Thin clients

Thin clients<@VM>Thin clients have fewer failure points than PCs<@VM>Thin clients have fewer failure points than PCs (cont.)<@VM>Microsoft and Citrix set the protocol pace

Network administrators can save time and money by letting servers carry the load

By J.B. Miles

Special to GCN

Thin is in. Sales of thin clients have more than tripled since 1998, when 350,000 units were sold, according to a survey by International Data Corp., a market research company in Framingham, Mass. Sales reached 1.2 million last year, and most analysts predict the total to exceed 6 million annually by 2003.

Thin clients get their name not from their size or shape but from the way they function in server-based network architectures.

The Sun Ray 150 from Sun Microsystems Inc. includes a 15-inch LCD monitor, contains no CPU and runs SunSoft Solaris. It's priced at $1,399.

Unlike the fat local clients that share the processing load with servers in client-server and distributed computing models, thin clients are used exclusively as windows to the servers.

Only the servers process applications and data. The thin clients are used solely to display the applications via monitors and may also serve as limited input/output devices via the keyboards, mice, scanners, bar code readers, printers or fax machines attached to their parallel, serial or USB ports.

Because thinness is determined by function, not shape, any device, including a PC, can serve as a thin client. The heavy and slow dumb terminals that displayed text from central mainframes on monochrome screens during the mid-1970s and early 1980s were among the earliest versions of thin clients.

New uses

Nowadays, plenty of older 386 and 486 Intel PCs are being pressed into service as thin clients. NetPCs, a hybrid category of PC-like devices minus floppy drives and expansion ports, also can fill this category. But unlike thin clients, units with hard drives can also store and process applications to act like mini-PCs.

Look across the counters of airlines, travel agencies and car rental companies and you'll see an entire range of general-purpose terminals that also serve as thin clients. They look like computers, but they are little more than keyboards and monitors with embedded chips and direct network access to a central computer.

They have no hard drives or floppy drives and their only purpose is to access and display information from a main computer and enter new information such as schedule updates into a mainframe or series of high-end workstations.

The ThinStar 200 from Network Computing Devices Inc. has a 100-MHz NEC R4300 processor and runs Microsoft Windows CE. It's priced at $499 and does not include a monitor.

This Buyers Guide features thin clients that run Microsoft Windows, Unix or Linux. These units are next-generation versions of the general-purpose terminals.

Like the general-purpose terminals, they contain no moving parts'no spinning media in the form of hard or floppy drives or fans'and they store and process no local applications, with the possible exception of a Web browser or optional terminal emulation software.

Their processors are not exceptionally fast or powerful because they are used mostly for system booting, I/O needs and windowing tasks. Most of the thin clients listed run Windows CE, although Linux and Embedded NT are making inroads into the marketplace, as well.

At your server

Aided by sophisticated network operating software from Microsoft Corp. and Citrix Systems Inc., the terminals can inexpensively serve up your favorite PC server productivity or business software, including Internet browsers, complete with graphics, pictures and sound.

Why buy thin clients? They aren't for everybody.

Knowledge professionals prefer to be in charge of loading and unloading their own applications. Many power users want to be able to unscrew a machine's cover and tinker with the insides. Content creators such as engineers, computer-aided design users and graphics designers are better off with PCs or high-end workstations with enough horsepower to handle high-end computing tasks.

Great for some

But for information services managers overseeing the requirements of customer service workers, sales representatives, administrative workers, reservation agents and even health workers, thin client computing supplies distinct advantages. Some of the benefits:

Positive TCO. According to a recent estimate from the GartnerGroup Inc. of Stamford, Conn., the total cost of ownership for running a desktop PC exceeds $5,000 annually in many organizations.

TCO includes the base price for the machine and other factors such as maintenance, setup time, software administration, spare parts inventories and employee hours spent keeping a particular device up and running.

In just about all these areas, thin clients offer a much more favorable TCO ration than either PCs or NetPCs.

Base price. Most of the units listed in the accompanying table are priced between $400 and $900. Units costing more often come with flat-panel or touch-screen monitors.

Although a low-end Intel Celeron PC is priced between $600 and $800, there's much less to go wrong with a thin client device once it has been set up to run with a network server.

Low MTBF rate. The base measurement of any electronic device's reliability is its mean time between failure, or MTBF.

Typical thin clients have an MTBF rate of up to 170,000 hours, and most PCs have an MTBF rate of between 20,000 and 40,000 hours, according to a study by Compaq Corp.

Statistically, your networked PC is likely to fail up to five times more often than a thin client. You can reasonably expect a thin client running Windows to last seven to 10 years'or 60,000 to 87,000 hours'without failure.

Acute Network Technologies Inc.'s TC-8000 Series include a Cyrix MediaGXm LV processor. Prices range from $1,399 to $1,699.

Reliability. MTBF is built on the reliability of a system's components and the way it is built. As well as having no moving parts, thin clients also use higher-quality components with lower failure rates than, say, inexpensive Celeron PCs.

They also consume less power than PCs, minimizing the problem of overheated components.

Best of all, casual or curious users can't easily muck about the insides of a thin client to replace or swap out a part or add or delete software.

Security. Because casual or unauthorized users can't load or unload software, or even tamper with a thin client's case'which often is riveted shut'the use of any unauthorized software that might contaminate the rest of the network is eliminated.

Software piracy and other security risks posed by office workers or intruders are also eliminated. As for theft, a device without a hard or floppy drive, significant memory and few expansion slots isn't nearly as attractive to a thief as a full-fledged PC.

Ease of management. In a multiuser, server-based environment, all software resides on network servers, making software administration, upgrades, configurations and license administration far easier than in a dispersed PC environment. Any changes to software need to be made only once and all users benefit immediately.

Ease of setup and installation. The Compaq report said a PC or workstation typically takes 90 minutes to set up'30 minutes to unpack and load the operating system, 30 minutes to load applications and 30 minutes to configure the unit and attach it to the network.

Compaq claims that one of its T1010 or T1015 thin clients can be set up in 15 minutes'five minutes to unpack and connect (there is no software loading), five minutes to configure the user's profile and five minutes to configure the server connection.

In a 100-seat environment, the report said, the difference becomes substantial: 19 days of a field engineer's time for the PCs, three days for the thin client setup.

Ease of use. Thin-client devices are increasingly used at call centers, as point-of-sale devices, at kiosks in schools and libraries, manufacturing plant floors, in hospitals and construction sites, even on ships at sea.

Tips for buyers

' Smart-card options can build a thin client's memory and PC Card options can provide dial-up capability for remote service.

' Many thin clients come with optional terminal emulation software for legacy applications.

' Fast, powerful processors are not
required for thin clients because all applications and data reside on the server.

' Built-in flat-panel or touch-screen monitors significantly raise the price of thin clients.

' Thin clients aren't for everybody, but they give network administrators maximum control over network activities.

As mentioned, organizations wishing to act as their own application service providers can upload or download software versions from their secure servers onto thin clients at will, without the fear of intervention or sabotage by a disgruntled employee.

Many models can be equipped with touch screens for public users unfamiliar with keyboards. Multilingual instructions for their use also can be provided.

Performance. The performance of PCs and NetPCs are determined by such factors as the speed and power of their processors, the amount of RAM, bus types, and the speed of peripherals such as hard drives and CD-ROM drives. Thin clients have no such limitations.

Because these terminals are windows into the server, they can execute applications and access data at the speed and power of the server. The only performance limitations are the bandwidth capacity of the network and the configuration management of the server or server farm.

In many cases, a thin client running Windows and a slow 486 chip can outperform a Pentium PC.

J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers.

CompanyProductProcessorTerminal OSEmbedded protocolsNetwork interfaceMonitor included?Price
Accel Power Inc.
Fremont, Calif.
ART 3000 Series200-MHz Cyrix MediaGX LVWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$499
ART 4000 Series200-MHz Cyrix MediaGX LVWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$699
Acer America Corp.
San Jose, Calif.
WT 300200-MHz Cyrix MediaGX LVWindows CEICA, RDP 10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$600 up
Acute Network Technologies Inc.
San Jose, Calif.
TC-1000200-MHz NS Geode GXmWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps Ethernet, Point- to-Point Protocol dial-upNo$299
TC-5000233-MHz Cyrix MediaGXmWindows CEICA, RDP 10/100-Mbps Ethernet, PPP dial-upNo$399
TC-7000 Series233-MHz Cyrix MediaGXmWindows CEICA, RDP 10/100-Mbps Ethernet, PPP dial-upBuilt-in$639 to $839
TC-8000 Series233-MHz or 266-MHz Cyrix MediaGXmWindows CEICA, RDP 10/100-Mbps Ethernet, PPP dial-upBuilt-in flat-panel$1,399 to $1,699
Affirmative Computer Products
Scottsdale, Ariz.
YEStation Extra233-MHz or 266-MHz Cyrix MediaGXmpSOS, Windows CEICA, RDP 10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$595
ASC Systems
St. Clair Shores, Mich.
PC Network Station233-MHz Pentium II MMXWindows CE, Windows9x/NT, UnixOptional, X-Terminal10/100-Mbps Ethernet, optional ISDN/ASDL, optional RFOptional flat-panel $495 to $995
Athena Networking Products
Bloomington, Minn.
Tube 2000233-MHz Cyrix MediaGXmWindows CEICA, RDP 10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$610
Automation Control Products
East Alpharetta, Ga.
Desktop ThinTerm DC-30-100233-MHz Cyrix MediaGXmWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$395
Flat Panel ThinTerm Series233-MHz Cyrix MediaGXmWindows CEOptional10/100-Mbps EthernetIntegrated flat-panel$1,395 up
Industrial ThinTerm TC-10-100OptionalWindows CEOptional10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$695
Boca Research Inc.
Boca Raton, Fla.
BocaVision STB121ARM 7500 FE RISCProprietaryICAPPPTV$400
BocaVision WT120ARM 7500 FE RISCThinRISCICA10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$500
BocaVision DTC203Cyrix MediaGXiWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$600
BocaVision JNC205200-MHz NS Geode GXmLinuxICA10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$700
Boundless Technologies Inc.
Hauppauge, N.Y.
Capio II Model 320233-MHz NS Geode GXLVWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$399
Capio II Model 325233-MHz NS Geode GXLVWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$399 up
iBrow233-MHz NS Geode GXLVVxworksICAPPPColor LCD$600
Compaq Computer Corp.
T1010 T1510233-MHz Cyrix MediaGXmWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps Ethernet, PPPNo$549
T1510233-MHz Cyrix MediaGXmLinuxICA10/100-Mbps Ethernet, PPPNo$699
Aero 8000128-MHz Hitachi SH4Windows CEICAWireless RFColor LCD$899
Dell Computer Corp.
Austin, Texas
e200OptionalWindows CEICA, RDP10/100 Ethernet15-inch CRT $699
Eizo Nanao Technologies Inc.
Cypress, Calif.
eClient 530L68-MHz 64-bit RISCWindows CEICA, RDP10Base-T Ethernet5-inch LCD$1,750
Fujitsu-ICL Systems Inc.
La Jolla, Calif.
TeamPad 7500 Wireless85-MHz NEC VR4111Windows CEICA, RDPWireless RFColor LCD $1,665
IBM Corp.
Armonk, N.Y.
Network Station 30066-MHz PowerPC 403GcXOptionalICA10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$549
Network Station 1000200-MHz PowerPC 603eVOptionalICA10/100-Mbps Ethernet, token-ringNo$899 to $999

CompanyProductProcessorTerminal OSEmbedded protocolsNetwork interfaceMonitor included?Price
IBM Corp. continuedNetwork Station 2200Pentium II 233 MHzBSD UnixICA10/100-Mbps Ethernet, token-ringNo$630
Network Station 2800Pentium II 233MHzBSD UnixICA10/100-Mbps Ethernet, token-ringNo$820
Allentown, Pa.
Etherterminal CCyrix GX 133MHzFlash LinuxICA10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$645
Etherterminal WCyrix GX 133MHzFlash LinuxICA10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$645 up
Etherterminal JCyrix GX 182MHzFlash LinuxICA10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$899
Key Tronic Corp.
Spokane, Wash.
Client2000AMD ElanProprietaryICA10/100-Mbps Ethernet, PPP dial-upNo$522
Client1000AMD Elan/td>
ProprietaryICA10/100-Mbps Ethernet, dial-up modemNo$599
Client5000AMD ElanProprietaryICA10/100-Mbps Ethernet, PPP dial-up15.1-inch touch screen$1,783
Maxspeed Corp.
Palo Alto, Calif.
MaxTerm 100NS Geode GXm 266MHzWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps Ethernet, PPP dial-upNo$549
Neoware Systems Inc.
King of Prussia, Pa.
NeoStation 3000CXNS Geode GXm 200MHzWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps Ethernet, dial-upOptional 15 and 17-inch CRTs$499 to $798
Netier Technologies Inc.
Carrollton, Texas
XL1000AMD K6-2 250MHzNT, Linux, NetWin (embedded)ICA, RDP10/100-Mbps Ethernet, dial-upNo$590 to $844
XL2000AMD K6-2 250MHzNT, Linux, NetWin (embedded)ICA, RDP10/100-Mbps Ethernet, dial-upNo$775 to $913
Network Computing Devices Inc.
Mountain View, Calif.
ThinStar 200NEC R4300 100MHzWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$499
ThinStar 300/300TRPentium II 266MHzWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps Ethernet, token-ring, dial-upNo$699
ThinStar 400Pentium II 266MHzWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps Ethernet, token-ring, dial-upNo$899
Praim Inc.
Portsmouth, N.H.
Primo WBT100Cyrix Media GXm 233MHzWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$645
Sun Microsystems Inc.
Palo Alto, Calif.
Sun Ray 1No CPUSolarisICA10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$399
Sun Ray 100No CPUSolarisICA10/100-Mbps Ethernet17-inch CRT$649
Sun Ray 150No CPUSolarisICA10/100-Mbps Ethernet15-inch, flat-panel LCD$1,399
Visara Inc. Research
Triangle Park, N.C.
eTerm 350 PlusCyrix Media GXm 200MHzWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$504
1783 NCTCyrix Media GXm 233MHzLinuxICA10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$596
Wyse Technology Inc.
San Jose, Calif.
Winterm 8360SECyrix Media GXm 233MHzEmbedded NTICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$999
Winterm 3200LECyrix 166MHzWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$474
Winterm 3360SECyrix Media GXm 233MHzEmbedded NT ICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$849
Winterm 3320SECyrix 166MHzWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$699
Winterm 3350SECyrix Media GX 200MHzWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$799
Winterm 3720SECyrix Media GX 200MHzWindows CEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetBuilt-in 15-inch CRT$989
By J.B. Miles

Special to GCN

Understanding the relationship between Microsoft Corp. and Citrix Systems Inc. is necessary to understanding their significant contributions to thin-client computing.

Several years ago, Microsoft announced Windows NT Server, Terminal Server Edition (TSE) 4.0, a multiuser operating system capable of bringing server-based Windows applications to many desktop platforms, including Macintosh, Unix and others.

The Terminal Server portion of the software provided the ability to host multiple, simultaneous client sessions on Windows NT Server 4.0 and future versions, namely Windows 2000.

A key component of the software is the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), which allows thin clients to communicate with the terminal server over the network. According to Microsoft's definition, a thin client can be any one of a wide range of hardware, including the new category of terminals or PCs running Windows 9x, NT or Windows for Workgroups 3.11.

Citrix developed a licensing agreement with Microsoft that built on the multiuser capability of Windows NT Server 4.0 TSE but added its own Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) that provides a foundation for turning any client'thin or fat'into the ultimate thin client.

ICA separates application logic from the user interface on the server. On the client side, users see and work with the application's interface, but 100 percent of the application executes on the server. Citrix claims that, with ICA, applications consume as little as one-tenth of their normal network bandwidth.

Win 2000 builds in the RDP protocols and multiuser capabilities of Windows NT Server 4.0 TSE along with some other features such as server load balancing. Citrix's MetaFrame software for Unix and Win 2000 brings end-to-end command and control features, enterprisewide application portals and Web information-on-demand to virtually any client device, regardless of its operating system.

Just remember RDP and ICA'they are the protocols that make Windows-based thin-client computing work.


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