The desktop computing layer provides support for file and print services, and the various desktop applications that the thin client users need to run. Centralising file and print services helps in optimal resource utilization. For example, users no longer have to store files on local hard disks, and worry about how they will be backed up. Printers no longer have to be attached to specific users they become shared resources on the network.
In the small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME), each user should be given a home area where the user can securely store the documents. No other user should be allowed access to this area. Users should also be allowed to create shared areas, where they can easily share files with others. In addition, the file server (which is likely to be on the Linux OS) should also have compatibility with the Windows environment, thus providing for seamless co-existence.
The users home area should also be backed up automatically every day to ensure that there is no loss of data. Most SMEs tend to be lax about taking backups, and only realise the folly of their attitude when they lose critical files because of an accidental deletion or disk crash. In fact, SMEs should not even have to worry about taking backups this process needs to be automated. Incremental backups should also be stored offline perhaps, on the Internet.
Printing, along with email and documentation, is a core function in the organization, and needs to be simplified. The print server allows sharing of printers across users and networks. It also allows users to manage their print jobs. In addition, some organisations may also want a fax server, though the use of fax is reducing with the growing popularity of email. In that event, it should be possible to send faxes from the desktop itself through the use of a fax server.
On the desktop applications front, there are a set of seven key applications that every user needs: an email client (along with a personal information manager), a web browser, an instant messaging client, a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation application and a PDF reader. On Linux, the combination of Evolution, Mozilla, GAIM, OpenOffice and Adobe Acrobat provide the complete set of applications for most users. OpenOffice offers the ability to read and write MS-Office file formats, which is very critical since inter-operability with the Windows world is a must.
All of these applications will run on the thick server. This also ensures that the applications need to be updated with the new versions only on the server machines, rather than on every desktop. All user desktops on the thin client can be completely controlled from the server, thus once again simplifying the management of the IT systems.
All the applications that have been mentioned as part of the systems software architecture are available for free on the Linux platform. Again, they have not been aggregated together as part of a single solution in an easy-to-use manner. When that is done, the base software costs can come down by 90% or more as compared to the Windows-Office combination.
Thus, the core IT architecture for SMEs comprising of thin clients, thick servers, Linux and a collection of open-source applications can be put together for as little as Rs 12,500 (USD 275) – assuming the software applications with support are offered for Rs 2,500. Now, imagine if the service provider can charge Rs 500 (USD 11) per person per month for the hardware, networking, software and management. Over a 3-year period, the money available is Rs 18,000, versus a cost that will probably not exceed Rs 15,000 (including initial financing costs for the hardware).
This then is the opportunity for entrepreneurs to create SME Tech Utilities, and foster mass adoption of technology by the 75 million SMEs worldwide, setting the foundation for creating applications for automating the core business processes.
Next Week: SME IT Reference Architectures (continued)
TECH TALK SMEs and Technology+T