Wyse pushes thin clients with new software, partners

Wyse Technology Inc. is set to unveil a wide-ranging set of products and partnerships as it tries to jump-start the concept of server-based computing.

Wyse Chief Executive Officer John Kish will be in New York on Wednesday, where he is expected to be joined by Sun Microsystems Inc. President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz, Computer Associates Inc. (CA) President and Chief Executive Officer John Swainson and others to introduce a powerful new thin-client computing application and reseller agreements promoting Wyse’s thin-client strategy. The company’s new Streaming Manager software can be deployed on servers with the Windows Server 2003 OS to deliver unique sets of applications that run on Windows client operating systems to users across a company’s network.

IT departments have heard many sales pitches for thin-client computing. The concept involves removing most of the intelligence from a desktop computer, leaving the local user with a relatively dumb terminal and display to access applications and data stored on a central server. This allows IT managers to take closer control of their client systems, which they like, but historically has delivered performance well below that of traditional PCs, which users don’t like.

As a result, most companies have stuck with the devil they know, and thin clients only make up about five percent of the desktop computer market, according to Wyse. The difference this time around, according to Kish, is that network performance and software capabilities have dramatically improved and IT managers are increasingly worried about managing security problems, he said in an interview prior to the event.

The San Jose, California, company has moved away from building hardware devices to focus on developing software for running thin-client operations, Kish said in an interview earlier this year. Thin-client hardware has become a very low-margin business, making it more attractive to design and develop software that runs those devices, he said.

Wyse is expected to introduce a new product, Wyse Streaming Manager, that will allow IT managers to deploy applications and the Windows operating system to terminals on their networks as each user logs on to the network, so that no client software resides on the individual terminals, Kish said.

For example, one user’s job might require a special set of engineering applications and an interface to a database. Streaming Manager can deploy that software over a company’s network to that specific user when he or she logs on to any terminal connected to the network.

Next door, another user might need only basic office productivity applications. IT managers can use Streaming Manager to send those application to the user without having to visit that particular terminal to load the software, Kish said.

“The customer can decide they aren’t tying an individual to a machine, but tying them to an operating environment,” Kish said.

Streaming Manager will become available during the fourth quarter, Kish said. It will cost US$250 per seat, a Wyse spokeswoman said. Wyse plans to deliver a future version of Streaming Manager that can deliver different operating systems as well as different sets of applications, said Ashwin Kulkarni, a senior product manager with Wyse.

As part of Wednesday’s announcement, Wyse’s Device Manager software now works with CA’s Unicenter management software, allowing Unicenter customers to manage Wyse thin clients using the same software they use to manage the rest of their networks. CA’s eTrust Antivirus software will also become a standard feature on Wyse thin clients running Windows XP Embedded.

Wyse will also announce a wide-ranging partnership with Sun, which actually competes with Wyse in the thin-client market. However, Sun was interested in bringing its Sun Secure Global Desktop Software to Wyse’s thin clients, and Wyse coveted Sun’s installed base of servers, Kish said.

Both companies will also market a complete set of hardware and software needed to get a thin-client setup off the ground, from the thin-client hardware to Sun’s Galaxy class of servers, he said.

With security problems a top concern for many IT managers, thin clients may finally have reached the point where more businesses consider adopting the architecture, said Bob O’Donnell, an analyst with IDC.

“I think people are recognizing there are so many benefits I get by moving to this environment. It’s still a challenge; for some people a thin client on their desk is seen as a demotion. But as IT starts to clamp down harder and harder, what’s the value of having your own PC anyway?” O’Donnell said.

While Wyse has been pushing the thin-client idea for a while, other “alternative computing methods” are starting to emerge, such as blade PCs. Blade PCs are centrally managed, like thin clients, but each user has their own dedicated processor, memory, and storage device in a blade PC setup.

ClearCube Inc. is a pioneer in this market, and Hewlett-Packard Co. is expected to revamp its blade PC products before too long, he said.

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