Blade PCs take slice out of the desktop

At least one corporate environment is willing to say goodbye to leased PCs at every desktop if Hewlett-Packard Co.’s latest developments in the world of virtualization perform as promised.

United States Steel Corp. is planning to pilot HP’s answer to high PC lifecycle management and labour costs as early as this month. That answer has come in the form of HP blade PCs, which the company launched last month as part of its new Consolidated Client Infrastructure (CCI) solution. The blade PCs represent a new way of computing at the desktop level, according to HP, and act as an integral addition to the company’s Adaptive Enterprise strategy.

The solution essentially virtualizes all PC data into shared pools in the corporate back office. Rather than using a PC, employees access a thin client on the desktop with a keyboard and mouse. In a typical CCI environment, the workstations are hooked up to the blade PCs in the back office from which users can access applications, connect online and save to the network via a connected storage area network (SAN) that backs up all data.

“You are saving the resources and the storage you have by pooling them as a shared resource,” explained Tim Prime, product marketing manager, Commercial Desktops for HP Canada. “CCI is really virtualization applied to desktop PCs.”

Prime said the CCI solution is suited to every office environment. In order for the solution to make financial sense, corporations should have at least 1,000 PC users. While the initial investment is slightly higher than the cost of equipping all employees with desktop PCs, approximately $1,500 per user, Prime said customers will see significant savings over time.

“The savings you are seeing are on those other costs that relate to the ownership of the desktop,” he said. “You are almost looking at about a 50 per cent savings over the lifecycle. The (CCI) lifecycle will be a little bit longer than that of a desktop as well.”

The announcement ties into one of the industry’s latest trends: virtualization. According to Billy Dupley, business solution manager with HP Canada, businesses have over-bought and under-utilized technological assets. Virtualization essentially pools all data resources to create an always-on, easily managed environment where resources can be added or cut back depending on usage.

“You want to make sure that the server technology, the storage technology, the applications and the network are all virtualized or adjustable,” Dupley said. “Virtualization is really about making it a lot easier to do the plumbing in the data centre. We are going to see huge cost changes for this as well as service improvements. The service level will become much more predictable. The CCI solution takes care of the weakest link in our architecture – the PC. It eliminates that link and improves the reliability of computing.”

But the proof will be in the proverbial pudding, according to U.S. Steel’s Gene Trudell, vice-president of Business Services in Pittsburgh. Business Services is a new entity within the corporation, which has been tasked with centralizing and standardizing IT equipment and processes. With more than 15,000 PCs used by its employees worldwide, the company is looking to the HP solution to aid in achieving these goals.

“This concept fits in philosophically with everything we are poised to do,” Trudell said. “If it works, it allows us to do a level of centralization that we never thought was possible. It should make the care and feeding so much easier and less costly.”

The solution would enable the company to have centralized storage to complete backup, recovery, archiving and disaster recovery processes in a more efficient manner, he added.

“From a hardware perspective, it seems very economical,” he said. “The second aspect is the day-to-day support. I will need fewer people to support the devices on a day-to-day basis. We think that translates into significant savings.”

According to a Gartner Inc. report, by 2008, enterprises not using virtualization technologies will spend 25 per cent more annually for hardware, software, labour and space for Intel servers, and 15 per cent more on the same for RISC servers.

The HP CCI blade PCs are available now. Thin client, SAN, keyboards and mouse equipment are sold separately.

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