Oct 30, 2007

Thin Clients: An Alternative To Expensive Office Computing

One of the biggest costs associated with running a company of any size is that of IT services and maintenance. Companies can spend hundreds, thousands and even millions of dollars every year in purchasing and maintaining IT infrastructure. A relatively new breed of computer known as a thin client (seen at left) has emerged to combat this problem.

A thin client is essentially a stripped down personal computer that utilizes a monitor, mouse, keyboard and local network connection. It runs its operating system and programs from a centralized server through the network and has no internal storage of it's own. In essence, each of these mini-computers provides nothing more than an access point or “node,” that allows an employee to complete their work.

All of the processing for each node (whether there are 5 or 50) is done on a central server. This method of centralized processing has its ups and downs, but when properly integrated, it can provide massive savings (in both time and money) for a company’s IT department.

When compared to the costs of traditional computing, thin clients are a great investment. According to LinuxDevices.com, a Bangkok-based company called Norhtec recently unveiled a “sub-$85 mini-PC” - claimed to be the most affordable thin client ever. With the average workstation running between $800 and $1000 per unit, a thin client deployment could dramatically reduce the overall costs associated with setting up an IT infrastructure.

In addition to the up front savings on hardware, thin clients can also save a company up to 90% on its energy bill over traditional computers. A comparison between business desktop computers and thin clients conducted by thinclient.org noted that the average business desktop consumes about 124 watts of power while the average thin client uses about 25 watts, or about the same as a single light bulb. Such a reduction in per-workstation electricity usage means huge bottom-line savings for a business owner.

The other major advantage of thin clients is when it comes time for system maintenance. In a traditional environment of thick client PCs, a technician has to attend to each individual machine when it has a problem. With an office of thin clients, the technician would only have to attend to a single server, saving both time and energy. Thin clients are also helpful in reducing corporate theft simply by their nature of being dependant on a central server. A thief would not stand to gain much from selling a single thin client without the means to run it.

There are, however, some downsides to using thin clients, which limits their usefulness to certain businesses. With the extreme resource and energy efficiencies of these units, certain compromises must be made. Thin clients do not have a dedicated graphics card (pictured at right), therefore their ability to render and display rich multimedia content is somewhat diminished compared to a traditional thick client. Also, depending on the number of thin client nodes that are installed, extremely powerful servers must be purchased to run them and the setup process can be daunting even for an experienced IT technician.

Thin client systems have limited flexibility when it comes to what operating system they run. Users will be required to run whatever operating system is chosen for the host server. This could mean that some employees would have to be trained to use the operating system of choice and/or they may not like using it, which could hurt productivity. Lastly, the very design that makes the thin client system so simple and easy to maintain also lends to its greatest weakness. The entire system is based on an individual thin client’s ability to connect to the central server over a network, if that network were to ever go down, every thin client using that network would be unable to function.

Despite these downsides, thin clients remain an excellent choice for many businesses wishing to cut costs and increase productivity within their IT department. In the event a business opts for a thin client deployment, it is advisable to retain a few thick clients to maximize productivity in the workplace, while still allowing the business to save time and money.

1 comment:

LHO said...

This was an excellent post that fits your blog and addresses something that is useful to your audience. As someone who knows little about computers you basically broke down what the thin client is, how it works, and even potential problems. Overall this sounds like a product that would be beneficial to most businesses. The only thing I would suggest is if you could comment on what types of businesses would more readily benefit from this product. You write, "Thin clients do not have a dedicated graphics card, therefore their ability to render and display rich multimedia content is somewhat diminished compared to a traditional thick client." Some businesses may depend on more detailed graphic cards or some other computer function that they could not get out of the thin client. Sometimes business owners may not even know what they need. I think it would be helpful if you gave what types of companies specifically could benefit from this tool and what companies are better off using the large PC's. Also good use of graphics.