Trimming the fat with thin computing

Trimming the fat with thin computing

Clinicians at Barwon Health have boosted critical bed-side care with a little help from thin computing technology. The Victorian health care provider, which turned to Sun Microsystems for help tackling the problem of paper-based patient information, adopted a thin client system accessible via smartcard technology. "It's being deployed around the intensive care unit. It has the potential to save lives because it gives access to info in a timely fashion," Sun Microsystems A/NZ CTO, Angus MacDonald, said. "The doctor can check patient info and make notes on the spot."

Healthcare is a prime example where thin client computing makes sense. Government (mainly defence), large organisations and banks were also ideal hot spots for the skinny technology, MacDonald said. "It's ideal for Web browsing, calendaring and email applications - in environments with stock standard office productivity requirements," he said.


Some of the top benefits of a thin environment are dealing with fewer PC upgrades and software licensing issues, enhanced manageability and reliability, low power consumption, and boosted security.

"It's all about getting the data under control in the data centre, and getting away from the continuous cost of upgrading PCs," MacDonald said. "Thin clients have a longer life because they aren't relying on the CPU. "There are also no moving parts. The environment is quieter. It changes the profile of the office. It changes the amount of heat generated."

IDC PC hardware senior analyst, Liam Gunson, said thin client was a bright spot in the market and would rev up in the next 2-3 years as companies look to refresh their computing environment.

"There's good growth, although it's still relatively low compared to the install base of desktop PCs," he said. "There's lots of room and opportunity for thin clients. If properly educated about the benefits, IT managers and CIOs are open to exploring the options. Giving control back to the IT department is a top benefit."

The main thin client players are Wyse Technology, HP, Sun, Neoware and VXL Instruments. Wyse currently owns about over 70 per cent of the Asia-Pacific market, according to IDC.

The vendor is touting wireless as a top trend to sweep the thin computing arena. It has launched high-speed wireless thin clients which can automatically and securely connect to any supported wireless network without requiring driver installation or assembly.

"The only thing traversing the network is screen shots, so it's more secure," regional sales manager of northern region, Ward Nash, said. "We've been able to do wireless for several years, but now it's built-in, which means less of a mess for resellers who [have] had to buy separate wireless cards, plug them in and load drivers."

Wireless functionality made perfect sense in a hospital setting where workers use mobile carts, as well as in banking and financial markets relying on kiosks or in harsh environments, such as plants or classrooms, Nash said.

"These environments may not have the infrastructure to run cables," he said.


Virtualisation is another trend broadening reseller opportunities with thin computing.

IDC's Gunson said virtualisation allowed users to take a gradual step towards thin client computing, while protecting their desktop investment.

"The virtualisation capability allows the fat and thin client environment to work together, enabling a transition phase," he said.

HP is also making thin computing a major focus, according to its thin client national business development manager, Rob Kingston. The company increased its share of the local market from 8 to 14 per cent over the past year.

Its latest model, the t5725, is a Debian Linux-based thin client that delivers desktop experience and support for a variety of peripherals and open source applications. It can be used in server-based computing solutions or as a customisable client, Kingston said. The product is one of five models available. The vendor plans to get an edge by offering product bundles including thin clients with monitors to resellers. Driving market uptake was the fascination with data consolidation and cutting costs in the data centre, Kingston said.

"With thin clients, there are no moving parts, have a longer life span, and are more reliable," he said. While thin clients were not right for every environment, he urged resellers to look for opportunities in education, manufacturing and remote locations. Resellers also needed to brush up on their skills. "It's a technical sale for the partners. There's not only the opportunity to sell a client device, but there's the infrastructure play," Kingston said.

Express Data distributes Wyse products. Communications division manager, Ian Kelly, said ED had seen its server-centric computing business, of which thin clients was a component, grow by 25 to 30 per cent over the last 12 months.

While he admitted thin computing was a shift in thinking from the traditional PC-laden environment, the latest security and manageability advancements gave it more appeal. The Wyse streaming solution, for example, delivered the power of a PC to the user, while giving IT the control they want from a thin computing infrastructure.

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