Thin clients need thick servers to do the processing and storage. The thick server that we refer to here can be of two types: it can be a single, new desktop computer with enhanced memory and two hard disks with real-time mirroring of data (software RAID), or a collection of clustered desktop machines. Think of these as inexpensive blade servers with a network-attached storage. This second solution circumvents the single point of failure problem inherent in the first option, thus offering greater scalability and reliability. The investment on the server would be about Rs 1,500-3,000 per client attached to the system.
The third element of the solution is the software. The base for the client and the server is Linux and other open-source applications. The basic set of applications on the desktop include an email client (Ximians Evolution), a desktop productivity suite (OpenOffice, which can read and write files in DOC, XLS and PPT file formats), a web browser (Mozilla or its lightweight variants), an instant messaging client (GAIM) which provides interoperability with existing IM clients (AOL, ICQ, MSN and Yahoo), and a PDF reader (Adobes Acrobat). All these applications are available for free on Linux.
Applications run on the server and are displayed on the 5KPC using either a terminal-server application like LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project, which runs an X server on the client) or vnc (virtual network computer). vnc, created by AT&T Labs, is a remote display system which allows you to view a computing ‘desktop’ environment not only on the machine where it is running, but from anywhere on the Internet and from a wide variety of machine architectures.
The idea of doing processing on the server and sending the keystrokes and mouse clicks from the user and getting the updated screen from the server is not a new idea: running applications on the server over low-speed connections is already being done Citrix has a solution which works in the Windows world. What is new here is using a Linux desktop to cut costs of not just desktop and server hardware but also software.
The big opportunity for the ATIC is at the branch-level. Each branch can have a 5KPC for every employee, connected to a thick server. The users now get the performance of a new thick desktop, the look-and-feel of a Windows-like interface, the full complement of applications (email, browser, IM, Office suite) without the attendant problems of having to upgrade every few years. In addition, support is simplified dramatically because the client computers dont need any support and the thick servers at the branches can be managed centrally.
What ATIC does is bring down the single biggest impediment to computerisation: the high cost of hardware and proprietary software (MS-Windows and MS-Office).
By using the ATIC architecture, estimated cost savings per user will be Rs 40,000. Multiply these savings by a few thousand users, and add to it the other benefits of lower administrative costs, lesser virus worries and simpler application upgrades, and the benefits of a ATIC architecture become apparent.
Tomorrow: Part 4
TECH TALK An Affordable Alternative Technology Architecture for Indias BFSI Industry+T