The thin clients shift the onus of processing and storage to the server. Luckily, the relentless advances in computing driven by Moores Law means that we can leverage this dramatic increase in computational capabilities on the server by using the newest desktops as servers in enterprises. While Intel and AMD have distinct desktop and server brands, in the context of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), that distinction is not as meaningful any more.
The thick server which resides on the enterprise network should be capable of handling all the computing activities. There are two ways to size the server, given the size of the organisation: one is to go in for a single server which has the higher-end CPUs (like the Intel Xeons), while the other is to scale horizontally and go in for multiple desktops in a server cluster.
Many of the smaller companies would only need a single server, so it does not matter. But for the mid-sized companies, the second choice may be a better approach, because if offers greater reliability (no single point of failure which can be a justified criticism for a server-centric computing solution) and scalability (just add another computer as the user needs increase).
For the local networking, there are two possibilities: the use of WiFi within the organization or doing cabling. WiFi would be a preferred option because it reduces the installation time cabling can be a cumbersome process.
The software on the server comprises of four layers: the operating system (typically Linux), a distributed file system (in the case of multiple computers working together), terminal services (to provide support for the thin clients) and the applications. All the software needed to make the thick server a reality exists in open-source today. What has not happened is the complete and seamless integration of these applications to make for an integrated system.
The cost of such a thick server would vary from about Rs 25,000 (USD 550) for the minimum configuration for a small organisation (of 5-7 users), and go up to Rs 150,000 (USD 3,300) for a 50-person organisation. A good assumption is that it will cost Rs 5,000 (USD 110) per user in server costs for a small business, with the cost going down to Rs 3,000 (USD 65) per user for larger enterprises.
The two big advantages of this thin client-thick server architecture are that the clients never ever need to be upgraded, and management of the IT setup boils down to management of the servers only. If the network connectivity is present, the servers can in fact be managed remotely, eliminating the need for trained engineers to be located onsite, which is always an expensive proposition from the SME viewpoint. This architecture also benefits from the continuing commoditisation of IT hardware it should be possible to get at least 50% greater processing power and storage a year down the line for the same investment.
Thus, it is possible to put together a complete hardware solution (desktop thin client and server) which costs no more than Rs 10,000 per person in upfront investments. This is a 60-75% reduction from todays costs, and forms the first foundation for the SME IT architecture.
Tomorrow: Systems Software Architecture