‘Zero Clients’ Could Cut Bills And Emissions

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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

“From the perspective of VDI it’s about how you create something in the fat core that allows people to do what they want on desktop – or at the client,” he said. He says zero client users get normal PC performance – something eWEEK’s panel on desktop virtualisation found was an essential thing for any technology to provide.

“Citrix has done very well in last two or three years creating a VDI environment delivered to a multitude of devices,” he went on. “Our device is a zero client device. There is no operating system on it, which improves manageability of the device and lets us get to the density we want.”

NComputing's L-series Ethernet connection box

It could be described as an old fashioned dumb terminal – but it doesn’t require a specialised terminal device. It works with ordinary monitors, he said. “It has better multimedia ability than a traditional thin client, and a high density of users supported on a server.”

Like all desktop virtualisation stories, the justification is by total cost of ownership, although the upfront cost to buy into the system is apparently low.

The USB-connected box costs $110, he says, and the customer has to add screens and keyboards for each user, and pay the appropriate licence fees for any applications and operating systems which are shared.

Education and the third world

The system has had a lot of interest in educational establishments, where classrooms get a more efficient system, and teachers can be heard over the noise of one fan instead of thirty.

Gullett also said it is a natural in developing countries, but there it may conflict with the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) approach, which aims to give children a $50 mobile device they can use at home with their family as well as at school – an approach which is also being pushed by vendors such as Intel in developed countries.

OLPC is less fair, because it is more expensive than zero client he said: “Investing in zero client systems means more children have access to the technology,” said Gullett, pointing to the fact that zero clients will be cheaper than netbooks.”The challenge of more expensive ways is you can’t do it for everyone. It’s a shame if you create a digital divide through your investment in technology.”

Zero client is also more robust and lasting: “Laptops will break and disappear, and it is an ongoing management headache. You don’t get that with zero client.”

In the end, the technology discussion in an educational setting should be the same as in a business, he said. It comes down to what can be provided for a suitable cost, and what the actual needs are. “Developing  nations are looking at this, and that doesn’t take away from the fact that we’ve seen significant growth in small-to-medium businesses (SMBs).”

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