TECH TALK: Rethinking Enterprise Software: Whole Solution for USD 20 a month (Part 3)

Much of the world has given up the battle for the desktop, and adopted Microsofts products Windows and Office. The aggregate cost of nearly USD 500 (Rs 25,000) has ensured high levels of piracy in many emerging markets. Enterprises using pirated versions are not born robbers, but do so because there isnt an effective alternative. Even companies like IBM which are very much pro-Linux have concentrated their efforts on the server. Red Hat has focused more on migrating the bigger enterprises from Unix or Windows NT to Linux. The Desktop has been handed over to Microsoft on a platter. This is what needs to change.

The solution lies in a Thin Client-Thick Server (TC-TS) combination. It is what Citrix has been promoting for many years. Citrix has done so using Microsoft technologies. What is needed is an alternative using Linux. Citrixs focus has been on ease of administration because support costs in the developed world are very high. The need in the emerging markets is for a low-cost solution support costs are not as important because salaries for the administration staff are much lower.

The Thin Clients need a collection of the minimal, common applications which would fulfill the needs for most employees. This set includes a graphical user interface, email client, web browser, word processor, spreadsheet and a presentation application. There are Open Source implementations which can put together all of these applications on the desktop KDE/GNOME as the desktop user interface, Evolution as the email client, Mozilla as the web browser and Open Office to match the triad of MS-Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The aggregate cost: zero.

The Thick Server resides on the LAN in the enterprise and supports the Thin Clients. It runs the Mail Server, Instant Messaging Server (Jabber), Database (MySQL or Postgres), Directory Server (LDAP) and Web Server (Apache). This comprises the Enterprise Core. On top is the Enterprise OS in the form of an Application Server like Jboss (or Suns Application Server, which has just been released for free). The enterprise software applications for ERP, CRM and SCM would run on top of the application server. The Digital Dashboard becomes the desktop on the Thin Clients. This is the new enterprise IT architecture.

As applications run locally on the LAN, the issues which have plagued ASPs (connectivity, confidential company information stored on remote servers) are not there. This is a near real-time infrastructure, since it means having to replicate data across locations the costs of a fully connected network are still too high for many SMEs to afford.

The Thin Client-Thick Server combination is at the heart of the effort to bring down the cost of computing and make it available to the enterprise mass markets. There are other side-benefits of this approach. The Thin Client (TC) is easy to manage it can be controlled completely from the Thick Server. If a TC gives a problem, a new TC can be put on the desktop since the users mail and files are all on the server, there is no downtime or loss of data. In addition, upgrades are easy theres only one instance of the software which needs to be upgraded on the server. Of course, the drawback is that the Thick Server now becomes the single point of failure. This can be taken care of by adding redundancy in some of critical components on the server.

Tomorrow: Whole Solution (continued)

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.