Thin Clients in India

InfoWorld has a story based on an interview with Prof. Deepak Phatak of IIT- Mumbai on how the use of open-source thin clients can cut computing costs.

To help bring down the cost of computers, Phatak is promoting the adoption of a low-cost thin client based on Via Technologies Inc.’s 800MHz C3 processor, rather than a more expensive chip from Intel, and Linux applications that run on a PC server.

Opting for a thin client instead of a desktop PC saves money in two ways. Thin clients don’t require a hard disk and the 800MHz C3, which costs $22 in 1,000-unit quantities, is cheaper than processors from both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc (AMD), he said. The cheapest desktop Celeron processor listed on Intel’s Web site is a 2.1GHz version of the chip, which is priced at $69 in 1,000-unit quantities.

The lower price of the C3 helps bring down the cost of the thin client — which includes a 15-inch CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor — to 14,000 rupees, Phatak said. That price may fall to around 10,000 rupees next March if the Indian government follows through on an expected cut in tariffs on computer components, he said.

When it comes to software for the thin clients, Phatak has chosen Linux and other open-source software. This provides an alternative to software from companies like Microsoft, which require expensive software licenses, he said.

Linux and open-source software may currently be seen as the most affordable route for India’s push to expand the use of IT by local businesses, but Phatak is no open-source ideologue. His goal is to see the price of building an IT infrastructure become affordable to IT companies, regardless of the specific software or hardware involved.

“I would expect the growth (in thin client shipments) to be exponential,” Phatak said. “I believe in the first year the numbers could be as few as 100,000, but the fourth-year and fifth-year numbers should go up.”

“My ambition is that we should sell 20 million PCs every year, for the next five years at least,” he said.

In fact, Netcore’s Emergic Freedom is running at the Affordable Computing Lab in the School of IT at IIT-Mumbai. While we have had only limited commercial success so far, we are beginning to see an increasing interest in solutions that can cut the total cost of ownership of computing.

I think to get to mass-market levels we need a USD 50 (Rs 2,300) thin-client (excluding the keyboard-mouse-monitor). I wrote about my ideas recently in a Tech Talk Series on “The Next Billion“.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.