Organizations are taking PCs off people’s desktops and replacing them with “thin client” systems. Each worker gets a computer screen, keyboard and mouse. But a central computer room stores all the data and does most of the processing — slashing support costs and making it much easier to track and restrict how workers use their machines.
Thin clients have come and gone over the years. Now they’re enjoying a revival as the cost of maintaining networks rises and employers are flooded with demands for tighter security and record-keeping. Bob O’Donnell, director of personal technology for IDC, a market-research firm in Framingham, Mass., predicts that by 2008 thin clients will account for nearly 10% of the market for desktop computers at large and medium-size companies, up from about 5.4% this year.
IDC projects even faster growth for related systems called blade PCs. Unlike thin clients, which run off big central servers, blade-PC systems give each worker a trimmed-down version of an ordinary PC but store the machines in a central computer room for easier maintenance. IDC predicts sales of blades will grow to 6.5 million in 2008 from just 350,000 this year.
In general, thin clients’ appeal isn’t lower purchase costs. Some cost almost as much as desktop PCs — depending, for example, on whether they use the Windows operating system or a less expensive one. Blade PCs often cost more than traditional PCs, because of the software and hardware that connect them to the central network.
The savings come in managing the desktops. When employees can’t slip in virus-laden floppy disks, and the computer professionals can upgrade security protection and add new programs at the touch of a button in the computer room, maintenance costs decline sharply. And the total cost of ownership drops in turn.