The recent news reports

that I have read regarding organizations, both public and private, who were

impacted by the Zotob and Rbot worms is disconcerting. To the uninitiated,

those who were affected did not practice good patch management.

However, those in the

trenches know that keeping up with patches, especially at the desktop level, is

a daunting task. On top of that, patch management is just a small part of total

desktop management. Application installation, software updates, hardware

maintenance, training, security, and more are all part of desktop management.

In 1996, Gartner Research announced

the average Windows 95 desktop cost $10,000 a year to own. This includes,

besides the activities mentioned above, the direct costs of user support, lost

productivity, downtime, and administrative costs including depreciation, and

finance charges.

Some would argue even then

that the total cost of ownership (TCO) computed by Gartner was either

overinflated or underrepresented. Whatever the cost is today, (based on your

own TCO) there is no arguing that managing the desktop takes up a significant

amount of an IT department’s total resources.

The workload to manage

desktops is such that a whole market of desktop management tools have sprung up

to help us “control” them. Novell Zenworks, Intel Landesk, Hewlett-

Packard OpenView, IBM’s Tivoli TME10, or Microsoft’s Zero Administration Kit

are just a few examples. And even with these tools, the TCO for a PC just seems

to stay the same or is even increasing.

So given all this, don’t

you have to wonder if it’s worth it?

I know I did a few years

ago. I looked at my organization’s IT budget and the amount that was being used

to purchase and support PCs and said “there has to be a better way”.

That better way, after

some significant research and testing was a hybrid solution consisting of thin

client technology, Citrix, and Linux that would be phased in over time.

In a nutshell, the plan

was to provide a “desktop” to the end user via their browser and run

all their applications either directly from a Web server or from a Citrix

server. Their individual machines would have their OS replaced by a very thin

build of Linux and all machines purchased (new or as replacements) would be

Linux-based thin client machines.

This desktop solution, in

my opinion, was more secure and less susceptible to end user

“intervention”, virus breakouts, and emergency patches; thin clients

were easier to install and trouble shoot, and workers were no longer

“tied” to their workstation since they could get their own tailored

desktop from any machine in the organization.

In order to succeed, we

had to do two critical things. Get buy-in from the organization and

make sure we had a solid network infrastructure that had a very low


The buy-in began with the IT

governance committee. Fortunately, we had a very astute committee that, after

seeing the research and the solution in action, quickly bought in to the idea. The

next step was to eat our own dog food. The IT department made the move to this

solution. From there, it was time to woo top management. We knew that if they didn’t

understand what was going on, the plan would eventually fail. Again, at the

time I attempted this plan (and probably why I was comfortable in doing it) we

had an incredibly sharp and IT-friendly administration. From the CEO to the

CFO, they were on board and active supporters.

Meanwhile the

infrastructure work was going on, and we were revamping and expanding what was a

tired network to start with. So we began putting the solution into place,

department by department, and you know what? It worked great! Yes, we initially

had some kinks, but once they were worked out the network was greatly improved.

Unfortunately, this story

has an incomplete ending. While doing the project, our community voted to merge

local governments. So when the time came for the merger, we were not quite

finished. Overnight, the whole environment that had been primed and ready

literally disappeared. That ended the solution.

The point of this story

though is that I know the solution works and you can be rid of a great deal of

desktop headaches by ridding yourself of a fat client machine. I have seen the

beginnings of it, I know what the TCO was turning out to be, and if I ever get

the opportunity again I will seek to implement a similar solution.

And yes I realize that

this solution doesn’t fit 100% of the users but it works for the vast majority.

And I would rather be managing a very small subset of needy fat client machines

than an entire organization’s.

It’s a bold move, switching from fat client

machines to thin client and delivering an organization’s desktop through a Web

browser. But with the proper planning and execution it can be done. Just make

sure you start at the beginning of

your CEO’s next term in office.

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