HP pushes thin clients for better network speed

Acceptance of thin client computing has largely come from financial and retail industries, say Hewlett-Packard officials, but they believe more IT managers should welcome the opportunities the technology brings to take loads off the network.

“We often see network demand reduced when we move to thin client technologies,” Tad Bodeman, director of HP’s blade and thin client solutions unit, said in an interview Friday.

“With a thin client the only thing that goes over the network are key strokes and mouse clicks, and basic information that tells the thin client to render this image on the screen.” Meanwhile, data needed or generated by uses resides on blade or virtual servers in the data center. As a result, local and wide area networks don’t see sudden surges of data when users log on in the mornings and after lunch.

“You see a dramatic reduction in these e-mail driven network usage spikes and you have a much more consistent, lower-level network demand.”

Bodeman made the comments in talking about HP’s newest thin client PCs, built around technology it gained by acquiring thin client specialist Neoware Inc. late last year.

The US$499 HP Compaq t5730 is based on Microsoft Windows XPe, with select models include integrated WLAN. The US$450 HP Compaq t5735, based on Debian Linux supports a variety of open source applications.

In addition, it brought out a 15.4-inch laptop without a hard drive, the Compaq 6720t Mobile Thin Client – HPs first thin client notebook – which runs Windows XPe from a flash memory module.

John Sloan, a senior analyst with Info-Tech Research of London, Ont., says he’s seen increased interest in thin client PCs among IT managers in the past year. They had been cool to the concept in part because the cost of fully-equipped PCs keeps dropping, making the difference between thin clients almost negligible. In addition, many users looked down their noses at thin clients.

“What’s happened now is that with things like virtual desktops and some of the improvements in the user experience the thin client is not necessarily as much as a compromise as it was before.”

Industry analysts doubt that road warriors will want a thin client notebook, which relies on being connected to the network for work. But HP believes hospitals and clinics will appreciate its ability to let doctors and nurses have online access to sensitive patient material without the danger of loosing data if the laptop is stolen.

HP believes the market for thin client PCs will expand enough to justify its purchase of Neoware.

With virtualization increasingly on the minds of IT and network managers – especially as the technology is improving – the company thinks more industries will accept the technology.

Bodeman and Klaus Besier, Neoware’s ex-CEO who has become vice-president and general manager of HP’s thin client business unit, said management software that comes with the products will be persuasive to IT managers.

Until now, buyers of HP thin client PCs had to buy licences for HP OpenView or Symantec’s Alteris deployment application, which can manage all devices on a network, to oversee upgrades and changes.

However, HP will shortly release HP Device Manager, a free application aimed at small and medium businesses who only want an application for managing their thin client PCs.

Device Manager, which came from Neoware, uses a SQL database for automating software updates. It can also change detailed PC settings – for example, turning off the thin client’s USB ports or limiting the ports use to a USB mouse and not a flash key.

Device Manager is “central to (HP’s) overall thin client roadmap,” said Bodeman. HP also sells Image Manager, a streaming server application for installing images on its thin clients for those who don’t want to install images through flash keys.

Bodeman and Besier said because demand for thin client PCs is increasing, HP will bring out more models this year. In addition to a standard thin client, it also offers a rugged portable running Windows CE and an all-in-one with a 17-inch LCD screen.

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