Thin clients

Thin clients<@VM>Thin clients have fewer failure points than PCs<@VM>Thin clients have fewer failure points than PCs (cont.)

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.


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.


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

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 apps 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 information such as schedule updates into a mainframe or series of high-end workstations.

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


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.


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.

Aided by 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.

Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) allows thin clients to communicate with the terminal server over the network, bringing server-based applications to many desktop platforms, including Macintosh and Unix.

Citnix developed the Independent Computing Architecure (ICA) to separate application logic from the user on the server side. Users work with an application's interface, but the app is executed entirely on the server, consuming as little as one-tenth of its normal network bandwidth.

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

Knowledge professionals prefer to control their own applications. Many power users want to tinker with the insides. Content creators such as engineers and graphics designers are better off with workstations with enough power to handle high-end computing tasks.

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

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


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.


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 device up and running.

In just about all these areas, thin clients offer a more favorable TCO 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 of up to 170,000 hours, and most PCs have an MTBF of between 20,000 and 40,000 hours, according to a study by Compaq Computer 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.

Reliability. MTBF is built on the reliability of a system's components and the way it is constructed. 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 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 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 apps 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, four 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.

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.

Performance. The performance of PCs is 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
protocols
Network
interface
Monitor
included?
Price
Accel Power Inc.
Fremont, Calif.
510-438-6530
www.accelpower.com
ART 3000 Series200-MHz
Cyrix MediaGX LV
WinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$499
ART 4000 Series200-MHz
Cyrix MediaGX LV
WinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$699
Acer America Corp.
San Jose, Calif.
800-733-2237
www.acer.com
WT 300200-MHz
Cyrix MediaGX LV
WinCEICA, RDP
10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$600 up
Acute Network
Technologies Inc.
San Jose, Calif.
408-456-0900
www.acutetech.com
TC-1000200-MHz
NS Geode GXm
WinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps Ethernet, Point-
to-Point Protocol dial-up
No$299
TC-5000233-MHz
Cyrix MediaGXm
WinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps Ethernet,
PPP dial-up
No$399
TC-7000 Series233-MHz
Cyrix MediaGXm
WinCEICA, RDP
10/100-Mbps Ethernet,
PPP dial-up
Built-in$639 to
$839
TC-8000 Series233-MHz or 266-MHz
Cyrix MediaGXm
WinCEICA, RDP
10/100-Mbps Ethernet,
PPP dial-up
Built-in
flat-panel
$1,399 to
$1,699
Affirmative Computer Products
Scottsdale, Ariz.
480-946-1444
www.affirmative.net
YEStation Extra233-MHz or 266-MHz
Cyrix MediaGXm
pSOS,
WinCE
ICA, RDP
10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$595
ASC Systems
St. Clair Shores, Mich.
313-882-1133
www.airi.com
PC Network
Station
233-MHz
Pentium II MMX
WinCE,
Win9x, NT,
Unix
Optional,
X-Terminal
10/100-Mbps Ethernet,
optional ISDN/ASDL,
optional RF
Optional
flat-panel
$495 to
$995
Athena Networking Products
Bloomington, Minn.
952-883-0806
www.athena-networking.com
Tube 2000233-MHz
Cyrix MediaGXm
WinCEICA, RDP
10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$610
Automation Control
Products
East Alpharetta, Ga.
770-205-2475
www.acpthinclient.com
Desktop ThinTerm
DC-30-100
233-MHz
Cyrix MediaGXm
WinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$395
Flat Panel
ThinTerm Series
233-MHz
Cyrix MediaGXm
WinCEOptional10/100-Mbps EthernetIntegrated
flat-panel
$1,395 up
Industrial ThinTerm
TC-10-100
OptionalWinCEOptional10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$695
Boca Research Inc.
Boca Raton, Fla.
561-997-6227
www.bocaresearch.com
BocaVision
STB121
ARM 7500 FE RISCProprietaryICAPPP dial-upTV$400
BocaVision
WT120
ARM 7500 FE RISCThinRISCICA10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$500
BocaVision
DTC203
Cyrix MediaGXiWinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$600
BocaVision
JNC205
200-MHz
NS Geode GXm
LinuxICA10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$700
Boundless Technologies Inc.
Hauppauge, N.Y.
800-231-5445
www.boundless.com
Capio II
Model 320
233-MHz
NS Geode GXLV
WinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$399
Capio II
Model 325
233-MHz
NS Geode GXLV
WinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$399 up
iBrow233-MHz
NS Geode GXLV
VxworksICAPPP dial-upColor LCD
$600
Compaq Computer Corp.
Houston
281-370-0670
www.compaq.com
T1010233-MHz
Cyrix MediaGXm
WinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps Ethernet,
PPP dial-up
No$549
T1510233-MHz
Cyrix MediaGXm
LinuxICA10/100-Mbps Ethernet,
PPP dial-up
No$699
Aero 8000128-MHz
Hitachi SH4
WinCEICAWireless RFColor LCD$899
Dell Computer Corp.
Austin, Texas
512-338-4400
www.dell.com
e200OptionalWinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps Ethernet15-inch CRT
$699
Eizo Nanao Technologies Inc.
Cypress, Calif.
800-800-5202
www.eizo.com
eClient 530L68-MHz
64-bit RISC
WinCEICA, RDP10Base-T Ethernet15-inch LCD$1,750
Fujitsu-ICL Systems
Inc.
La Jolla, Calif.
800-228-8683
www.iclhandheld.com
TeamPad 7500
Wireless
85-MHz
NEC VR4111
WinCEICA, RDPWireless RFColor LCD
$1,665



























































































































































































































































































CompanyProductProcessorTerminal OSEmbedded
protocols
Network
interface
Monitor
included?
Price
IBM Corp.
Armonk, N.Y.
914-499-1900
www.ibm.com
Network Station
300
66-MHz
PowerPC 403GcX
OptionalICA10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$549
Network Station
1000
200-MHz
PowerPC 603eV
OptionalICA10/100-Mbps Ethernet,
token-ring
No$899 to
$999
Network Station
2200
233-MHz
Pentium II
BSD UnixICA10/100-Mbps Ethernet,
token-ring
No$630
Network Station
2800
233-MHz
Pentium II
BSD UnixICA10/100-Mbps Ethernet,
token-ring
No$820
IGEL LLC
Allentown, Pa.
610-231-8858
www.igelusa.com
Etherterminal C133-MHz
Cyrix GX
Flash LinuxICA10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$645
Etherterminal W133-MHz
Cyrix GX
Flash LinuxICA10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$645 up
Etherterminal J182-MHz
Cyrix GX
Flash LinuxICA10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$899
Key Tronic Corp.
Spokane, Wash.
509-927-5309
www.keytronic.com
Client2000AMD ElanProprietaryICA10/100-Mbps Ethernet,
PPP dial-up
No$522
Client1000AMD ElanProprietaryICA10/100-Mbps Ethernet,
dial-up modem
No$599
Client5000AMD ElanProprietaryICA10/100-Mbps Ethernet,
PPP dial-up
15.1-inch
touch-screen
$1,783
Maxspeed Corp.
Palo Alto, Calif.
650-856-8818
www.maxspeed.com
MaxTerm 100266-MHz
NS Geode GXm
WinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps Ethernet,
PPP dial-up
No$549
Neoware Systems Inc.
King of Prussia, Pa.
610-277-8300
www.neoware.com
NeoStation
3000CX
200-MHz
NS Geode GXm
WinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps Ethernet,
dial-up
Optional
15- and 17-inch
CRTs
$499 to
$798
Netier Technologies Inc.
Carrollton, Texas
888-603-1763
www.netier.com
XL1000250-MHz
AMD K6-2
NT, Linux, NetWin
(embedded)
ICA, RDP10/100-Mbps Ethernet,
dial-up
No$590 to
$844
XL2000250-MHz
AMD K6-2
NT, Linux, NetWin
(embedded)
ICA, RDP10/100-Mbps Ethernet,
dial-up
No$775 to
$913
Network Computing
Devices Inc.
Mountain View, Calif.
650-694-0650
www.ncd.com
ThinStar 200100-MHz
NEC R4300
WinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$499
ThinStar
300/300TR
266-MHz
Pentium II
WinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps Ethernet,
token-ring, dial-up
No$699
ThinStar 400266-MHz
Pentium II
WinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps Ethernet,
token-ring, dial-up
No$899
Praim Inc.
Portsmouth, N.H.
603-433-0287
www.praim.com
Primo WBT100233-MHz
Cyrix Media GXm
WinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$645
Sun Microsystems Inc.
Palo Alto, Calif.
650-960-1300
www.sun.com
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.
919-279-6000
www.visara.com
eTerm 350 Plus200-MHz
Cyrix Media GXm
WinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$504
1783 NCT233-MHz
Cyrix Media GXm
LinuxICA10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$596
Wyse Technology Inc.
San Jose, Calif.
408-473-1200
www.wyse.com
Winterm 8360SE233-MHz
Cyrix Media GXm
Embedded NTICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$999
Winterm 3200LE166-MHz CyrixWinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$474
Winterm 3360SE233-MHz
Cyrix Media GXm
Embedded NT
ICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$849
Winterm 3320SE166-MHz CyrixWinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$699
Winterm 3350SE200-MHz
Cyrix Media GX
WinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetNo$799
Winterm 3720SE200-MHz
Cyrix Media GX
WinCEICA, RDP10/100-Mbps EthernetBuilt-in
15-inch CRT
$989

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