Business Benefits of Thin Client Solutions
Thin Client computing lowers costs and improves the service offering in several key areas:
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With more complex software being distributed, desktop hardware upgrades have been accepted as a necessary evil. The currently accepted useful life of a PC is 2 years, although often depreciated over 3 years. As a PC becomes under-powered for a particular need, it is reallocated, often requiring a different software build. Thin-client computing turns this acceptance on its head. PCs can be used as tubby-clients until they die, although consider the costs associated with their power usage and maintenance of the base operating system before adopting this approach.
Significant benefits are obtained by centralising the support function, not only in savings, but also in the quality and consistency of the support function. The more diverse the geographical base, the more advantages can be gained. Many software products provide various forms of remote take-over ability, or shadowing. This ability permits support staff to interact with the users' desktop as they're speaking to them. Performance of these products though is very slow when not on the same physical LAN. With thin-client computing there is no performance drop-off, since all users are running on the same LAN.
Centralised servers means not having server support staff responding to, or based at, remote sites for server support. Zona Research shows that support costs for 15 PCs in a Windows NT server environment were approximately 500 percent more than in a thin-client computing environment using thin-clients.
A Microsoft study conducted by NEC and Groupe Bull shows that the highest bandwidth user is a structured task worker, typically performing the same tasks repetitively, eg claims processing, accounts, customer service. These workers would typically use 20Kbits of bandwidth, making LAN performance over dialup connections a reality. One real-world installation of a tubby-client environment for a 130-user network showed the following: The net effect is that far less bandwidth is required for remote and local sites, further reducing costs in multi-site installations. If your business is in the process of converting older 10Mbs LAN to 100Mbs or even 1Gbs, stop and reconsider.
Have you rejected wireless LAN as being too low bandwidth (currently 11Mbs) and hence too slow for your needs? Reconsider, since this is all you will need on user segments. Do not upgrade your WAN bandwidth to accommodate increased file transfer needs, particularly e-mail. On the contrary, by switching to a thin-client computing model, you may well be able to downgrade your WAN size, further saving costs.
Power consumption of a thin-client device is 14% of a PC. To place this in perspective, this is 5%, per year, of the thin-client device purchase price. Since a thin-client device will be expected to have a useful life beyond 5 years, the power savings alone will offset 25% of the cost of those devices. Reduced cooling requirements also lower the costs. Steve Greenberg of thinclient.net, a leading design company for Fortune 500 companies in the US, shows in his power-for-the- people whitepaper, the following savings for a thin-client computing environment:
These savings are based on a real-world study and have been extrapolated for the UK with Greenberg's assistance. They include the cost of the extra servers required and cooling reductions.
Licensing is a major component of IT expenditure. The difficulty of supplying software when needed has led businesses to adopt one of two approaches; deploy software to all PCs and lock users out of those applications that they are not licensed for or purchase licenses for every PC, regardless of whether the application will be used or not. Both approaches are flawed. The first can lead to prosecution by inadvertently infringing copyright laws, laws not made any simpler to interpret by software manufacturers inability to have a clear and consistent licensing policy. The second approach leads to unnecessary cost. Since software licensing often costs more than the initial PC costs, this approach more than doubles the costs of placing a PC on a desktop.
By centrally installing applications, licensing is simpler to manage. Software need not be installed on a user's PCs 'just in case'. If they need access to it, license availability is easily checked centrally and access granted from the server. No need to visit the PC, or create a package for distribution. There are even products, such as New Moon's Canaveral iQ, that enable much of this process to be automated. Whilst it is possible to achieve a similar level of licensing control from management systems, such as CA UniCentre and Microsoft SMS, there are additional infrastructure costs associated with these technologies, including higher bandwidth costs, extra distribution servers for remote sites and the staff to support them.
A concern in a traditional, fat-client environment is the inability to control what is copied and taken elsewhere, possibly into the hands of competitors. Data-loss is rife in this environment, with users often taking a floppy disk home to work on a document and the disk becoming corrupted, so losing the work that they have done. With thin-clients having no facility for local storage, this concern is all but eliminated in a thin-client computing environment.
On the contrary, if setup correctly, the security of the network can actually be enhanced by adding levels of encryption to the network data. Work conducted from outside of the office environment, for example at home, can be done through a dial-up connection. The data remains at the server. There is simply no need for it to ever be taken offsite, other than during controlled backup storage routines. Unless e-mail security is addressed though, there remains a potential leak for confidential data through this route. This is true of both fat and thin-client environments. This must be addressed as part of the overall IT strategy and it is recommended that you work with partners that provide security expertise for this aspect.
In a fat-client environment, data backup is normally conducted at the local storage site. In a distributed WAN, this will normally require file servers at each site, unless WAN bandwidth is substantial. Backups will be conducted locally at each site, resulting in higher upfront costs for the equipment and higher operational costs, both in media costs and management time.
Very often, the physical act of changing and storing tapes at remote sites will be delegated to a non-IT member, who may not show the same care and diligence to this aspect of their function as they do to their core responsibilities. Data integrity, with the associated risks of not being able to restore data if needed, is severely compromised. With its centralised approach, all data in a thin-client computing environment is stored in one place, so removing many of these costs. It is important to note that this does have an element of 'all eggs in one basket', so data backup and off-site archiving becomes more crucial. However, economies of scale generally result in more-efficient backup mediums becoming cost-effective.
By not having the ability to introduce data locally, the scope for introducing viruses is greatly reduced. There have been many high profile cases recently where the costs incurred, directly and indirectly, by viruses have been highlighted. Why take the risk? Admittedly, the floppy and CD drives are often disabled in a managed environment, although any above average user can bypass these controls if they are determined to 'get that file onto the network', not knowing that it may be virus-contaminated.
But why pay for a floppy and CD drive, if they're just going to be disabled? Since the majority of thin-client devices do not physically have floppy and CD drives, this concern is non-existent. In common with fat-client environments, the servers must still be adequately protected, particularly where e-mail is concerned. The lower-risk and cost benefits come from not exposing the desktops.
PCs are attractive and a prime target for theft. We've all had it happen to us, even if only on a small scale. Until connected to the correct environment, thin-client devices are worthless and so less attractive. Your insurance company should be able to provide you with reduced premium benefits. Naturally, servers will require a very high level of physical security.
Speed of deployment, repair and replacement
Thin-client computing environments typically enjoy faster deployment times for new software and upgrades. Fewer IT staff are required to track and ensure successful distribution. In a fat-client managed environment, an application is tested in a lab, packaged, scripted and then advertised to clients for automatic delivery. The clients will pick up the advertisement at an interval predetermined by the administrator with due regard to bandwidth issues.
Regardless of the delivery software used, it is unusual for 100% of the clients to be upgraded first time around, with 80% being considered normal. It takes some time for a package advertisement to start being collected by PCs, with 2 hours being considered a practical minimum, and 4 hours an average. Without manual intervention from IT support staff, remote sites will take even longer. For critical, security or virus related updates, this delay can be unacceptable. In a thin-client computing environment, the application is again tested in a lab. It is then installed on the terminal server and immediately all authorised clients have access to it.
Normally nothing more is required from a client than to logoff and log back on. Everyone has the upgrade at the same time. No more running with different versions for a few days. IT staff no longer need spend time remotely forcing the application update onto a PC that didn't receive it first time, but needs it now.