A Thin Revolution


Without any doubt, everyone within this blog has already heard about the concept of outsourcing. In this post, I am going to write about a particular product, that has incredible potentiality: the thin client.

I firstly got in touch with the concept of thin client when I was reading the book: The Big Switch written by Nicholas Carr. In its book, the author does an interesting parallelism between the diffusion of the electricity and the computers, forecasting the computing to become soon an utility. According to him, the next big change will be the outsourcing of the computers, as a matter of fact he predicts a bright future for the so called as-a-service-models (in particular in his book he speaks of SaaS and HaaS). In its chapter 4, called: Goodbye, Mr. Gates, he explains how this is going to be possible: through the use of thin clients. Thin clients are stateless, fanless desktop terminal that has no hard drive. They works thanks to a connection with a data centre (which could be proprietary or also outsourced), which allow the users to have all features typically found on the desktop PC, including applications, sensitive data, memory, etc. In other words, the thin client allow users to perform, in most of the occasion, as they would do with a personal computer. The only case in which normal computers are better, is when it comes to very intensive and demanding applications, such as AutoCAD, this is due to the absence of hardware.

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Figure 1: In this image we can see how different workstations (speakers, mouse, keyboard, monitor), thanks to the thin clients, can be setted to perform the same functions of normal PCs.

Thin clients are linked to a single powerful host machine, which can run multiple operating systems and multiple applications on the same server at the same time. This is possible only thanks to the use of virtualization, i.e. a software that separates physical infrastructures to create various dedicated resources.

Creating such an infrastructure has several benefits for a company:

1) Lower Operational Costs: An office environment where several workstations are involved can access a single server unit, thereby reducing the operational costs covering these related actions:

  • Setting up the device takes less than ten minutes to accomplish.
  • The lifespan of a “client” unit is very long, since there are no moving parts inside. The only parts that need constant replacements are the peripherals that are external to the PC. This means that when something breaks at the “client’s” end, it can be as easy as taking a replacement unit to replace the broken one. Even wear and tear is considerably unnoticeable.
  • Energy efficiency – A slim unit is said to consume 20W to 40W as opposed to the regular thick PC, where power consumption during operation mode consumes 60W to 110W. In addition, the thin PCs need little or no air conditioning at all, which literally means less operating costs. Whatever air conditioning needed is demanded and supplied at the server area.
  • Work efficiency – Its work environment can be far-reaching and extensive; as it can provide quick access to remotely located workers simultaneously operating on server-based computing.

2) Superior Security: Since users will only have access to the server by network connections, security measures like different access levels for different users can be implemented. That way, users with lower access levels will not be able to see, know, or in worst case scenarios, hack into the confidential files and applications of the entire organization. They are all secured at the server’s end, which is also a way of securing data files in the event of natural disasters. The servers will be the only machines that need to survive the disaster as the main location of all the saved data. Immediately after the disaster, new “clients” can easily be connected to the server, for as long as the latter remains intact.

3) Lower Malware Infection Risks: There is a very slim chance of getting malware on the server from a thin client because inputs to the server only come from the keyboard, mouse actions, and screen images. The PCs get their software or programs from the server itself; hence, patches, software updates and virus scanning applications are being implemented only on the server’s end. It follows that the servers will be the one to process information and store the information afterwards.

4) Highly Reliable: Business organizations can expect continuous service for longer durations since thin clients can have a lifespan of more than five years. In as much as these units are built as solid state devices, there is less impact from wear and tear through constant use.

5) Space Savings: the small dimension of a thin client allow to have a better workplace with more space for the normal working activities.

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Figure 2: An HP t420 Thin Client

Of course the thin clients have some downsides such the fact they have to be always connected and that a powerful central host machine is needed, but for companies which have to bear expenses for setting up an IT infrastructure the thin clients could be a real revolution.

Sources:

Carr, N. G. (2008). The big switch: Rewiring the world, from Edison to Google. WW Norton & Company.

http://www.devonit.com/thin-client-education

http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/5791-virtualization-vs-cloud-computing.html#sthash.BkbfScvb.dpuf

http://www8.hp.com/us/en/thin-clients/t420.html#!&pd1=1

http://www.thinclientbrasil.com/thin-client/como-funciona-thin-client.php

http://www.brighthub.com/environment/green-computing/articles/66417.aspx

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