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Are Thin Clients Right for You?

Thin clients provide more than just cost savings.
This story appears in the September 2009 issue of BizTech Magazine.

Photo: William Mercer McLeod
Pierre Vedel
Vice President of IT
Energy Recovery

Before deploying thin clients, my team and I did our homework. We read the literature, looked at case studies and talked to manufacturers and users. Now, after a few months of piloting, my only wish is that we had started using them sooner. The cost savings are better than I ever imagined, our maintenance work is a fraction of what it was, and our users couldn’t be happier.

My company, Energy Recovery, makes a device that reduces the energy used by water pumps in the desalinization process (turning seawater into fresh water) by up to 97 percent. There’s a huge demand for our product, and to keep pace with growth, we’re moving to a manufacturing facility that’s triple the size of our existing one.

About a year ago, we deployed a Citrix XenApp application delivery system across standard computers, but we didn’t see many advantages. We considered using thin clients, but because our infrastructure was already built out, we didn’t think it would be cost effective.

For the new manufacturing facility, I wanted to keep down hardware costs and solve our ever-present challenge of keeping computers clean on the manufacturing floor. We looked at thin clients, brought some in for testing, and the feedback has been incredibly positive.

Users love them because they don’t even have to see the machines, much less worry about keeping them clean and protected. We bolted them under desks and behind beams and connected them to flat-screen monitors. IT employees love them because they don’t have to trek out to the manufacturing floor whenever there’s a problem. They can just log on to the machines remotely.

If you’re wondering whether thin clients are right for your business, here are some things to consider:

  • Thin clients set up with ease. Our pilot units found our Citrix server and practically configured themselves. We realized we needed to put more time into our Citrix XenApp configuration to fully tap its functionality.
  • Have your end users try out a few units. They may find uses that hadn’t occurred to you. It’s one thing for IT to settle on a great solution; it’s another for a business user to try it and say, “Wow, this solves so many issues for us.”
  • Individualize each machine. Many users don’t need the features on standard computers. Our manufacturing team needs only web access, so we can save on application licensing costs. Production managers who need standard Microsoft Office applications can use the same thin clients with those applications pushed out to them.
    We can even push out applications to our overseas facilities and manage everything centrally. The only limitation we’ve found so far is that thin clients don’t work well for our mobile users, who have limited access to the Internet.
  • Virus prevention is much simpler. Users can’t install the latest games from the Internet because only IT administrators have the access rights.
  • Wireless devices work just fine. Instead of hard-wiring our 100,000-square-foot manufacturing floor, I can set up 20 access points that will cover the thin clients and our barcode scanners.

If you’re still not sure whether thin clients are for you, take another look. With the cost savings we’re seeing, this would have made sense even if we weren’t moving to a new facility. Like I said, my only regret is that I didn’t do this sooner.

Pierre Vedel is the vice president of IT for Energy Recovery in San Leandro, Calif.
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