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Mon 1 Jan 2007 12:00 AM

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NEC takes on fat PCs

NEC Computers has launched a new thin client architecture, which it claims can replace regular PCs and deliver major cost savings for most organisations.

NEC Computers has launched what it is hoping will be the first ‘mainstream’ thin client system, offering integrated peer-to-peer IP telephony, as well as on-client audio and video processing.

The new US100 client works in conjunction with two NEC Express5800 120 Ri2 servers, which include administration functions, along with a single SV7000 IP telephony server. Between them, these servers can handle up to 20 clients.

The key differentiator for NEC is that it claims its new thin clients will be able to replace normal desktop PCs with no loss of performance for the user, in the vast majority of cases.

This claim stems from the built-in multimedia processing, which allows high-quality audio and video at the desktop, as well as the power behind the clients, in the form of the Intel Woodcrest-based servers.

“We have been clear for a few years that the thin client architecture is the future, but it needed some additional work,” says Jean-Claude Tagger, CEO of NEC Computers. “We needed to develop the chipset, and increase the level of integration of the hardware.

The virtualisation technology has developed – two years ago there was virtualisation on the server, but not to the level we are seeing now. I also think we needed to have really powerful servers.

“So to bring all of these together, along with the management and the audio and video, which we had already, I don’t think we could have done it before this point – maybe three months earlier, but not before that,” he adds.

The benefit of moving to the US100 thin client systems will be one of cost, according to NEC. The vendor is predicting TCO savings of up to 50%, but acknowledges this depends heavily on the individual IT circumstances of an organisation.

“We are basing our predictions of up to 40% TCO savings on a number of different metrics – we have experience of the Japanese market, so we are taking those figures and adapting them for the situation in EMEA,” says Tagger. “For example, the thin client will cut energy consumption in half – in Belgium, this is very important, but in the Middle East where power is cheaper, it will be less significant.

We are adapting our metrics country by country; what we are sure of is that the savings will be between 20% and 50%.”

Tagger also says the system will allow firms to save on IT management costs, especially in branch offices.

Because the clients can be managed and serviced remotely, no IT staff will be required in smaller offices, representing major savings.

“If you’re in a main office, with one or two IT staff, it won’t make a difference – but if you’re in a branch office with one IT technician, and you can go to no IT staff at all, this will have a big impact,” says Tagger.

NEC also points to the potential for eliminating hidden costs, such as data loss or downtime, although the company has not included these in its saving calculations.

Companies will be able to stagger their adoption of the NEC thin clients – they will work with existing systems, according to the vendor.

Tagger expects organisations will initially adopt only a few of the units, until the mass of existing PCs reaches end-of-life. At this point, Tagger is hopeful organisations will adopt the new system wholesale.

One of the central claims NEC makes is the ability of the US100 to run more demanding software than is possible on previous thin-client systems. The NEC architecture allows this by running standard editions of Windows XP (and, presumably, Vista in the future) on virtualised machines running within the servers.

This eliminates the need to tweak or develop applications specifically for thin client architectures such as Citrix, or the various cut-down implementations of XP available on the market.

“Anything that runs on XP Pro will run on this solution – you do not have to do any of the tests as you would with Citrix or other thin client solutions,” says Tagger.

According to NEC, this should include demanding applications such as design software, as well as packages using multimedia elements such as audio or video.

Tagger gives the example of hospitals using high-definition images: “VMWare can deliver the processing power necessary for these. And although the servers can accommodate a maximum of 20 users, you can reduce that number for users on demanding applications, and I still think it would work out cheaper than using workstations, a lot of the time.”

Johan DeGroote, business development director for NEC Computers, says these features will give the system a boost when it comes to promoting it around the world. He expects the Middle East to be enthusiastic about the US100 architecture, and brushes aside any claims that the region lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to adopting new technology solutions such as thin client computing. “The whole concept of changing the data centre is something that many organisations in the Middle East are trying to embrace – a lot are trying to move past Western Europe,” explains DeGroote. “I think there may be a delay of one to one-anda- half months in the region, which is a matter of acceptance rather than understanding.”

Looking at some issues other thin client vendors have reported in the Middle East, such as customers always opting for the highest-specced machine, DeGroote says this is a function of vendors offering confusing product lines.

“Our concept is different to vendors which offer a range of specifications – NEC just has one solution which is offered to the market,” he says.

“I think it’s a good moment to go into the Middle East with this product.

Organisations in the region have been messed around by thin client vendors before, so they will be reluctant – they may well go for higher-specification terminals, for example, just to be on the safe side. But if you explain the concept to users in the region, they are not behind – it’s a matter of understanding the concept, rather than the specification,” DeGroote adds.

CIO cheat sheet

Virtualisation

Virtualisation systems, such as VMWare, allow one machine to run a number of ‘virtual’ PCs, each with its own self-contained operating system, with access to memory, storage and external devices. Developments by Intel and AMD have made virtualisation much more attractive, with dual, and now quad-core CPUs, able to handle larger numbers of virtual machines. Eliminating many of the security and data storage headaches, virtual machines are seen by many as the future for enterprise computing

“We are adapting our metrics country by country; what we are sure of is that the savings will be between 20% and 50%.”

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