[thinnews] Article: IBM Offers New Take on Thin-Client Computing

  • From: "Jim Kenzig http://kenzig.com" <jimkenz@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: thin@xxxxxxxxxxxxx, Thinnews <thinnews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 25 Oct 2005 10:39:03 -0700 (PDT)

IBM Offers New Take on Thin-Client 
IBM?s new virtual desktop solution emphasizes a centralized, host-based 
infrastructure and a lightweight, terminal-esque desktop?and virtualization, too
by Stephen Swoyer


With its twin emphases on a centralized, host-based infrastructure and 
lightweight desktop processing hardware, IBM Corp.?s new PC blade 
infrastructure smacks of technology initiatives past. But there?s a very new 
wrinkle in IBM?s vision that could make it a compelling technology solution: 
virtualization. Call it the mainframe-ization of the desktop.

A decade ago, a band of technology CEOs?including Oracle Corp.?s Larry Ellison, 
Sun Microsystems Inc.?s Scott McNealy, and former IBM Corp. chief Louis V. 
Gerstner?celebrated the emergence of a new host-based client computing model. 
Proponents of these new ?network computers? tallied up their advantages over 
bloated, standalone PCs and confidently predicted the inevitable, if not rapid, 
demise of the Wintel duopoly?s bread-and-butter platform. 

Wintel is still going strong, of course, and desktop PCs are more bloated than 
ever. In spite of the hype, however, network computing does offer compelling 
advantages, particularly for task-based or knowledge workers who don?t need 
multi-gigahertz PC behemoths on their desktops. As a result, network (or thin 
client, as it?s now called) computing remains a viable model?albeit one that?s 
more the provenance of terminal purveyors like Wyse Technology than database 
and enterprise applications specialists such as Oracle. 

But IBM?s new Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure isn?t just an updated or 
renamed thin-client computing solution. For starters, Big Blue is getting a 
technology assist from x86 virtualization specialist VMWare and thin-client 
computing stalwart Citrix Inc. IBM?s plans calls for a healthy dose of its 
xSeries and BladeCenter Intel-based servers, VMWare?s ESX Server technology, 
and Citrix? Presentation Server client-access technology.

In this respect, the Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure is quite 
different from the thin-client solutions of yesterday?or today, for that 
matter. Instead of requiring the use of a single multi-user operating 
system?i.e., Windows or Linux?with all of its attendant disadvantages (e.g., 
comparatively poor linear scalability in large SMP configurations, limited 
performance and efficiency, and complex administration), IBM?s solution taps a 
virtual operating system host (VMWare?s ESX Server) that can support dozens of 
discrete Windows or Linux operating system instances. 

While no one would argue that VMWare?s flavor of virtualization is as robust as 
z/VM, few would deny that it?s probably just the ticket for supporting typical 
task-based or knowledge workers. More to the point, because ESX Server lets 
organizations effectively micromanage their server capacity (exploiting as much 
as 80 percent of an xSeries server or BladeCenter system?s CPU compute 
resources) they can support more Windows or Linux users on a single piece of 
hardware than they could using a multi-user approach.

The Mainframe-ization of the Desktop? 

The parallels to mainframe capacity management and mainframe client (i.e., 
terminal) access are striking. After all, zSeries operators can maximize 
mainframe capacity by micro-partitioning operating system images and workloads 
across tens, hundreds, or even thousands of logical partitions (LPAR). They can 
easily deploy new images or workloads when the need arises (and if there?s 
capacity to spare), or re-deploy existing workloads if there isn?t. And while 
IBM?s Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure isn?t quite that scalable, it 
will enable a previously undreamt-of degree of ?desktop? capacity utilization. 
Best of all, the desktop hardware complement to this back-end processing 
horsepower amounts to little more than a high-resolution display terminal.

For these reasons, IBM says its new Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure 
has all of the advantages of the thin-client or network-computing models with 
few, if any, of the disadvantages. Big Blue?s virtual Windows or Linux 
operating system instances should be easier to manage, secure, and back up. 
Cycle for cycle, they should also be more efficient than competitive PC blade 
offerings from ClearCube (PC Blade) and Hewlett-Packard Co. (Consolidated 
Client Infrastructure). They support most typical end user amenities?printing, 
audio, and USB connectivity?and can also support multiple monitors.

The question, of course, is whether IBM?s virtual thin client will suffer the 
same fate?niche-dom?as that of its network computing forebears. ?On paper, the 
relative values of network-enabled ?thin client? desktop solutions make perfect 
sense. Such solutions provide all the applications and power needed for typical 
knowledge workers but significantly ease and improve IT performance and 
security by centralizing systems management,? notes Charles King, a principal 
with technology consultancy Pund-IT Research. ?But while this concept offers 
provable merits, the vast majority of businesses have chosen to stick with the 
same old ?employee in every cubicle and a PC on every desktop? approach.?

Nevertheless, King suggests, there are a number of reasons why things might be 
different this time around. ?[A] confluence of factors could be pressing the 
market toward a fundamental change. First and most importantly, with most 
companies taking an increasingly pragmatic approach to their IT investments, 
the cost-effectiveness of hosted desktop environments is likely to garner more 
favorable attention than in the past,? he writes, noting that companies are 
supporting increasing numbers of remote workers, too. 

IBM?s virtual desktop offering could be an ideal solution for them. ?At the 
same time, increasing access to Internet-based high-performance network 
solutions makes it much easier for remote workers to stay connected to their 
employers,? King concludes. ?In other words, the IT infrastructure required to 
support blade-based desktop solutions is more readily and easily available than 
it has ever been.?
You can contact Stephen Swoyer about IBM Offers New Take on Thin-Client 
Computing at swoyerse@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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