The Rise of Thin Clients

Every IT professional has heard the various reasons why desktop PCs are not very efficient devices in a professional environment. It's pretty simple: there's nothing "personal" about the data that you process on your PC at your work. In many cases the data represents a lot of work and is worth a lot of money, so it should never be saved on a local hard disk that could crash or be wiped out. Also, as users try to personalize their PCs, they sometimes configure software badly, introduce malware, perhaps crack open the case on occasion, and so on. All this means that PCs require quite a bit of repair and maintenance time from the helpdesk people. As desktops have become more powerful, power requirements have also increase quite a lot. There is nothing new with these complaints: as early as 1987 the Gartner group drew the attention to the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) associated with (badly) managed business desktops.

That is the reason SBC is becoming so popular, whether in the form of Windows Terminal Server or Citrix Metaframe. 50 to 100 users can connect via thin clients to one central server that runs one instance of Windows Server 2003. That means that you only need to manage one copy of Windows Server instead of all those copies of Windows 2000/XP, which all need to be configured and updated on a regular basis. The thin client has no moving parts: hard disks are absent and the 6W to 9W CPUs require only passive cooling. All user profile information is stored on a central server, making it possible to quickly replace a faulty client.

However, the number of applications that will run properly on a thin client with SBC are limited. If you need to develop a new application or report to your management using heavy data mining, the typical VIA Eden 800 MHz or AMD Geode NX 1 GHz processors that are found in most thin clients won't go very far. If you need to perform some heavy CAD or 3D animation work, you are definitely out of luck. That is where the business desktop still makes a lot of sense.

So what is the alternative that HP and IBM are proposing? As IBM and HP account for 80% of the very profitable blade market, it's no surprise that the new PC alternative has taken the shape of a blade. HP and IBM came up with two solutions: the blade PC and the workstation blade. IBM only offers the workstation blade, and for the blade PC you have to go to Lenovo. HP offers everything, and calls this solution CCI or Consolidated Client Infrastructure. Before we discuss these solutions in more detail, we need to investigate the hardware that is the foundation of this concept.

Both HP and IBM use the same basic configuration as you can see below.


A thin client and blade PC should replace the business desktop PC, according to HP and IBM

The basic idea is that a thin stateless client will access a blade PC and that all valuable data is stored on shared storage device.

The advantages are:
  • The PC user cannot store any valuable documents on the client, thus data is kept central and is always backed up
  • A thin client can be replaced in matter of minutes instead of hours
  • There is less heat generated in the office: a thin client needs about 15 to 30W instead of the 50W to 200W typical of a business desktop PC
  • The electricity bill should be lower as even a blade + thin PC consumes less than a typical desktop PC (according to HP)
Index The Rise of Thin Clients, Cont'd
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  • Pirks - Thursday, July 19, 2007 - link

    well, I know the guy who claims he lowered TCO drastically by switching his business desktop PCs to MacBooks. he says the number of support calls for Macs is zero, while Windows PCs give him trouble after trouble. is this zealotry? I have no idea, maybe he is a zealot but I'd rather wait before judging him

    anyway, if you guys have any technical questions for him - shoot

    I'll ask him, if he sees any real interesting questions - he might even appear here in person

    just wanted to let you know that anandtech knows not everything about lowering TCO - there are some interesting surprises out there only a few people know about
    Reply
  • bob661 - Thursday, July 19, 2007 - link

    I don't have trouble with Windows PC's. The only patches I install are Service Packs. That's it. I don't get viruses or spyware. I do run a anti-virus app and a firewall but that's it. This shit is easy! Block ALL questionable websites at your companies firewall. No pr0n and no downloading. Block all that shit. If you need to download, put in a request stating why you need it. Set up a separate computer with user accounts and passwords that's not attached to the network and let them download from there. Monitor those computers and if someone messes up, remove their access. Reply
  • Pirks - Thursday, July 19, 2007 - link

    excuse me, but "I have antivirus", "I block everything with firewall", "I don't let my users do anything on the Net without special request" - this does not sound quite like "I have no trouble", it's more like "I avoid trouble by not letting my users do anything"

    this is very different from Macs where it's safe to go outside and there's no need to cut everything off. this was this Mac guy's original point - put Macs instead of Windows PCs and there's suddenly no need to babysit your users anymore, he never even bothered to cut their internet access - no need for this with Macs, he says
    Reply
  • retrospooty - Friday, July 20, 2007 - link

    "put Macs instead of Windows PCs and there's suddenly no need to babysit your users anymore"

    Thats a great arguement except for the fact that Macs are...
    1. largely incompatible with the business world and apps used. Yes some things work fine, but everyone in any office knows that dealing with the few Mac users is a pain in the ass because their shit doesn't work.
    2. Expensive as hell
    3. If the above 2 problems were overcome (and that IS possible) Macs would be a decent contender and hackers and Viruses would be targeted toward Macs. Right now, Macs are 3-4% global market share, and aren't enough of a contender to bother with.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, July 20, 2007 - link

    Lets not forget about . . .

    4) Limited hardware support.

    I am not a Mac fan at_all, in fact I nearly hate anything 'Apple', but if Windows were to vanish into thin air right now, and given the other options availible, I would have to say that Mac OSes are probably the next best polished. It is just too bad that OSX's limited BIOS support makes it nearly impossible to run on 100% of the PCs out there . . . as I personally would not be adverse to running OSX as an alternative to Windows. This goes back to what you said about Macs 'just not working right', this is the feeling I get from anything *NIX; ie: there is always SOMETHING that does not work.

    As for your Virus comments, I could not agree more, and while *NIX based OSes may be built to be more secure from the get go, I actually hear more about Linux/BSD machines being compromised than XP/2k machines in a server capacity. My feelings here are that those people who run servers actually KNOW how to setup a Windows machine properly, and do not become complacent. They also do not frequent questionable websites, while 'clickity clickity'n' on 'yes' buttons on every website they land on. They also know the true value of keeping an OS up to date. I actually run XP Pro SP2 withuto any form of a virus scanner, but I will occationally fire up the occational LiveCD (BartPE) and scan with the root disk un-mounted; I have yet to find a virus in the past several years(on my own personal computers), and yet, people I know, who run virus software 24/7 are being constantly infected. GO figure !

    Now if it werent for the fact that I get paid very well to remove viruses as a professional, I might actually 'hate' viruses ;)
    Reply
  • hubajube - Thursday, July 19, 2007 - link

    My mistake. I use antivirus and firewalls at home. At work, I'm not in charge of infrastructure but I know what it takes to make it work. And you can surf legitimately and freely without the need to download and also without the need to go to questionable websites. IF IF IF you NEED to download (IT staff, software developers, etc.) setup a separate computer NOT attached to the companies LAN like I said previously and monitor the hell out it. If YOU are not grown enough to download pr0n or pirate software at home then I don't want to YOU as an employee. The "secret" to Macs is that hardly anyone writes viruses or spyware for them. It's a niche market. Using them in place of the PC at work is smart (IMO) but only serves to NOT hold your employees responsible for their actions. Like I said, I don't those types of people working for me. Reply
  • bpt8056 - Thursday, July 19, 2007 - link

    It's the opposite at the institute where I work. While the IT guy has dealt with both IBM and Apple for support, he said that IBM was far superior. He went on to say that there were 12 PC (IBM) and 12 MAC laptops that were sent to the manufacturer for repair. The difference between the two was that all of the PC laptops worked when they were returned and only half of the MAC laptops worked after repair. At the equipment request meeting, he has encourage everyone to consider getting a PC laptop because the level of support between the two were worlds apart and the ~$1300 savings in purchasing each laptop after discounts were considered.

    I'm glad the switch to Mac worked out well for your guy, but not everyone has the same experience.
    Reply
  • TA152H - Thursday, July 19, 2007 - link

    Compaq was the mother of the PC? They were one of the two most important companies? What????????????????????

    They had NOTHING to do with the creation of the PC, NOTHING. Last time I checked, mother's had a lot to do with the creation of their kids.

    Compaq was a clone maker. IBM designed the PC, and pushed all the standards for the first decade. Ever hear of PS/2 ports? AT (often incorrectly called ISA) bus? VGA? XGA? Hell, even Winchester drives (Hard disks) were invented by IBM. RISC? IBM! These are things still in use, or at least the terms are. Even Windows 2K/XP were born by IBM, as they were originally known as OS/2 NT (or 3.0), not Windows NT, and perversely IBM funded a lot of the development because it was started before IBM and Microsoft broke up.

    Calling Intel a father I could live with, after all they had the microprocessor that was used and eventually took over a lot of the important hardware design from IBM. Easily a more important company than Compaq. Compaq? One of the driving forces behind that great success EISA? Wow, yes, they deserve a lot of credit for that and being a clone maker.

    I can't even read the rest of the article after reading that. It's one thing to try to make some seque into the rest of the article, but it's another thing when it's based on absolute nonsense that just makes people scratch their heads. Compaq, the mother of the PC. Unreal.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, July 20, 2007 - link

    quote:

    ever hear of PS/2 ports? AT (often incorrectly called ISA) bus?


    Uh . . . there was such a thing as an ISA bus . . . PS/2 ports are the din9 plug keyboards still to this day plug into(unless you're using USB of course) . . . Never have I ever heard anyone confuse a keyboard interface, with an expansion slot, but I guess you're living in that wierd part of the world . . . this is not like some PC newbie calling the computer case the 'CPU"; people who knew about an ISA slot, knew what it was, and what it did.

    Also, before you get too comfortable calling IBM 'the creator of all', lets not forget that IBM was also the cause of PC hardware stagnation (proprietary hardware at a high cost), and that it was not until OEM vendors got tired of IBM's tactics, that IBM lost nearly all of its PC market share. Sure, IBM pioneered a lot of stuff, and they were responcable for a lot of the technology 'back in the day', but I for one am glad they are no longer 'setting the standard' now days. Now, since when was RISC considered a PC technology ? Never ? Sun ring a bell ? SGI ?

    Since OS/2 Warp bore IBMs name, they are responcable for NT/Win2k/XP ?! Now whose taking the leap from reality . . . you sure seem to have an unique outlook on the computer industries past, I'll grant you that.
    Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Thursday, July 19, 2007 - link

    I am glad the Anandtech Comment box allows you to blow off some steam ... I think your colleagues should thank me now ;-).

    Anyway, of course, Compaq as the mother of Thé pc is an exageration. However, as we are talking about the business desktop, I do think that Compaq has played a very important role. See stmok's comment, and also, Compaq was one of the most important companies that started very early with selling business desktops, not just plain pcs. More expensive, but easier to maintain and a bit more robust.

    You agree that IBM is one of the parents. I am not an historian, but a server researcher/journalist... So feel free to seriously question my history knowledge. Who was the other parent of the business desktop according to you? The main point that IBM and HP/Compaq were both two very important companies when it comes to the history of the business pc.
    Reply

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