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Two New Thin Clients: How to Lose Weight and Impress Your Users

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Two new groups of thin-client network computers debuted at the Spring 2003 COMMON Expo: The YEStation Extra and the YEStation Mini from Affirmative Computer Products, and the BOSaNOVA LTC and BOSaNOVA TBT series from BOSaNOVA, Inc. These thin-client network computers offer a lot of bang for the buck, and it may be time for you to consider their advantages.

Thin-Client Architecture Is Mature at Last

When thin clients first appeared on the market about five years ago, the technology of network computers was struggling for adherents within AS/400 IT shops. Many of the obstacles were organizational in nature: Client Access/400 was the perceived standard for use on PC desktops; the PC network administrators were often different from the AS/400 PC Support administrators; the Internet was not yet crucial to line-of-business users; the AS/400's applications were not yet Internet-ready; users were generally productive with their emulation products or hardwired twinax terminals; and Microsoft NT-served applications were not yet crucial within the organization. In addition, the low cost of hardwired terminals and PCs kept the promise of thin-client network computers just beyond the reach of AS/400 IT shops: It seemed cheaper to give heads-down AS/400 users dumb terminals and then, if they needed extra PC-based applications, upgrade them to a cheap PCs with terminal emulation.

Furthermore, the thin clients that vendors were offering seemed somewhat underpowered, while users--in the throes of the PC productivity revolution hype--were often less than enthusiastic about getting a "dumbed-down" PC. After all, what was the use of placing a thin client on a desk if, in a couple of months, it was going to be replaced by a full-powered PC anyway?

But a lot has changed since those days. First of all, IBM has pulled out of the dumb terminal workstation market entirely, leaving customers with third-party vendors to fill the niche. Second, iSeries applications are much easier to deploy in a browser window, while Windows Citrix Server technology is much more stable and robust. In addition, the thin clients themselves have been substantially beefed up, with multiple options to make them scale to the power needs of the users. And, in the last two years, the cost for thin clients has continued to drop in a time when network bandwidth has expanded exponentially. Finally--and perhaps most importantly--users themselves are no longer so enamored with the technical requirements and the endless configuration hassles that they've learned is part and parcel of the PC revolution. They have a job to do, and they're tired of waiting for the latest patch or upgrade from IT in order to get it done.

All told, this evolution of attitudes, perceptions, technology, and cost is now positioning the thin-client network computer as a significant solution that can lower the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the entire information system.

Are Thin Clients for You?

The first step in determining if the thin-client architecture is for your organization is to examine the users of your information system. Generally speaking, thin-client network computers are best deployed only at certain places:

  • Firms that require a highly reliable network of computers connected to a centralized server running mission-critical applications. For instance, hospitals, insurance agencies, airline reservation centers, and hotels are typical businesses that fall into this category.
  • Companies with departments that utilize highly standardized computing tasks, like sales or service call centers, data entry departments, or technical support desks can realize substantial cost savings from thin clients. The computing power and flexibility of a PC is often unnecessary and can potentially be undesirable, as users can load local applications or even reconfigure or otherwise tamper with the PC's settings.
  • Organizations that require more computing resources from an ever-shrinking budget. For instance, universities and schools with under-resourced IT departments must keep hundreds or thousands of computing devices up and running with the latest software despite multiple users per machine. This is a perfect opportunity for the implementation of the thin-client architecture.
  • Firms with aggressive cost-cutting agendas. Every IT manager today is challenged to do more with less. Thin clients enable most firms to realize tremendous cost savings by reducing the amount of support staff per 100 client computers from 5 to 1. Thin clients enable network administrators to deploy a new system in a rapid fashion because a thin client can be set up and functional in under 15 minutes. In addition, since thin clients are managed 100% remotely, network administrators can update software on the server instead of deploying it over and over again at the client site.
  • Firms that need to upgrade green-screen or "dumb" terminals. Thin clients can handle email programs and common business applications (Microsoft Word and Excel, for example) while still retaining access to legacy database information via terminal emulation.

Thin clients are not for everyone, however, and this is where an understanding of the organization's user base job requirements is crucial. Thin clients are not for power users. The proverbial "power user" or "knowledge worker" who manages or creates content will be severely limited by a thin-client network computer. For instance, engineers, graphic artists, multimedia developers, Web designers, and marketing and sales professionals have requirements for powerful local processing and local storage. Often, they need the ability to read/write from CD-ROMs. These users will continue to require powerful PCs, workstations, and/or notebook computers, and the thin-client architecture isn't designed for them.

In short, thin-client network computers are designed to help organizations lower the TCO of the entire information infrastructure by providing appropriate hardware resources that match the real jobs of the users.

Affirmative's YEStation Extra Thin Client and YEStation Mini

Affirmative Computer Products has been in the thin-client business from its inception in 1997, and the new YEStation Extra thin client is an excellent example of Affirmative's commitment to the architecture.

The YEStation runs TN5250E and TN327E protocols on a Citrix 200 MHz processor (or an optional Citrix 266 MHz processor) along with Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), Independent Computing Architecture (ICA), and async dial-up.

The YEStation requires no boot server to load its operating system; instead, it relies upon flash memory, held on 8 or 16 MB of disk on chip.

It comes with 34 MB of SD RAM as well as an Ethernet 10/100 RJ45 port, a parallel DB-25 port, a serial X 2 DB-9 port, a USB X 2 port, an audio output port, a microphone port, and connections for a PS/2 keyboard and PS/2 mouse.

The YEStation supports SVGA up to 1280 x 1024 pixels resolution, and it provides Touch Screen support as well. It uses no fans for cooling, relying upon heat sinks to make it a perfectly silent desktop client. In addition, the customer may choose a 101/102- or 122-key, terminal-style keyboard with 5250/PC or 3270/PC layouts.

All this is available in a thin-client package that weighs just three pounds and fits in a space measuring only 9 x 7.75 x 1.75 inches.

Affirmative also offers a YEStation Mini product (7.75 x 6 x 1.5 inches) that comes with a mounting package that allows the thin client to be attached to the side of the display itself.

At announcement time, Affirmative YEStation thin clients were priced from $395 for the YEStation Mini to $495 for the YEStation Extra that includes enhanced 5250 display (text and Windows modes) and printer emulation. Affirmative also has models that include browsers, UNIX support, an Internet Explorer Mini-browser, Linux support, a Netscape browser, Java Virtual Machine (JVM) support, and support for Notes email at additional cost. For more price and product information, go to Affirmative's YEStation Extra Thin Client Web site or contact Affirmative directly at 888-353-5250.

BOSâNOVA Inc. Enters the Thin-Client Marketplace

Perhaps as a indicator of the stability and the potential of the thin-client technology, famed BOSaNOVA Inc.--renowned for its focus on iSeries productivity products--announced at COMMON that it has expanded into the market. BOSaNOVA is releasing two exciting new thin-client series called BOSâNOVA TBT and BOSâNOVA LTC. These two series offer excellent values specifically aimed at the iSeries green-screen and terminal emulation customer, while simultaneously adding tremendous depth to BOSâNOVA's robust line of products.

The BOSaNOVA TBT is an Ethernet terminal designed to replace 5250-style green-screen terminals that were previously attached to the twinax cable infrastructure. It's aimed at those customers who merely want to replace a twinax-attached terminal with an Ethernet-connect terminal, without requiring users to re-educate to a new technology.

The BOSaNOVA TBT supports either a 101- or 122-key keyboard. RDP and ICA client software is included for customers who need to connect to a Windows or Citrix environment.

The BOSaNOVA LTC comes in two flavors, each designed for true thin-client productivity, featuring higher-speed processors to enable excellent response time for better user productivity.

The entry-level BOSaNOVA LTC-300 comes with a 300 MHz CPU and 64 MB of RAM. It's equipped with support for an SVGA display with 1024 x 768 pixels with 16-bit color.

The BOSaNOVA LTC-600 provides a 533 MHz CPU and 128 MB of RAM. Both models include 32 MB of Disk on Memory (DOM) and support up to 1024 x 768 pixels with 24-bit color.

Both models have one parallel printer port, two serial ports, two USB ports, a keyboard port, a mouse port, a 10/100 base-T Ethernet interface, and an audio out line. Options include a full-featured 122-key keyboard designed for use with midrange applications, a smart card reader for personalization of terminal applications and permissions, a PCMCIA slot, and support for 802.11b and 802.11g wireless communication.

Suggested list price is $479 for the BOSaNOVA TBT, $569 for the BOSaNOVA LTC-300, and $619 for the BOSaNOVA LTC-600.

BOSaNOVA, Inc. markets and supports BOScom (Better On-Line Solutions) solutions for IBM midrange-to-PC and LAN connectivity. For more information on these thin-client products, visit BOSaNOVA's Web site or call toll-free 866-865-5250.

Footnote: Java Programming for Thin Clients...

What's most interesting about thin-client architecture is how it has evolved and where it's headed. Thin-client network computers started out in the hype of the Internet and have evolved to fit into an important niche for iSeries IT. In the iSeries realm, thin clients have aimed at replacing or supplanting terminal-based or thick-client PC computing through emulation. What were missing in the past were the horsepower of the hardware and the stability of the underlying protocols to provide a truly compatible product. This has now been resolved. Less expensive hardware and stronger, more mature protocols have finally enabled thin clients to turn a significant corner in the iSeries environment. That's the part of the revolution that has been out of our hands in the past.

Now that Affirmative and BOSaNOVA are offering thin clients that can really help bridge the hardware gap, the only thing that's left to do is focus on the iSeries applications themselves. After all, replacing terminals with thin clients is really only a beginning. To really maximize the architecture of new applications running on powerful iSeries hardware--or to extend existing applications to their maximum potential on the thin-client infrastructure--organizations should ultimately be looking at the underlying code of their mission-critical software.

When the time comes, these applications will more than likely be written in Java and will more than likely be targeting thin-client network computers. Fortunately, the thin clients offered by both Affirmative and BOSaNOVA are designed to meet those needs as well.

If you're an application developer considering these opportunities, you may want to start investigating how to implement code aimed at the thin-client environment. For this, we suggest you look at the following IBM Redbooks:

Java Thin-Client Programming for a Network Computing Environment

Java Thin Client Systems: With VisualAge Generator -- In IBM WebSphere Application Server

Thomas M. Stockwell is the Editor in Chief of MC Press, LLC. He has written extensively about program development, project management, IT management, and IT consulting and has been a frequent contributor to many midrange periodicals. He has authored numerous white papers for iSeries solutions providers. His most recent consulting assignments have been as a Senior Industry Analyst working with IBM on the iSeries, on the mid-market, and specifically on WebSphere brand positioning. He welcomes your comments about this or other articles and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Thomas Stockwell

Thomas M. Stockwell is an independent IT analyst and writer. He is the former Editor in Chief of MC Press Online and Midrange Computing magazine and has over 20 years of experience as a programmer, systems engineer, IT director, industry analyst, author, speaker, consultant, and editor.  

 

Tom works from his home in the Napa Valley in California. He can be reached at ITincendiary.com.

 

 

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