‘Zero Clients’ Could Cut Bills And Emissions

One PC can serve applications to many users, in a radical thin client system which could help small businesses and the third world, says NComputing’s Paul Gullett

A thin client system, with no operating system at all, could cut desktop costs, according to desktop virtualisation vendor NComputing – and they could also help connect up the developing world.

The company’s products have had a presence in the UK, thanks to an OEM deal with low-energy computer specialist VeryPC, whose GreenHive system is based on the Ncomputing “zero client” system, vSpace. NComputing claims to have 2.4 million seats, at 50,000 customers, and is taking on new partners in Europe – but its solution is somewhat difficult to place alongside thin clients and virtual desktops, so we spoke to the EMEA vice president Paul Gullett.

Cycles of innovation

vSpace lets up to 30 users connect as “dumb terminals” to a single instance of Windows or Linux, running on a shared PC box. A PC normally uses about 150W – not including the screen – and this system shares that power between a large number of users.

Each user then uses one to five Watts, plus their monitor, and there is a small increase in the amount of power used by the central PC – so there is a massive reduction in the total power used for those 30 users, who would otherwise be burning 150W each, plus monitors.

It also reduces the cost. The system uses a USB or Ethernet connected box at the computer, and standard monitors and keyboards on the multiple users’ desks. It also works with other virtualisation and desktop-sharing systems such as VMware and Citrix, says Gullett – cutting energy use by 90percent and maintenance by 75 percent compared with individual PCs.

Thin clients

Gullett has had a lot of practice explaining the detail of the system to people sandbagged by multiple competing ways to manage desktops and reduce complexity .

Ten years ago, Sun and Oracle promoted “thin clients” – slimmed down PCs with no local storage. The idea has made slow progress, but is often adopted to reduce energy and costs, for instance by Solihull Council.

Since then, many users have migrated their applications to the cloud where they are shared, and the idea of losing their desktop PC has become more acceptable. Cloud seems to be driving a new generation of thin client ideas.

“The old idea of locking down PCs doesn’t work in the new world,” said Gullett. “We’re seeing a centralisation of data and applications to produce a fat core and a thin edge – but that thin edge can be anything these days.”

Companies should look for the right device for their workers, providing full-fat PCs to power users, and zero-clients for office workers, he suggests, as well as phones such as Android devices, for those on the road, or laptops for those that need them.