I have written extensively in previous Tech Talks on using thin clients (or network computers) as the solution to making computing affordable and manageable, and thus taking it to the mass market of users in emerging markets. [See the right panel on my blog and look for the sub-section Affordable Computing and ICT for Development under My Best Writings.]
Novatium, a company I have helped co-found, is working on exactly this. The company website offers the benefits:
Novatium’s access devices are Thin because their complexity has been moved from the device to a central server. So, the user finds an appliance-like simplicity in using Novatium devices.
Devices built on Novatiums technology platform, which is a ground-up invention, offer users the following Go Thin! benefits:
Control: Novatium access devices are centrally managed and therefore easy to control. All installations, configuration changes and application software additions are implemented at the central server.
Secure: Novatium offers custom built high security solutions at unmatched price points like biometric and smart card authentication modules.The threat of virus and hacker attacks is diminished, because all data is securely protected at a single point. Back-up becomes easier, as all data is stored on the server.
Economise: Novatiums access devices cut down the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). For enterprise computing environments, the overall cost savings range from 25% to 50%, depending on whether it is a Linux or Windows environment.
Entrust: Novatiums access devices do not possess moving parts that normally contribute to break-downs. With downtime drastically lowered, organizational productivity is enhanced.
Outlast: Novatium devices are virtually obsolescence free. This is because all system upgrades are carried out at the server end.
In an article in February discussing the various options for providing computing to the poor, Michael Kanellos had this to say about thin clients:
Thin clients are inexpensive, lightweight terminals that rely on servers to store data and crunch numbers. They’re used by banks, airlines and insurance companies in the west, and entrepreneurs such as India’s Rajesh Jain and academics like Deepak Phatak and Ashok Jhunjhunwala are promoting them for rural use.
Pros: Because they don’t need fast processors or a hard drive, thin clients can be produced for about $100, including a used monitor. Some designs use an existing TV to cut costs further. The fact that the software is centralized on a server also makes it easier to handle upgrades and control viruses. Interestingly, local leaders, rather than multinationals, are behind this one.
Cons: Thin clients rely on servers, so if the server goes out, the terminals go down. Users have also said that thin clients can run slowly if too many people log on to the server, but proponents say the technology has steadily improved.
So, having covered all the various options, what do I think about which of these approaches will win?
Tomorrow: My Views