the challenges of geographical diversity, and centralisation of the IT infrastructure allows them to have the better real-time benefits that traditional client server networking provides," he said. "We've proved the point with the Craig Mostyn Group's network, and there are a number of other organisations with very similar business reasons for considering the technology we're working on with Citrix."

Hawkins sees thin client as emerging as a preferred desktop strategy to the traditional fat-client technology, which he said is expensive and requires upgrading regularly to keep up with the demands of the software. "The majority of desktop users are nowhere near as sophisticated as the software demands these days, so thin client seems to be a pretty reliable solution," he added.

"While MetaFrame and WinFrame would be the two predominant technologies available at the moment, we're keeping an eye on the marketplace as far as the network computing strategy of companies like Sun and Oracle goes. They tend to implement the business solutions rather than office automation environment, which tends to be our specialty," said Hawkins. He added that, in time, there will be some convergence in thin client of business solutions with office automation solutions.

Michael Neistat, managing director of Skai Computer Systems, believes that there has been a noticeable increase in customer awareness about thin client since the middle of last year, with a significant number of large sites providing references for users to call on. "Our focus has been on organisations that have a high number of users, and especially remote users operating from a different platform, over which the prospect has no control. Citrix has given these organisations the means to deploy applications that couldn't previously be deployed," he said.

Craig Bastow, group manager of network computing specialist NC Data, warned that a thin-client solution wasn't for everyone. "Some people seem to think thin client is the panacea for all computing ills, but it's all about identifying user types. The trick is to define user profiles, to identify the applications and the way the users run them. Of the network computing models, thin-client server computing is the only model to have critical mass."

Youakim revealed that they are going to launch some new products this quarter, with some enhancements to current product coming out, and said these will be well served by the current distribution channel.

"We are not reliant on Microsoft NT to wait for the next release. We'll be coming out with new versions of WinFrame and Metaframe this quarter, and these will be enhanced again before the release of Windows 2000/NT 5. When that hits, we'll have even more functionality."

"If you look at our user base, about 70 per cent of our users use PCs and only 30 per cent are using thin-client terminals. This will change over time. Some resellers will focus on the server market and they will love this technology because it sells big servers. If you are looking at a reason to sell a customer a big server, then Citrix is it.

We centralise all the applications on the server, so you need quite grunty servers to run these applications."

Citrix channel program expands

The Citrix Solutions Network (CSN) was launched in May 1998 and has grown to include 320 authorised resellers in Australia. Citrix also recently established the enterprise solutions provider (ESP) program for resellers and integrators who service large, global organisations requiring broader support and training.

In addition, Citrix has extended its partner program with the launch of the new Citrix Business Alliance program. This is designed to be a framework for industry leading companies to work with Citrix to broaden the scope and effectiveness of business-critical enterprise computing solutions. As well as partnerships with Compaq, Computer Associates and 3Com, new CBA members in Australia are IBM, Apple, Peoplesoft, QAD and Progress Software.

The skinny on thin clients, network computers and other PC alternativesby Mike Hogan and Harry McCrackenBloated, unreliable, expensive, and unruly. Those are a few of the choice epithets that have been hurled at the traditional Windows PC, especially when it sits on a corporate network. A recent study by International Data Corporation concluded that, purchase price aside, maintaining each LAN-based PC costs a company about $10,000 a year once technical support, hardware and software upgrades, and various other costs are factored in.

Enter a class of PC alternatives called thin clients. These simplified devices bear as much resemblance to the dumb terminals of yore as to today's complex, feature-rich PCs. They rely on a network and server to operate, so they can dispense with much of what makes a PC a PC, including a hard disk, a floppy drive, and even an operating system in some instances. That makes them at least a little cheaper to buy and, in theory, a lot cheaper to own. Users can't add non-approved programs or infect thin clients with viruses, and IS staffers can do software installations once on the server, rather than on dozens or hundreds of individual PCs.

Would you be more productive with a thin client than with a traditional PC? Probably not. By and large, thin clients are designed for workers who use a handful of programs for basic tasks (such as access to data on mainframes) and don't need to customise their working environment. Whether you'll be asked to use one is hard to say. While some analysts predict they'll catch on, a report by Zona Research found that just 15 per cent of companies surveyed planned to adopt thin clients in the next three years.

The highest-profile thin client is undoubtedly the network computer (NC), a Java-based device that Oracle's Larry Ellison first proposed in 1995. Three years later, NCs haven't made a noticeable dent in Windows' market share, in part because few of the units have shipped and Java business applications remain scarce.

Then there's the NetPC, another Windows-based device launched in mid-1997. Basically a Windows PC in a sealed case, with hard drive, network interface card, and network management software - but no floppy or CD-ROM drive - the NetPC shows no signs of taking off.

The NetPC's advocates make thin client-like claims about its ability to cut ownership costs. But "a NetPC is just a PC without a floppy", asserts John MacGilvary, director of research at the Gartner Group. "It's not an NC, not a thin client." Unlike NCs and Windows-based terminals, NetPCs have local disk storage - the root, he says, of most of the problems that make traditional PCs expensive to maintain.

Why people won't ever give up PCs

The world is not a collective, collaborative culture. We are rugged individualists, liberal capitalists and voracious consumers. It's entirely natural that the PC became a global institution long before the Internet did.

I don't lament that the PC developed a highly-capable existence of its own before it became tethered to the network, and neither should you. If you value creativity and individuality in your employees, you'll nurture their sense of ownership in their work and their deeply ingrained sense of freedom. Versatile, powerful PCs do that.

To so-called knowledge workers, the PC is an extension of the mind. I want to be connected to a network, but I don't want to depend on it. I don't want line noise and server downtime to stifle me, and I want at least a little privacy. The visionaries who evoke the models of electric power or telephone service as ideal thin-client models are perhaps forgetting that no one uses those services creatively.

I'll make the case for PCs in transport terms: I want to drive my own car rather than take the bus. Sure, there are reasons to take the bus. Mass transit is far better environmentally, reduces traffic, lets you read while you commute and can be cheaper than car ownership. Cars seem gluttonous, but they provide the freedom we want in our lives.

The teamwork made possible by the Internet has limitless value. Thin clients are cheaper and easier to support. But creativity is born of freedom, and even a bit of excess. (After all, how much marble ends up on a sculptor's floor; how much film on a director's?) Is it wasteful to buy a book when it's free at the library?

Perhaps, unless you want to scribble your thoughts in the margins, read at your own pace and refer back to the book in the future when it's convenient to do so.

Individual PCs enable individual expression and thought. They let you join a collective but don't require it. by David OrensteinTerms of importanceWhat does it all mean? IDG asked industry analysts to define some key terms surrounding desktop computing directions. They shared their definitions and put the terms in perspective. We spoke with Colin Mahony, an analyst for the Internet computing strategies planning service at the Yankee Group in Boston; Steve Kleynhans, vice president for workgroup computing strategies at Meta Group in Toronto; and Neil MacDonald, research director at GartnerGroup in Stamford.

Windows terminals. "These are a specific class of network computer device designed to act as clients to the Windows Terminal Server, formerly known as Hydra, built on Citrix Winframe code. They allow you to access Windows applications that are executing on a Windows Terminal Server system." - Kleynhans"Windows terminals are the best example of the 'pendulum swing' back to the days of mainframe computing, albeit with a Windows GUI." - Mahony"This will be a very popular type of network computer because the simplicity of the device is there and because you don't have to give up your Windows applications. You don't have to give up Microsoft Word, Excel, Lotus SmartSuite or whatever product you are using. You don't have to change out the user's desktop and give them something totally alien." - MacDonaldNetPCs. "NetPCs are essentially locked-down PCs. These devices contain hard drives yet lack other I/O peripherals, such as a floppy drive, found in most PCs. Not all PC manufacturers have embraced this design." - Mahony"The goal of the NetPC is to offer a network computer alternative that gives the administrator ultimate control over the desktop without giving up the Windows environment." - Mahony"The NetPC was an ill-advised reactive strategy by Microsoft and Intel." - MacDonaldNetwork Computer. "An NC is a server and network-centric end-user computing device with little or no access to the local operating system and storage, and where the permanent state of the device is centrally maintained. These include Java computers, Windows terminals and NetPCs. It is an umbrella term. Microsoft's definition of a network computer is any end-user computing device that runs Java. We disagree with their definition." - MacDonald"NCs have struck a nerve, and the issue that reverberates with the clients is total cost of ownership. PCs are too complex, too costly. There's got to be a better way." - MacDonald"The concept of network computing has brought issues such as TCO and centralised control and manageability to the forefront. Although it is still in the early adopter stage, it is spawning new innovative approaches to traditional computing models." - MahonyThin client. "A thin client is any device with no local storage, limited local execution and no local state information. You will get people that disagree with that. For example, Sun will say that the first and the last are true - no local storage and no local state information - but that it can have a great deal of local processing power. I tend to disagree with that because I don't believe you can have a great deal of local execution and not have any local storage.

I just don't believe that is a practical design. Thin client is a style of computing rather than a specific device." - Kleynhans"For businesses, it is accessibility to consumers and common value chain partners over the virtual private networks." - MacDonald"Thin computing as a model is inherently more manageable because everything is centralised. We believe thin computing as a model is a good model. We just don't like a lot of the devices and how they have been implemented." - KleynhansSo why sell Citrix thin-client/server computing?

Charles Wellington, Citrix Business manager at distributor Express Data, said that average margins on Citrix products are around 20 per cent, and look like they will be maintained.

Wellington explained that, with IT professionals pursuing cost-effective and efficient methods for enterprise-wide application deployment, the Citrix thin-client/server approach is rapidly becoming the preferred solution. "With support from Microsoft and other industry leaders like IBM, Compaq and Sun Microsystems, Citrix thin-client server computing solutions are perfectly positioned for significant market share gains," he claimed.

According to Wellington, Citrix thin-client server computing is generating new sales and profit opportunities. "As the preferred enterprise computing solution for lowering total cost of application ownership, more organisations will be investigating, testing and purchasing Citrix software. This means more large orders for multi-user licences and products. And since Citrix products are only sold through authorised resellers, you'll be able to deliver turnkey solutions with larger profit margins."

He added that many Citrix thin-client solutions are deployed with Pentium-class servers, mostly multi-processor platforms which generate good revenues. On top of this is additional networking/communications hardware, including modems, routers, ISDN and serial I/O equipment.

Wellington also said that the sale of Citrix thin client/server computing products provides the perfect opportunity to offer profitable and easy-to-deliver professional services. These include planning and installation to network and application integration and ongoing support. by ARN StaffContactsCitrix Systems Asia Pacific Tel (02) 9980 0801Express Data Tel (02) 9598 9100CHA Tel (03) 9251 3111MUA Tel (02) 9438 5799


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