Sparked, in part, by the ASP (application service provider) phenomenon, small businesses running on Web hosted applications are now operating with less infrastructure on the backend and less power on the desktop. Workstation appliances called "thin clients" have been around for some time in large enterprises, but are just beginning to emerge in the small business arena.
Thin clients (sometimes called terminals) are a type of computer that take a 'less-is-more' approach. With thin clients, all of the applications that employees use run over servers, and nothing is kept on individual workstations except for a few select configuration files. Only a light operating system, like Windows CE or Linux, is used, which the user does not see.
Since almost all of the work actually takes place on the servers with this type of setup, thin clients require very little processing power and memory. This may require more powerful servers to handle the increased storage needed on the backend, if applications are being hosted in house. But these machines reduce desktop overhead significantly by cutting the cost for individual workstations. And because of their basic configurations they are very easy for administrators to deploy and maintain. They almost never require upgrades.
Be aware that special support for thin clients is necessary on the server side. The Windows 2000 platform has built-in terminal support, and Windows NT offers a Terminal Server Edition as well. Citrix MetaFrame from Citrix Systems (www.citrix.com) is another option that provides advanced server management features and can be used on many server platforms.
Thin clients are ideal for small workgroups who use the same basic productivity tools, or who share a main database. They also work well in Web-hosted environments where business can operate completely without servers. Some ASPs even offer thin client leases to their customers as part of their service packages.
Here are some thin client computers making the most of the shrinking client trend.
IBM NetVista 2200
The NetVista 2200 is another low-cost thin client that can support access to desktop productivity tools and/or browser-based applications. The 2200 series comes with either Windows CE or a Linux operating system. Both units can run with Windows 2000 or Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server Edition.
The client includes an integrated T-Base 10/100 Ethernet adapter, a 33MHz processor, 32MB of RAM, and two USB ports. Serial and parallel printers can be connected via a third-party USB converter cable. An 8MB compact flash card is included in the Windows version.
IBM; 888-411-1WEB; www.ibm.com; starts under $700 per unit
Compaq T1000 and T1500
The T1000 and the T1500 are thin clients that have identical hardware. The difference between the two is the pre-loaded operating system and the amount of included memory. The T1000 uses Windows CE as its operating system and comes with 32MB of RAM.
The T1500 is embedded with the Linux operating system and includes an integrated Netscape Internet browser with 72MB of RAM. The T1500 is a good choice for networks running Web-hosted applications. These clients can be run from Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server Edition or Windows 2000 servers.
They both include integrated T-Base 10/100 Fast Ethernet network interfaces, two serial ports, one parallel port, one PCMCIA slot, and two USB ports.
Compaq; 800-888-0220; www.compaq.com; $649 for T1000; $799 for T1500