Rising Tide of Thin Clients


Are thin clients the wave of the future? A new generation of technology is gunning to overcome the traditional resistance to thin clients -- that they're not powerful enough, don't provide the kind of flexibility needed in the modern enterprise, and are still too expensive.


Part of this new wave is looking to tap into the power of virtualization to offer stripped-down terminal devices tied to partitioned operating systems in the central server. But other providers say they are reworking the thin client concept from the ground up, offering new solutions to old problems.


One of the newest is a company called Thinspace, which this week released the TST600 sporting a 1.5 GHz VIA Eden processor and up to 8 GB of memory, which the company claims makes it the fastest system available. The system is available in Windows CE, Linux or Windows XP Embedded versions, with an optional wireless card and smartcard reader for secure login. The company also offers a remote management software stack that extends control over local or wide area networks.


Another newcomer is CherryPal, which has leveraged both cloud technology and specialized processors from Freescale Semiconductors to develop the low-cost (less than $300) CherryPal Desktop. Users simply log in to the CherryPalCloud through a Firefox-based browser to gain all OS and application functions. The system claims green credits, drawing just 2 watts as opposed to the 114 watts of a standard desktop.


Still another new approach comes from NComputing. The company has developed a small device that disperses unused resources from one computer to up to 30 others for as little as $70. It's still unclear how the system deals with software licenses, but at the moment most of its business is in the developing world where licensing is less of an issue.


More established firms are clearly looking to tap into expanding virtual infrastructures at many data centers. 3PAR recently unveiled its Thin Copy Desktop for VMware's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, which provides for the automatic provisioning of several hundred virtual desktops with minimal impact on network bandwidth or storage capacity. The system works with the new version of the 3PAR Virtual Copy snapshot software designed to enhance data sharing among desktops.


And market-leader Wyse Technology is forging closer ties with Microsoft, offering support for Windows Embedded Standard 2009 across its entire product line. The move allows customers to tap into Windows Server 2008, as well as application delivery systems like Microsoft Terminal Services and Citrix XenApp.


With this many options to choose from, finding the best solution will certainly be a challenge. Enterprises already experimenting with server and storage virtualization would probably benefit by extending that technology out to the desktop, but the newer approaches are appealing in terms of both up-front cost and ongoing expense. What seems certain is that the old one-PC-per-employee paradigm has had its day.