Hewlett-Packard is trying to tackle concerns about the cost and complexity of thin-client computing with new products and tools announced Tuesday.
Proponents of thin clients say they can cut costs by allowing desktop programs to be deployed and maintained on a central server instead of locally for each user, and improve security because company data is stored in a data center instead of out in the network on PCs.
HP has won a few big customers for its thin clients, including budget airline JetBlue. But it admits that some businesses still struggle to see the benefits and are concerned about the cost and complexity of moving to a new architecture.
Thin clients aren't always cheaper than PCs to purchase. HP's new t5325 Essential Series thin client, aimed at "task workers," will start at $199 when it goes on sale next month. But its new t5700 Flexible Series thin clients, available Tuesday and designed for more graphics-intensive applications, start from $399 and $429 without a keyboard or monitor.
Businesses should consider the operational savings and other benefits rather than the up-front costs, according to Jeff Groudan, a vice president for thin client solutions in HP's Personal Systems Group. For enterprise customers, "the savings are generally going to come from lower management costs and lower energy and security costs," he said.
JetBlue says it has managed to save money. The company installed almost 2,000 HP thin clients in place of PCs for check-in and ticketing at its airports around the U.S. By the end of next year it expects to install a further 1,000, in part by moving its reservations staff over to thin clients, said JetBlue Director of IT Operations Pat Thompson.
The company expects to save almost $5 million over five-years from the move, and two years into the project is "reasonably on pace" to achieve that, he said.
A "major portion" of the savings has been in IT salaries and travel costs, because JetBlue no longer needs to fly staff around to maintain a client-server system at each airport. It didn't have to lay off IT staff, but also didn't need to add any during a time when the company expanded its operations by about 20 percent, Thompson said.
JetBlue also saved money through reduced downtime, and can now roll out new applications more quickly. "It's been a much more reliable and stable environment for us than fat clients, so we factored that into the savings," Thompson said
The roll-out wasn't without glitches. Even after an extensive, eight-month test period at John F. Kennedy Airport, JetBlue ran into "minor" usability issues, such as printing problems. It started the wider roll-out with smaller, remote airports, so this didn't cause significant problems, he said.
A reliable, low-latency network with good monitoring tools has been vital. JetBlue considered a thin client project several years ago but didn't go ahead until it had converted to a national MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) network. It's now a convert to thin clients and considers them first when buying new computers, Thompson said.
Not all companies feel the same way, and HP hopes the products it is launched Tuesday will win it more converts.
The t5740 and t5745 Flexible Series thin clients use Intel's Atom N280 processor and GL40 chipset, and are designed to give "a complete end user desktop experience." They ship with with HP's ThinPro Linux OS or Windows Embedded OS.
The t5300 Essential Series client has a Marvell processor from ARM and comes with HP's ThinPro OS.
To make set-up easier, HP released the ThinPro Wizard, which guides administrators through configuring clients and connecting them to a back-end server. For the Windows clients it has a tool called Easy Congif.
HP also released a new blade workstation, the ProLiant WS460c G6, based on an Intel Nehalem EP processor, that starts at $3,044. It's designed to support a user running demanding applications such as CAD/CAM software or Wall Street trading programs on a virtualized desktop.
It also put together three "reference architectures" to help customers sort through the array of products they need from multiple vendors to assemble a virtual desktop infrastructure. And it rolled out workshops to support their efforts, like the one-day Transformation Experience Workshop, which costs $6,000 and is designed to help IT staff map out a high-level roadmap for a client virtualization project.