By Maddy Reddy
To help regional CIO’s expand their computing environments while retaining control and limiting costs, a few key vendors are pushing infrastructure access solutions that allow IT managers to arm users with dumb terminals that operate without hard disks and maintain minimal memory or RAM.
|~|kingfaisal.jpg|~|“After deploying thin clients, we can now centrally test, upgrade and publish code without any physically intervention and all the users can access the centralised application," says says Izzat Massoud, IT manager at KFSH.|~|Increased standardisation, reduced complexity and lower costs are the goals of many chief information officers around the world. The situation in the Middle East is no different; as increased investment in information technology means IT managers have to plan implementations and user support more effectively than ever before.
Furthermore, as oil money and local investment drives growth, this need will escalate as the number of end users increases and the demand for hardware, software and bandwidth grows.
To help local CIO’s expand their computing environments while retaining control and limiting costs, a few key vendors are pushing infrastructure access solutions that allow IT managers to arm users with dumb terminals that operate without hard disks and maintain minimal memory or RAM. These thin clients then access applications hosted on a central server, rather than locally on their own client, in the same way terminals once accessed mainframes.
The costs saved in terms of upgrading and supporting PCs are supposedly huge, while the ability to consolidate application provision to one central server removes the pain and cost of administering distributed server environments and wiring individual locations.
“More regional enterprises are now changing their infrastructure access solutions using thin clients. The number of mobility-based projects is growing, as customers now understand that there is no need to buy new PCs when a thin client can do the same job,” says Antoine Aguado, regional manager of Citrix.
Citrix has touted the thin client computing model for some time and currently claims more than 50 million users across 120,000 organisations worldwide. Although it has just 20,000 user licenses in the region, Citrix expects the infrastructure access market to touch US$8 billion by 2008.
To help it grow its business outside of the enterprise space and target the small-to-medium sized business (SMB) market — a key segment in the Middle East — the firm recently acquired a web-based infrastructure access solution provider called GotomyPC.com for US$225 million that charges users without Citrix licenses a monthly fee for thin client type services.
||**|||~|citrix1.jpg|~|“More regional enterprises are now changing their infrastructure access solutions using thin clients. Customers now understand that there is no need to buy new PCs when a thin client can do the same job,” says Antoine Aguado, regional manager of Citrix.|~|Microsoft also offers a thin client solution in the form of Microsoft Terminal Server (MTS), which is currently housed in the Windows Server product line. MTS allows servers to deliver Windows-based applications, or the Windows desktop itself, to virtually any computing device, including those that cannot run Windows. Other features include efficient access to data over low bandwidth, the ability to reuse older hardware, remote management and roaming profiles.
Although similar to Citrix’s Metaframe, Microsoft argues that MTS is not a competing product and the two vendors instead work as partners to improve the quality of terminal services and the thin client user experience.
“We have a two-prong strategy in that we promote both thin client applications as well as a rich client strategy. Customers in different industries have different requirements. For example, the knowledge worker may require a rich client whereas line-of-business applications often require thin client systems,” explains Paul O’Kirwan, principal consultant at Microsoft Consulting Services.
While Citrix and Microsoft are tackling the software part of the infrastructure access puzzle, traditional hardware vendors such as Sun Microsystems, HP and IBM are also pushing the thin client model and offering low-priced terminals for users and blade servers for the back end central servers.
This big name focus is already translating into market success, as IDC estimates the market will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 31.5% over the next two years and more than two million thin clients will be shipped worldwide during 2004 alone. 700,000 of these machines will be to the EMEA region. “In the region, banks are moving towards a centralised model… We expect to see a few thousand specialised thin clients to be shipped here in 2004,” says Omar Shihab, hardware analyst at IDC Middle East & North Africa.
A similar report from Meta Group confirms the trend towards server-based computing as it reports that, by 2006, only 45% of corporate users will use a traditional desktop as their primary information device. The remaining 55% will uses devices such as thin-clients, handheld or other information appliances.
King Faisal Specialist Hospital (KFSH) in Saudi Arabia has already committed to the thin client model and has migrating its 4700 traditional PCs to thin clients across three locations spanning Riyadh and Jeddah. Today, doctors and hospital staff at KFSH can access the medical system, office suites, database, internet and legacy apps located remotely at its Riyadh data centre. They do this through a browser that runs on a barebones PC, which in turn utilises an internet connection of 10Kbits/s of bandwidth per user from a 2Mbits/s leased line.
By giving the end users a thin client and moving all the overheads from the clients to the server side, KFSH has reaped a number of benefits and expects to achieve a return on investment (ROI) within six to eight months. Key to this achievement will be the reduced costs thin client computing has delivered in terms of reduced management and more simple support.
“Of our total installed base of 4000 PCs, more than 2000 were mission critical work stations running an information clinical user system (ICUS). Physically going to the sites, supporting all the clients, upgrading, managing the applications, security issues and costs in a 24/7 critical hospital environment was a challenge,” says Izzat Massoud, IT manager at KFSH.
“After deploying thin clients, we can now centrally test, upgrade and publish code without any physically intervention and all the users can access the centralised application. I have the whole Jeddah hospital network administered by only one person now. Also, support is easy, as an administrator can use session shadowing to see the user screen and support remotely, and we didn’t have to upgrade the bandwidth or buy any new hardware for the implementation,” he adds.
Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) has also reused old hardware in its thin client deployment, as 600 PCs that had reached the end of their lifecycle now serve as dumb terminals for users accessing the oil company’s application stack. “The benefits are not just in the costs of savings on assets, but are in terms of extending the life cycle of assets beyond the prescribed one. With server-based computing you can extend the lifecycle of IT assets up to eight years from the average of three to four years,” says Dr Ali Guidoum, IT division manager of ADNOC Distribution.
While reusing old PCs, as both ADNOC and KFSH have done, certainly helps cut costs and delivers on one of thin client computing’s key deliverables, it is not the approach many within the industry recommend. For instance, Microsoft Consulting’s O’Kirwan says it can harm performance levels and, in the long run, damage the credibility of thin clients within the enterprise.
“There is a general perception, especially in the Middle East, that by using a terminal server older PCs can be kept in service longer and that terminal services are a low cost alternative. This is not true as the support of the older PCs is a constant issue and terminal servers are often underpowered, which gives the user a poor experience and ultimately a dissatisfaction with the [machine’s] performance,” he explains.
Customers wishing to avoid supporting old PCs therefore have to invest in new thin clients. And, while the hardware vendors are offering dumb terminals that come with a customised thin client processor, basic memory, an operating system and a browser with network connectivity for as little as US$350, it ignores the fact that IT managers then have to add the monitor, peripherals and software licenses.
However, those keen to promote thin client computing argue that even if the initial outlay for dumb terminals is higher then the total cost of ownership (TCO) is lower as the machines see active service for longer than the average PC.
“The biggest issue in the region is that people do not understand TCO, especially in the SMB segment. The ideology is that people only look at the upfront thin client costs. The average lifecycle of a desktop is three to four years, while a thin client has an average life cycle of 10 years, and is the cheapest for long term usage,” says Junaid Rahman, technical consultant at HP Middle East.
Other cost issues surrounding the implementation of thin clients include the need for a large central server farm capable of delivering the power required by dumb terminals and the impact such a model has on a company’s network. While Bank Muscat, for example, is more than satisfied with its thin client infrastructure; the need for a reliable network was an issue when it embarked on the project.
“One main concern was upgrading the telecom infrastructure across our banks as upgrading the lines was not easy and was expensive,” says Kaleem Saleem, assistant IT manager at the Bank of Muscat.
||**|||~|adnoc1.jpg|~|“The license fees don’t change. What applications were once installed on the PC locally are now shifted to the server and the licensing is per user or employee — from that perspective it doesn’t change and there are no savings,” says ADNOC’s Dr Guidoum.|~|On the server side, blades are being touted as the answer to creating high powered but low cost machines capable of pumping out the performance required by housing all applications in one place. “[On average] a dual processor server manned by just one support staff can simultaneously support up to 100 office application users,” says Rahman.
While workable solutions to the potential hardware pitfalls surrounding thin client computing appear to exist, proponents of the thin client model still appear to be floundering when it comes to software, as licensing costs remain similar to those in the client server environment.
“The license fees don’t change. What applications were once installed on the PC locally are now shifted to the server and the licensing is per user or employee — from that perspective it doesn’t change and there are no savings,” says ADNOC’s Dr Guidoum.
Fortunately, the vendors are working to address this issue. Citrix, for example, offers the Citrix server license free and just charges users based on the actual or simultaneous usage of Citrix clients, while other vendors are investigating open source as a way of cutting costs. HP, for example, is touting the seamless interaction between its thin clients and the free Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP), while Sun is adding a thin client edge to its Java Enterprise System pitch.
“Our US$100 per employee per user Java Enterprise System [Sun’s enterprise application suite], ultra-thin clients, with features like smart cards, session mobility and blade servers makes us very cost effective,” says John Foster, volume systems manager for Sun EMEA.
Although cost issues are being addressed, the very fact that they still exist in such an unresolved manner suggests that compared to client server computing the thin client model still has someway to go before masses of local companies join early adopters such as KFSH and ADNOC. However, anything that helps IT departments deliver a highly reliable seamless user experience at a lower cost should be considered.
As Meta Group’s senior vice president David Cearly says: “IT infrastructure access should be as invisible and automatic as possible. Infrastructure that end users and IT managers don’t need to think about is the best.”