While the battle over whether the thin client shall inherit the Earth rages within the corridors of power in the US, one Australian company is quietly working to convince users that super-powerful PCs may not be the way of the future.
Omega Computer Systems is a Sydney-based distributor currently handling the rights to WinFrame, an application environment from Citrix that lets servers host multiple client sessions of popular 32-bit Windows software.
According to Omega's business manager Charles Wellington, WinFrame allows as many as 15 users to share the resources of a 133MHz Pentium-based server, running Windows applications on most legacy PCs. He says a six-way 200MHz Pentium Pro machine can host as many as 200 users, all running 32-bit applications simultaneously.
WinFrame sessions can be run over a local area network, but Wellington says a major focus has been on remote users. A demonstration at ARN showed WinFrame capable of running 32-bit Windows applications over a modem on a 486 notebook at speeds comparable, if not faster, than if run locally on a low-end Pentium workstation. Wellington says this is due to all the application processing occurring at the server, with the notebook required only to transmit commands and redraw the screen.
All of Omega's product set is centred on the notion of thin client computing. The set also includes thin client NCs from Boundless Technologies and high performance I/O products from Equinox Systems.
Wellington says the arguments in favour of thin client computing are strong. "Looking at cost of ownership, as opposed to a normal PC where you have to upgrade your system yearly with extra RAM or extra hard drive, when using NCs over a five year period you save between 40 and 60 per cent," he said. "That's because you're not upgrading RAM or hard drive and any other resources, you only install it once onto a server. You don't upgrade any of the users at all."
Omega distributes its product set purely through the reseller channel, and administers a Citrix VAR certification program that consists of 80 companies. Beyond this are a further 250 dealers making occasional product sales.
Wellington says because the concepts behind WinFrame are still relatively new Omega engages in a high degree of contact with end-users. "We do a lot of direct marketing, and then we pull it back through the channel," he said. If a deal is of sufficient size, and Wellington says many have been, a consortium of resellers may come together to handle it.
But this is not to suggest such installations are difficult, he adds. "If you have engineers that are NT certified, it should be fairly much a snap for them. Installing it is easy, it's just fine tuning some of the features that takes time."
Wellington says many of Omega's VARs have come from the NT arena. He expects the next big growth area will be in the Unix marketplace. "I suppose it's the market we haven't really attacked," he said. "Unix dealers are saying their clients keep asking for NT, and asking what are they going to do? WinFrame is the option - it's a multi-user version of NT."
The Citrix VAR program costs $1500. Participants receive a five-user VAR version of WinFrame Enterprise for testing and demonstration, as well as two days training.
The WinFrame product includes a number of other features, such as the ability to continue a session if the connection is lost. Supervisors are also able to "shadow" any client session, and even take control if need be.
A basic licence incudes software for the server and for 15 client users, although you will still need to pay licensing fees for each application a client uses, rather than for the single copy residing on the server.
Wellington says Citrix WinFrame is capable of running over a variety of network architectures including Novell NetWare and IBM's AS/400 platform. "You're not limited by whatever backend or mainframe you're using, WinFrame will attach to them all. So you don't have to get rid of what you already have, it can be complimentary. You can put it on your OS/2 network or Unix network or whatever you've got, and have your WinFrame server sitting there to run all your 32-bit Microsoft applications.