The outlook for thin clients in 2010 and beyond

Blogger Paul Mah takes a closer look at thin client computing, and found the niche to be very much alive. Will desktop virtualization give thin-client computing a boost in 2010?

Thin clients have been around for some time now. Indeed, most IT professionals with some experience under their belt have some knowledge of this computing paradigm. However, with the advent of low-powered processors and the increasing popularity of laptops, has the playing field changed much for thin clients?

I thought it would be interesting to find out a little more about the state of thin client computing, and I approached Wyse Technology, the acknowledged global leader in thin computing, to find out a little more. Here is what I discovered.

Promise of thin clients

Energy consumption

Despite the recent popularity of ultra low-powered processors, Wyse noted that thin clients continue to drive the use of CPUs at the lowest power envelope. This is because thin clients do not need to do as much processing compared to a traditional PC. As an example, Wyse says that a typical thin client draws only an average of seven watts on the front end and, depending on the actual backend platform, consumes (averaged) server wattage in the region of 10-30 watts. This compares very favorably when measured against the 70 to 120 watts used by a typical business PC.

This reduction in energy consumption makes dramatic cost savings possible. Customers have reported that the computing model saves them an average of $52 per seat per year. Extrapolating from this figure, Wyse says that the various savings allow for the cost of a thin client to be paid in as few as three years in energy savings alone.

It must be noted, though, that this gap in energy efficiency has narrowed significantly in recent years. As a comparison, PC Magazine recently took a nettop based on the new D510 Intel Atom processor for some tests and found that the system consumes just 19 watts of power running at full throttle. This would put it on par with the power consumption of the current generation of thin clients.

Security and management

Since actual data is stored and processed on servers, the risk of data theft or loss is greatly reduced. This also makes thin clients the logical solution of choice for high-security sites. Additionally, in contrast to laptops or netbooks, administrative tasks such as OS upgrades, service pack installation, or the installation of new software for the thin client need only be carried out once on a central server -- without any need to visit individual workstations.

Who uses thin computing?

Are there any specific industries or niches that benefit from thin computing more than others, perhaps? According to Wyse, its biggest customer base is in the public sector, especially healthcare, education, and government entities. The financial services and retail verticals are close behind -- basically organizations where "security, ease of use, and ROI" is of paramount importance.

The future of thin clients

Wyse thinks that thin clients will experience a surge in its take-up rate as organizations embrace desktop virtualization in the coming years. This is in part due to the way in which this computing model focuses on concentrating complexity in the data center and the benefits inherent in concentrating security at a simple endpoint.

To support its assertion on global thin client shipments and future growth, Wyse sent me the below diagram of a study by Gartner. While the future growth projection of thin client shipments can hardly be cast in stone, any increase in the market penetration of thin clients will only aid the cause of green computing.

For now, we can safely conclude that far from dying out, thin clients continue to enjoy a strong presence in global shipments. And for organizations that are considering desktop virtualization, it might be time, perhaps, for them to take another look.