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'Dumb Terminals' Can Be a Smart Move for Companies 372

Posted by Zonk
from the up-is-down-black-is-white dept.
Carl Bialik from WSJ writes "More companies are forgoing desktop and laptop computers for dumb terminals — reversing a trend toward powerful individual machines that has been in motion for two decades, the Wall Street Journal reports. 'Because the terminals have no moving parts such as fans or hard drives that can break, the machines typically require less maintenance and last longer than PCs. Mark Margevicius, an analyst at research firm Gartner Inc., estimates companies can save 10% to 40% in computer-management costs when switching to terminals from desktops. In addition, the basic terminals appear to offer improved security. Because the systems are designed to keep data on a server, sensitive information isn't lost if a terminal gets lost, stolen or damaged. And if security programs or other applications need to be updated, the new software is installed on only the central servers, rather than on all the individual PCs scattered throughout a network.'"
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'Dumb Terminals' Can Be a Smart Move for Companies

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  • Sounds like it would introduce a single point of failure. One malicious user or virus, and the sytem goes down for everyone. Plus, software needed by different groups often doesn't play well together, leading to irritating misbehavior. Plus, netwo

    I wouldn't want something like this campus-wide.

    I could see having one terminal server for each department or lab, though. Not only would that localize failures and software requirements, but you wouldn't need to invest in upgrading your existing network infras
    • by brunascle (994197)
      my school actually did have this pretty much campus wide. or at least most of the computer labs were terminals.

      it wasnt too bad except for the bandwidth (slower response time than a desktop).
      • by kiatoa (66945)
        What kind of terminals? vt100, xterminals or some sort of windows citrix or similar terminals? I've used all and with splitvt and screen I'd rather be on a 19200 vt100 terminal than a citrix terminal on a lously network. In all seriousness though for a lot of applications I think text only would make more sense than gui based. At the dentist the other day and the receptionist was going back and forth between the mouse and the keyboard. I think that if she had been forced to learn the , and similar keystrok
    • by delymyth (17681) * on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:43AM (#17813340) Homepage Journal
      In a company like the one I work for, where users use anyway all the same applications, this would be great.
      No need to reinstall clients, no need to change broken fans and hard drives and search the whole office for a spare dvd player just to install the operating system into a machine.

      Right now it takes me about 2 to 3 hours (4 in the worse cases) to get a client machine ready for the user, and we already have centralized /home directories.
      Switching to thin clients could cost a little bit more when it comes to servers, but surely it will be less time-consuming when installing clients (no need for installation) and supporting users (one-time server-side install for all OO.org dictionaries and other applications).

      And, most of all, I wouldn't have all the "version inconsistencies" I have right now across the network clients, where one has application X version Y and the other a newer or older version (and plugin problems because of this).
      Oh, sure, people won't be able to install their own stuff, but they already can't do it anyway ;-)
      • by ggeens (53767)

        Last year, I worked for an organization that was looking into a thin-client solution.

        This organization (unemployment agency) has a large number of offices around the country, connected to the central servers by ISDN lines (or ADSL at best).

        Their current workstations are running Windows XP. Each time a user logs in, the machine checks for updates with the central servers. Any significant update makes the machine unusable for a long time while it downloads the new software over a slow link.

        The servers are

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bev_tech_rob (313485)
      If you lock down the server and no users have admin rights (except IT), then no danger of viruses, malware, etc. We support over 200 facilities using Citrix (with users either accessing via workstations with only the OS and a Citrix client installed or a thin client (Windows Imbedded), no problems with malware from end users since they don't have rights to install anything. You do have a point about the single point of failure. If one server goes down, many users can be affected. As well as in our case
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by el_womble (779715)
        I use Citrix as an end user for internet access. I can say that it is the worst user experience I've ever had. Slow page loading, having to log on twice (once to the OS, then again for Citrix) and perhaps worse of all it is incredibly unstable. I've ended up using a 3G phone and a personal laptop to access the internet because its faster.
    • Sounds like it would introduce a single point of failure.
      It works both ways. A single point of failure becomes a single point of security. So it's a lot easier to make sure that everyone has the latest patches, and that the system is fully locked down. Besides, you rarely have only one server. You usually have a cluster of servers providing service to the users with the home directories on the network. If one goes bad, you can take it down and do maintenence on it while the users who were using it just log into a different server.

      The truth is that there are very few business units that actually need their own desktop machines. The problem is that we developers are some of the few who actually need workstations, meaning that we often fail to push the best solution for the company as a whole. :)
    • by Frumious Wombat (845680) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:59AM (#17813554)
      Actually, it isn't. If you're doing this right, then you've set up some form of clustering and failover with redundant machines, the same way you run RAID arrays rather than single huge disks, or don't base large commercial web-sites on one standalone machine. If you add in that now the end-user can't access the server, even indirectly (no cd-rom, ports, etc), and the devices lack moving parts like harddrives, then cost of management goes way down. In the end, this is actually ideal for large companies. Having supported stand-alone desktops in a small environment (60 desktop systems), I would say that unless you're harnessing the compute power of those desktops when they're not being used (Folding@Pfizer, for instance) then the cross-over point of easier is around 2-4 machines for Windows, maybe 8 for Unix.

      I saw U. of Chicago do this with SunRays [sun.com] years ago for public spaces in the library, and it works beautifully for anything other than intensive 3-d rendering. Unfortunately, too many IT departments are dominated by people who only look at the up-front cost (I can buy a PC for what that thin-client costs), and not the entire life-cycle.
      • by Chazmyrr (145612)
        Your cost of management goes down. Your hardware cost goes up. The thin clients cost the same as the PC but do a lot less. That means you probably need more servers. Which means more floor space, electricity, etc. Your network traffic probably goes up. That means additional cable runs, more switches, higher bandwidth connections to other sites, etc.

        The numbers usually don't work out in favor of terminals.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          The thin clients cost the same as the PC but do a lot less
          If you stick with Windows RDP terminals, they can, particularly the Wyse Winterms. Now there are Linux terminals (that can be configured via LTSP [ltsp.org] to be RDP clients) as low as $90 in volume [norhtec.com] and $149 [devonit.com]. (The NTA 6020P is $149, although they have removed the line-item pricing for some reason).

          So things are looking good for these units. The City of Largo has an administrator that keeps a blog that is interesting reading [blogspot.com] on how they are stepping up from b
    • I wouldn't want something like this campus-wide.

      This is about business computing. We have hundreds of users using PCs for Three Layer Applications where the PC is effectively acting as a dumb terminal. It isn't that long ago (12 years or so) that we ditched the row upon row of Wyse 370s, and now they may be back again. The old mainframe has been replaced by Unix servers but the principle is the same.

      One malicious user or virus

      How can they, they're only allowed to get to what I let them (ahhh, the good old days), there's no more usb ports, no more downloading stuff from the int

    • The economics of web-based apps are going to hit local IT departments hard. It's not just the availability of web-based spreadsheets and word processors. Very soon the same concept will be applied to back-office apps like accounting, etc. Look at Netsuite and Salesforce.com for a hint of what's coming. Replicating that functionality in-house will probably become akin to trying to reinvent an app like Google search in-house -- it just won't be economical to do so.

      Same thing could happen to the user hardw
    • by tinkerghost (944862) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @10:05AM (#17813640) Homepage
      I think you're a little backwards. This is perfect for large installations - under specific requirements.
      1. Competent IT/management
      2. Limited variety in software between departments
      3. Software writen for thin-client/server environment

      Software writen for server or thin-client environments is designed from the ground up to not interfier with other software, so proper software selection goes a long ways towards making sure that this type of project will work at all. Also note that this isn't about completely eliminating workstations/PCs it's about replacing them where it's not needed. Got a secretary pool of 40 and a call center with 200 stations? That's 240 fewer HD's to re-image after a virus gets past your defences. The Secretary for the VP of Marketing still keeps her PC since she is going to have to open/work with image files that no other secretary will.

      My last scan of thin-client tech showed that a client server ration of 150:1 is possible for moderate level usage, with it dropping as low as 25:1 for specialized software that's resource intensive. For a 250-300 seat call center, 2 servers can cover the whole floor. Add in the added security of dumb terminals - no vector for USB thumbdrives, floppys, or CD burners to be used to steal data or inject a virus, and the ease of configuring them - usually you either turn them on & DHCP takes care of them or you point them at a server, and it's a winning combination for IT workload and Data Security.

      • the added security of dumb terminals - no vector for USB thumbdrives, floppys, or CD burners

        How do you think the keyboard and mouse are going to be attached to the terminal? Hardwired?

        USB ports on terminals is a given. It will be up to access policies at the operating system level whether to allow removable storage devices to be mounted on these ports, and the CTO will be hearing a lot of compelling arguments as to why it should be allowed. Once one user has a storage device mounted, it could be all over
    • The disk of things like viruses, etc., depends on a whole array of factors including the hardware and OS being used, the amount of actual "access" a remote end-user has, etc.

      There are still some types of applications (like mainframe airline reservation systems) which have never stopped being "green screen" applications (albeit often with an updated GUI or web interface), and some of those can run 100,000's of terminals concurrently and do so worldwide without issues.

    • Sounds like it would introduce a single point of failure.

      That would be if you only used one and only one server. I can't think that an IT department wouldn't have a backup/standby server or even a cluster.

      One malicious user or virus, and the sytem goes down for everyone.

      That assumes you're using Windows only. Those deploying Linux or BSD or even OS X would not suffer this problem

      Plus, software needed by different groups often doesn't play well together, leading to irritating misbehavior

      Again, the

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Fordiman (689627)
      I just priced the following system:
      8-core Opteron @ 2.8GHz/2MB Cache per core
      128GB RAM
      6TB (750GBx8 RAID-0) HD
      4-Port Gig Eth (3-ports serving, 1-port internet)

      Cost: ~$76k

      Number of users I estimate would be well served via VNC:
      512 Users would get:
      256Mb RAM
      1.95G swap
      ~750Mhz, assuming 5% average CPU time per user
      (From Task Manager: 1037952 secs active, 7588 secs CPU time, I work 7 hrs/day, 3 days/wk)
      9.76GB storage/user
      5.85 MBit to server, 1.95 MBit to internet

      cost of a thin client per user: $75, total: $39k

      To h
  • Sometimes Not Good (Score:2, Informative)

    by mfh (56)
    We have dumb terminals at work and their caches are always clogged. We are constantly rebooting them. While setting the cache to a larger size is likely a good idea, someone at head-office has the perms to do this, so we have to sit back and stomach it.
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:39AM (#17813278)
    I swear I've heard this "companies migrating to dumb terminals" prediction about 100 times since the early 90's. And, in all that time, I've yet to personally see a company actually doing it. I'm beginning to think some dumb terminal or server company periodically plants these articles or something.

    About the closest thing I've seen to this is a few companies I've worked for who ran certain applications (like Office) on a central server. But even that has become passe I think (in fact, the agency I work for recently abandoned that model due to server strain and just started installing the apps on individual computers).

    Does anyone here actually work for a company that currently (or ever has) used true dumb terminals?

    -Eric

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Lumpy (12016)
      Um.... autozone did it. All dumb terminals in the stores and one linux server.

      Works great, and they have a far lower TCO per store than Advance does with their windows based setup. Wyse terminals are dirt cheap. Hell, thin X terminals are dirt cheap compared to a PC running windows for a sales terminal.
      • Autozone? Yep many retail outlets use dumb terminals especially for computers located at the counter many that double as a POS (Point of Sale.. IE Cash Register). The question is are there companies out there that use dummy terminals for office machines. Oh sure, some do, but its not widespread.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by jm91509 (161085)
          Sun use sunrays throughout their network. They are stateless terminals with smartcard readers in them. You put your id badge into them and you desktop pops up. This works globally, so if you are normally based in the US and travel to Europe, you just stick your card into a sunray and (after a short pause...) your desktop appears, just as you left it back home. All works perfectly smoothly and mostly hassle free.

          http://www.sun.com/sunray/sunray2/faq.xml [sun.com]
        • are there companies out there that use dummy terminals for office machines?

          a dummy terminal would be one that doesn't do anything other than look like a terminal.
          I think what you meant to say was a dumb terminal
          OTOH, a terminal for dummies could be a dummy terminal or a dumb terminal
    • by Daemonstar (84116)
      The local newspaper where my parents work at used to use terminals to write their stories (even had the black and green monitors!). I don't remember what type or anything about them; I just know they used them for a long time.

      A few years ago they migrated to Windows; they had some software company come in and deploy their software suite (another newspaper in the chain had migrated over, so this one followed suit). The company I worked for was supplying all of the hardware (Win98 and NT4 Server) except
    • by sczimme (603413) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @10:03AM (#17813620)

      And, in all that time, I've yet to personally see a company actually doing it.

      Obviously such companies must not exist since you have never seen them... (Sorry - I find that logical fallacy quite irksome.)

      The new+improved dumb terminals are reasonably popular in call centers. The terminals offer detailed granularity over the limited and very specific needs (including required permissions) of the call center employees.

      I have seen terminals that run Linux as well, and appear to be sold with the server and requisite applications as a package.

      • by elrous0 (869638) *

        Obviously such companies must not exist since you have never seen them... (Sorry - I find that logical fallacy quite irksome.)

        I'm not saying my experience is typical. But if this truly were a trend (as indicated in the dozens of articles I've read over the last 15 years or so) one would expect it to at least be NOTICEABLE to the typical office-worker/geek such as myself.

        As for the call-center/"front desk at autozone" thing, that wasn't what I meant (and these articles and lofty predictions clearly did

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by sczimme (603413)

          Unless you are a consultant, you probably haven't spent time at enough different organizations in the past 5-10 years to gauge the overall industry usage of dumb terminals. (I'm not saying I know everything about all industries, but I have seen a lot of widely-varying environments.) Even if you are a consultant, if you spend time only at certain types of companies, you won't see a lot of variation.

          You shouldn't conflate "call center" and "front desk at AutoZone": desktop terminal != Point of Sale (POS
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by StormReaver (59959)
          "But I mean [dumb terminals] for general office use."

          Most of the departments where I work use text-based dumb terminals for most operations. They are actually full PCs with telnet interfaces, but they are essentially dumb terminals. The main reasons we didn't use X-Window terminals were:

          1) The bandwidth at the time was limited, and full GUI interfaces saturated our network. With everything now being gigabit fiber, this wouldn't be an issue anymore.

          2) Most of our programmers at the time knew nothing about
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by gad_zuki! (70830)
      These stories might be plants, but this stuff is out there and it works fine. I think the big holdup is the IT mentality of 'one computer per person' Thin-clients go against the norm and is probably a very hard sell for management, who can only think of things as 'how is this like my home version of windows.'

      I did visit one company that ran citrix on every desktop. I believe the desktops were either full blown versions of windows or windows ce. The citrix client ran on top of that and connected to a serve
    • by mikael (484)
      Sun proposed the JavaStation [tldp.org].

      The only problem was that just after Sun was introducing this hardware, the target markets started using the advanced JAVA multimedia API's to implement basic applications - medical students were using the image
      library to view MRI scans by loading in hundreds of 2D images. And other companies needed to play video files
      for staff training purposes (including DVD's).

      It more or less remains the same now. By the time all the necessary hardware (video card, sound card, CPU) is
      put toge
    • by eln (21727)
      Sun Microsystems uses thin clients extensively. Each employee has a little card that they carry along with their badge. Any system they walk up to, they can put their little card in, and up pops their desktop. They also have systems at home that will work the same way, gaining access through the corporate VPN.

      I'm not sure of all the details of how it's implemented, but we had a Sun engineer out here a couple of months ago, and he gave us the basics. He said basically everyone in the company uses the sam
    • by Secrity (742221)
      Many moons ago I worked for AT&T and used many dumb terminals. Most were either AT&T/Teletype 3270 clones or were vt100 terminals. One particular terminal I worked on did windowing and supported several different async protocols. Another type of sort of dumb terminal was attached to an HP minicomputer, the terminal had two small tape drives in it and the operator could run programs from the tapes.

      I now work for a different company and support over 200 SunRay stations.
    • by Dan East (318230)
      MEDITECH is a healthcare software system used extensively by hospitals (thanks mostly to a terrible decision by Columbia, now known as HCA), that uses dumb terminals with a proprietary server-side OS called MAGIC. It's a wonderful, cutting edge technology if you think it is 1980. These systems are still being installed. In fact, our local hospital was just bought out by a chain, and they installed MEDITECH within the last few months.

      Interestingly, the exact opposite of what this article is claiming is ha
    • Actually, TFA shows multiple examples.
  • by genessy (587377) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:40AM (#17813298)
    And all of our tellers and member service employees use them. Not only are they easier to maintain and support, it's a lot harder for users to really screw things up! :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Frankie70 (803801)

      it's a lot harder for users to really screw things up


      It may be a lot harder for the user to screw up hardware,
      but I don't see how it makes harder to screw up software.

      You can make it harder to screw up software by setting
      permissions, but that can be done both on thin or
      thick clients.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by genessy (587377)
        You are right, but as we're just upgrading to an Active Directory domain from an NT domain, there were a lot less options for setting permissions. The ease of being able to "shadow" users with one click to provide tech support without another bloated software installation is also a definite plus. Hoestly, they're cheaper, easily managed and maintained, and a good choice for any business running centralized applications that don't require a lot of individual processing power. We can't run the whole organi
  • by DrDitto (962751) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:41AM (#17813310)
    I heard of General Electric doing this at a few of their old, large buildings because the AC wiring couldn't handle power-demand of the next PC upgrade cycle. Instead of incurring the cost of rewiring the entire building, they installed low-power terminals at desks. Makes sense to me. GE has some very old office buildings (they are an old company!).
    • by moosesocks (264553) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @11:21AM (#17814778) Homepage
      Does anyone else find it ironic that a company named General Electric has inadequate AC wiring in their headquarters?
  • by lofoforabr (751004) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:43AM (#17813348) Homepage
    ...for dumb users! Doesn't it seem right?
  • I look forward to the 2017 Slashdot article proclaiming how thin clients are the wave of the future as well, right next to the stories about how practical fusion and "real" artificial intelligence are just around the corner...

  • SWEET! (Score:2, Funny)

    by cepler (21753)
    ...now where'd I put my DEC VT102? *Scurries off to the attic* Time to eBay it! :)
  • The article doesn't say what kind of OS these thin clients support.

    Presumably it isn't Solaris, since they would have mentioned Sunray terminals otherwise. Poor Sun, they've been trying for years -- halfheartedly -- to push their sunray terminals without much success.

    Personally, I'd be interested in Apple producing a thin client solution. But not just for the office. Consider how many of us have 3-4 computers at home these days for our families? I'd like to see a small home setup where a G5 tower (or sm
  • Thin Clients? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JoeCommodore (567479) <larry@portcommodore.com> on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:52AM (#17813478) Homepage

    I think they are thinking more of thin clients with some sort of remote desktop thing.

    I myself would like to strive for Linux Termimal Server [ltsp.org] type of installtion at our work, check out this Story from Newsforge [newsforge.com] and the one year follow up [newsforge.com] which chroniclaes the city of Largo Florida government deploying Linux Terminal Server/Clients.

    I think it's happening a lot more then you think, it just takes time to configure and roll-out.

  • "More companies are forgoing desktop and LAPTOP computers for dumb terminals"

    Everybody welcome the "dumb laptop", a keyboard and a screen that automatically connects to your company main server no matter where you are in the world.

    Joke aside, i fail to see how a dumb terminal could replace a laptop for a commercial/engineer who needs to travel frequently. And theses are the computers that are most likely to be lost/stolen so this is the kind of computer where you should improve security (disk encryptio

    • i think the "dumb terminal" for the laptop crowd is the "outlook web access + citrix web apps + securID" stack where all you need is an internet connected PC and a browser. i have seen it used by folks on vacation, home sick, or when a firewall doesn't play nicely with your VPN client.
  • ... for the terminally dumb.
  • Is going to need an awfully long cord, as well as a large supply of batteries.
  • by 8127972 (73495) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:58AM (#17813536)
    .... when I first started reading it as they have a concept called Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. The article sounds like the link below:

    http://www.vmware.com/solutions/desktop/vdi.html [vmware.com]

  • by ysaric (665140) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @09:58AM (#17813546)
    Unlike laptops/desktops, when the server goes down or we have power problems, my computer becomes a paperweight unlike some of my co-workers who got laptops/desktops before the thin-client requirements were instituted. They at least can continue work with documents and files stored on their local drive. Me, my work just stops.

    Also, responsiveness in a large company is a huge problem when it is a broken process. If I need to add a piece of software, I can't do it on a thin client, I have to go back through IT which might only take a few days (still too long) but can also take significantly longer. Yah, I can't do significant damage but I also can't get crap done when it needs to get done. I know that's a systemic issue and not the fault of the thin clients themselves, but companies in my experience are not adjusting well and it's terribly frustrating.

    Finally, it's worth noting in my company anyway that senior management, of course, is exempt from the this client requirements. So when I was describing the paperweight problem to a senior director one day she said "I had no idea!" Hey, no sh**, you with your nice laptop and docking station. They don't give a crap 'cause they don't have to deal with it.
    • by poot_rootbeer (188613) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @10:33AM (#17814076)
      when the server goes down or we have power problems, my computer becomes a paperweight

      Do you have power outages frequently at your workplace? I only recall two times in my career where the building I was working in went black, and both times we all had better things to think than "If I had a battery-powered notebook, I could still be editing that Powerpoint presentation right now!"

      If you're expected to work by candlelight, I'd say your company has bigger problems than a poor terminal implementation.

      • So, yes, a few times a year we end up in the tornado protection areas of our building, and a couple times a year we find ourselves without power for certain spans of time. It's a bigger problem on the manufacturing side, where a power loss can have more significant effects. No, I don't know whether the company cares or what they're doing about it.

        I included it because it is one of the two circumstances that definitively makes this worthless POS on my desk even more useless. And yes, sporadically there a
    • So, your company is poorly run, has an IT infrastructure that's poorly maintained, as well as enough issues with power that you regularly have building-wide power outages? That sounds like a far bigger issue than whether you, personally, are able to get any work done with no power.
    • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @11:03AM (#17814514)
      POwer outages? Hell, those are excuses to not do work. I cant imagine what kind of special wiring problem you must encounter that just affects the server room but not the plugs running your desktop and power-hungry monitor. Or are you saying that if you had a normal laptop you could polish up that word document while the rest of your coworkers are thinking 'why is that moron still working?' Seriously, there are some decent criticism of thin client implementations but this isnt just one of them.

      Secondly, do you have permission to install software? I can give you a bad ass workstation and limit you to a limited user. The problem here isnt the thin client its policy. Most large environments have some kind of go-between/approval for software installs or all the users would muck up all the machines with bonzai buddy or whatever crap passes for the amusement only a spyware animated gorilla on your desktop can provide.

      >They at least can continue work with documents and files stored on their local drive.

      Who uses their local drive on a lan? You should be using a networked drive that gets backed up nightly. Especially with all those power outtages.
  • I work for a POS dealer, and we thought about using this type of machine for our terminals. In the long run for us, it would actually cost us money, since we make most of our money on support and maintenance. On the other hand of this matter, the same equation for in-house equipment can be a tremendous savings. With alot of medium to large companies using SAP servers these days, it really is not that bad of an idea to run these "dumb" terminals. Due to the fact that if your VMware server goes down anyway, y

    • I work for a POS dealer, and we thought about using this type of machine for our terminals. In the long run for us, it would actually cost us money, since we make most of our money on support and maintenance.

      ...please mode this as hilarious.

      Frankly it's a shame that Taco hasn't added a category of "+1 tragicomical": This one little comment says more about business models and business ethics in the 21st century than you'd be taught in a decade at Wharton or Harvard Biz.

      Intentionally convincing [i.e. "
  • by kahei (466208) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @10:01AM (#17813594) Homepage

    I've been working at a site that went to a thin client solution back the last time that was fashionable (so there's been some time for it to settle down). They've saved some I.T. costs but it's at considerable cost in functionality -- application responsiveness is OK for light Office and web use but terribly slow for heavy-duty Excel users, the network is studded with PCs installed for people who just had to have some bit of software or just had to run things fast, network bandwidth is a constant problem and there's also a strange issue whereby users connect to the BigSystem server to run BigSystem, and to the BiggerSystem server to run BiggerSystem, and are surprised when they can't use the same paths, settings, clipboard etc on both.

    I think they could have achieved the same effect by just scaling back IT in the usual way -- cutting staff, sticking with older computers, fixing only the most critical problems. I'm not saying the thin client system hasn't worked, because this organization isn't computer-focused and doesn't generally demand much from its computer systems. But it certainly makes me doubt whether the idea would work well in a demanding, information-driven business.

    • Excel?

      windows is not designed for this kind of use of course it is going to suck
    • It is not the network load that is the issue here. The short burst activity followed by long idle time that makes the applications respond slowly.

      In our shop we use clearcase to do the source code management. To get developers stable update time, there is a code freeze between 3AM and 8AM. Most of us schedule our machines to update our sources sometime in that period. The network load is something like 100 developeres updating about 45,000 files each including four remote replica syncs. We could easily h

  • Not a dumb terminal (Score:2, Interesting)

    by oshkarr (199024)
    This article is talking about network appliances, not dumb terminals. See http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/D/dumb_terminal.html [webopedia.com]

    I don't think anyone is going back to using green screens anytime soon. In fact, even the VT100 wasn't so dumb. It could show bold, blinking and double-width characters, among its other features.
  • Home solutions? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Stone316 (629009) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @10:02AM (#17813600) Journal
    I'd love to have a couple of dumb terminals around the house hooked into my main computer. What options are out there for home users? I know there are some diskless linux options but I really don't almost full systems around the house... Just something compact with most of the room only needed for monitor, keyboard and mouse.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by squatex (765966)
      I thought about installing some jack pc's in my house (http://www.chippc.com/thin-clients/jack-pc/index. asp). We bought a couple at my company and they work pretty well. They are wince based however.
    • $ ssh joesoap@basementserver
      password
      $ starticewm

      ---

      $ ssh janesoap@basementserver
      password
      $ startkde

      ---

      I guess you get the idea...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by drinkypoo (153816)
      Basically ANY X terminal will work with Linux. That's kind of the point of X, or part of it anyway. Try to get one with good color depth (24 bits) because lots of your favorite programs won't work right in 8 bit color and even websurfing is pretty horrendous. Just configure gdm (or kdm, or xdm) to accept XDMCP connections - the man page or other help will tell you precisely how to do this. Then either configure your X terminal to look for connections, or to connect to that machine directly. You can use any
  • I think the author's choice of the word "dumb terminal" is unfortunate, as these sorts of systems are anything but dumb. Most people think of these as a "thin client" instead these days. However, the author is spot on about how these can drastically reduce the cost of a system. One company that I have done work for decided to start using their old systems as thin clients. I built a custom software set for them. The hardware platform was old Dell Optiplex GX1 machines, with the hard driv

  • Missed the point (Score:5, Informative)

    by plopez (54068) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @10:08AM (#17813668) Journal
    FTA:
    Because the terminals have no moving parts such as fans or hard drives that can break, the machines typically require less maintenance and last longer than PCs. Mark Margevicius, an analyst at research firm Gartner Inc., estimates companies can save 10% to 40% in computer-management costs when switching to terminals from desktops

    The TCO is not in hardware, but in software and support. What makes a PC network so horrendously expensive (Gartner estimated 4K to 10K USD per seat per year at one time) is the army of technicians required to keep them running. Dumb boxes allow centralization of support which is much less expensive. So you spend less on hardware and labor, and use some of those savings for a really, highspeed network and a really reliable server cluster.

    BTW, now-a-days this is often pronounced 'Citrix' or 'Remote Desktop'. Same basic principle.
    • by Kjella (173770)
      The TCO is not in hardware, but in software and support. What makes a PC network so horrendously expensive (Gartner estimated 4K to 10K USD per seat per year at one time) is the army of technicians required to keep them running. Dumb boxes allow centralization of support which is much less expensive.

      Central documents (yes, users are supposed to stoer things on shared drives, but unless you bolt them down...)
      Central settings (no fiddling around customizing the machine, which you'll easily lose)
      Drop-in hardwa
    • Considering you can pick up a PC for about $1,000... The thing with the Citrix solution is you need to buy the dumb terminals for $500/each, plus you also need to buy a hefty server on the back end. Figure $50k or so for every 30-40 users.

      So you're not saving anything on hardware.

      But for every 100 pc's you need one support person to handle the various needs, whereas you can likely handle say 500 dumb terminals with a single person(now mostly doing Move/Add/Remove, rather than repairs so it's a cheaper res
  • by LS (57954)
    Google.

    They are buying up lots of companies that provide Office-type applications, web-based or otherwise, and are also providing business customized versions of their services. Perhaps they are converging towards this type of model...
  • Oracle called. They want their ten-year-old miserable failure of an idea back.
    • You must be very young. Never heard of the sadly departed Digital Equipment Corporation and the DEC VT100 terminals have you?

      What is today called an ISP, used to be known as a Computer Bureau, thirty odd years ago. These places ran DEC mainframes or minis with an army of terminals scattered throughout a city to run UNIX accounting systems.
  • The things they're describing aren't "dumb terminals [decodesystems.com]" (which is a TM of Lear Siegler International), by any stretch of the imagination. They're dumber than Xterms, but they're smarter than any of the "smart terminals" that LSI was competing with.
  • One manager used the term "culture shock" to describe the user's experience switching from a full PC to a thin client. That sounds about right: thin clients are sold as a cheap alternative to PCs, but end up functioning more like a fancy PDA.
  • author (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DaMattster (977781)
    For the most part, the author of this article seems to be on target. However, one of his reasons for not going to Thin Clients is just so plain wrong that it is worth commenting on.

    Simplified terminals can translate to less freedom for individual users and less flexibility in how they use their computers. Without a hard drive in their desktop machines, users may place greater demands on computer technicians for support and access to additional software such as instant messaging, instead of downloading p

  • I would welcome the return of dumb terminals, provided they have the traditional black background with green or orange foreground. The (default) bright white settings of most PCs hurt my eyes.

    ..and I'd also like the 'gold' key to come back too.

  • Using terminals is only useful, if they are much cheaper than PCs. The old DEC VTs were much more expensive than a PC, which caused them to fall out of favour. A terminal should cost about $100 to be worth it. Maybe the $100 laptop project will make good terminals and then the office workers can get their daily exercise by winding them up...
  • Sunrays on eBay (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BrianRoach (614397) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @10:29AM (#17814018)
    I did this for my small business, and it rocks.

    I run an online and brick-and-mortar retail shop. Starting out on a budget is always a challenge, and for our computing needs I went with eBay (this was 3 years ago):

    Sunblade 1000 workstation with 2G ram, 2x700mhz uSparkIII, D1000 raid array: $700
    Sun Ray thin clients: $30 a piece
    21" monitors: $50 - $100 a piece (Now a days I'd prob go with cheap flat panels)
    17" sunray 150 (monitor/thin client combo for the counter) $70
    HP Laserjet 4mp+: $50 (And it's still cranking out pages 3 years later)

    Done. Everyone has a nice setup on their desk, I have one machine to admin, and life is good. We don't need any MS software, so that wasn't an issue for us (the Sunblade is running Solaris 10)

    The sunrays really work great ... I bought a couple to use at home as well because they were so cheap on eBay and the sunray server is available for linux (and I think Windows now).

    - Roach
  • "Because the systems are designed to keep data on a server, sensitive information isn't lost if a terminal gets lost, stolen or damaged."

    Yeah, but what if some thief runs away with the mainframe?
  • by Paul Doom (21946) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @10:45AM (#17814264) Homepage Journal
    Until you have worked with thin clients you don't know what you are missing. We have over 500 employees spread over the country in offices and a centrally located, 3 person IT help desk. (I think they spend at least 75% of their time on laptop or other non-terminal issues.) You ship out a router, a switch, a printer, and some Wyse Blazers, and that is it.

    PROS
    * The base models (like Wyse Blazer) are still quite cheap, and for the average worker, just fine.
    * Huge security win. Reduces many threats and reduces the tempatation for users to do foolish things. "I like using the local Starbucks WiFi for Internet access..."
    * No more users installing junk and breaking things. (Users don't like it at first, but most things are web based now anyway. Not a big loss.)
    * No more crashed drives and messed up PC registries.
    * We can roll out an app without installing anything on PCs.
    * The user gets the same experience everywhere.
    * We can provide a remote desktop over the Internet; same experience. Eliminates the whole issue of GoToMyPC, etc.
    * No more local backup issues or other local file problems.
    * No more worm infected PC hell. (Or PC security patch/AV updating hell)
    * No more local desktop support needs, shipping PCs back and forth, etc.

    CONS
    * Network quality and performance become more crucial. (Our typical WAN link is only 256Kbps and fine for a small office.)
    * You need a terminal server farm. (Not that huge a cost considering current PC server strength.)
    * CAD/CAM, graphics work, etc. still need local PCs.
    * Desktop video becomes much harder.
    * Some apps don't work or have huge screen update needs. (Core Office, web apps, etc. are generally just fine.)
    * Vendor lockin for thin client software.
    * If the network goes down, they are 100% dead in the water instead of 99% dead in the water. I guess with a PC they could edit a local Word doc or something, maybe play some solitire. (Ok, they would like to have their address book. I think that is the major complaint.)

    It depends on the organization. Many places have already centralized data centers moved a lot of systems to web apps. Things really are all moving onto the web. Do you want to support a PC just to run a web browser?
  • It still doesnt solve the problem of the user being the worst part of security and problems. Someone runs the wrong code on that mainframe and you might be in a whole new world of hurt. You do save money on repairing a PC but I would perfer to swap out a desktop at an office and get the user back up and running than going and repairing a corporate server that prevents the whole company from operating.

    Recently in my county I work at, the county clerk mainframe died. All the clerk computing that used dummy te
  • by Yonder Way (603108) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @10:57AM (#17814442)
    For most /. users, this is not going to work as a desktop replacement. But for most general office workers, this can and does work.

    I don't have much experience using Windows as a terminal server. What I do have is experience using CentOS [centos.org] Linux as a terminal server, with HP thin clients on the desktop. It works phenomenally well.

    The thin clients themselves cost about $350 a pop in small quantities, closer to $300 a pop if you do a mass migration. You put some of your funds into nice displays, but most of your funds into the back end server. Lots of cores, lots of RAM, very fast disk. Plan on replacing it every 2-3 years with newer faster hardware.

    The vast majority of the users will be idling the processors most of the time, so long as you disable fancy screen savers and other CPU-wasters on the central terminal server. Depending on what kind of hardware you use on the back end, you could potentially have hundreds of office workers happily working with one back end server. Honestly, though, I think the ideal way to go would be with something like an IBM pSeries box with a bunch of department level LPARs so you don't have one department hogging resources and crapping all over everyone else.

    The thin clients can boot off a local read-only flash drive, but better yet have them boot off a tftp server so you can more easily keep their software levels up to date.

    X11 has been doing this stuff for ages. The technology is pretty mature. :) Though I am not thrilled with the security, nor am I thrilled with the state of remote audio in X11. Those are the two big caveats I would warn you of if you're considering something like this.

    Other than those issues, I have been thrilled with the technology. It's an idea that was pushed out there before the technology was ready before. Now the hardware has caught up with the concept. It's worth another look now.
  • Nostalgia (Score:3, Informative)

    by ajs318 (655362) <sd_resp2@@@earthshod...co...uk> on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @11:10AM (#17814612)
    Ah, the good old days. At Aston Uni, we had mainly VT-220s and QVT-203+s. Some VT-100 clones, too; even at least one real VT-100 with the remotely programmable indicator lights! {Why did they stop putting those on terminals? Even the VT-220s didn't have them, not even emulated on the status line.}

    VT-xxx machines were all character-mapped and text-only. But I suppose if you needed graphics, you could have a machine running just a very cut-down OS and X server, straight from ROM.
  • What next? (Score:3, Funny)

    by julesh (229690) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @12:37PM (#17816044)
    What's next? Minicomputers?
  • VDI (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheRealFixer (552803) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @01:00PM (#17816440)
    I've been working a lot in the VDI realm as of late. The concept is using virtualization (usually VMware ESX 2.5 or VI3 w/ VirtualCenter) to create a pool of standalone virtual desktops, a "connection broker" which can dynamically assign users to a particular VM and give them an RDP or VNC connection to it, and a thin client terminal (Wyse's S10 Blazer works well for this).

    The Wyse terminal integrates with the connection broker, which handles authentication. Once the user is authenticated, the connection broker assigns the user to one of your virtual workstations and creates a remote desktop session to it on the terminal. The connection broker is responsible for tracking which users are assigned to which VMs. If one crashes, the broker knows about it, removes it from the pool of available workstations, and when the user logs back on they are re-assigned to another VM.

    VDI has most all of the benefits of Citrix, like centralization of data and tighter control over user access. There are also some benefits of this over the traditional Terminal Server/Citrix model. One, the user experience is much closer to what they're used to with a regular PC, because they are essentially accessing a fully-featured workstation. Second, you don't have Citrix and Terminal Server weirdnesses, like apps that just won't run in a multi-user environment. Each user's VM, while centralized, is a completely siloed OS instance sharing the resources of the host server. What one user does on their VM typically has much less impact on other users than what can happen in a Citrix environment. With VMware VI3 and their dynamic resource concept, it opens a whole new avenue of dynamic load-balancing between your entire pool of hardware.

    There are some downsides, too. A major one is cost. If you're using Windows, you're paying for XP licenses for each user, you're typically paying for VMware licensing for each server, you're paying for thin clients (the S10 is around $300), and you're paying for connection broker licenses. Citrix licensing isn't cheap either, but in my experience, VDI with VMware comes out more expensive. You can typically fit WAY more users per server in the Citrix world than you can with VDI, which adds to your per-user cost for VMware licensing and server hardware. You're also still having to manage individual desktops (although some cool disk streaming products like Ardence can help with this) for patches and new software installs, as opposed to the one-per-sever work you have to do under Citrix.

    VDI is still pretty new, but the advancements I've seen just in the past year are making it a pretty exciting world to work in.

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