Tactical Advice

Data Theft Deterrent

With an HP thin-client notebook, your mobile users can work on the go more securely.
This story appears in the December 2009 issue of BizTech Magazine.

For a while it seemed as if every time you turned on the news, some business or government agency was reporting that a notebook had been stolen. The bad news seems to have died down, but the threat is still real. IT staffs must take great precautions to ensure that data is not lost or stolen.

One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to prevent data from walking out the door each night in someone’s briefcase. It’s no longer feasible, however, to forbid employees from using mobile computing devices simply because of security risks. Fortunately, HP has a compromise that should satisfy most users (and IT staffs): the HP 4410t Mobile Thin Client.

HP modified its 4400 series, 14-inch widescreen notebook to make it more suitable for use as a thin client. The resulting 4410t sports the Microsoft Windows XP Embedded operating system and a respectable load of software so that connectivity is available out of the box. A 2-gigahertz Celeron processor and 1 gigabyte of RAM (upgradable to 3GB) provide more than adequate processing power for most tasks.

The notebook contains four USB ports and a DVD drive. The six-cell lithium-ion battery reportedly provides up to four and a half hours of battery life. During testing, it performed for slightly more than four hours on a variety of tasks.

Advantages

From a user perspective, the 4410t looks like a typical notebook computer, and — depending on how it’s configured — your users may not know that they are running a thin client. The unit that I tested contained a 2GB solid-state storage device, which is more durable and speedier than a traditional hard drive. This doesn’t provide much storage space for additional applications, but the point is to keep the data off of the device. There is plenty of space to install application server clients or additional web browser apps.

The notebook weighs about 4.5 pounds, so it’s not too heavy to tote around for travel. Users will find the device easy to operate, without any extra buttons or keys. At the start, they may be frustrated by the Write Filter, which will prevent them from writing anything to the local disk drive. The default configuration also prevents users from accessing data saved on a USB thumb drive or optical disk.

Why It Works for IT

Data theft may be the best reason for IT to consider this device. As long as you have deployed Citrix, VMware View (formerly VDI) or Windows Terminal Services, then implementation should be a breeze. Users will simply establish a virtual private network connection into your network and launch needed apps or use one of the previously mentioned remote-desktop applications.

The IT staff will find that this is an easy notebook to set up because HP has thought of almost everything when it comes to deployment. The notebook arrives preloaded with a Citrix client, VMware View, Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection and HP’s Remote Graphics Software client. HP has developed the HP ThinState Capture application to make deployment of multiple devices simple. You create your master image, which you can then dump to a USB drive for deployment onto additional devices. According to HP, this method is designed for deploying 10 to 25 clients.

HP has included another piece of software that’s sure to please IT: the Write Filter. This feature lets the systems administrators load applicable software and customizations onto the thin client and then essentially freeze the settings. No matter what the user does to the device, a simple restart of the computer takes it back to the original set configuration. The HP utility will also allow certain files or folders to be unlocked so that specific information can be saved to the device, such as Wi-Fi connection settings. The default setting on the notebook that I tested restricted all write access to the local disk, USB devices and optical media.

Last, cost is now a much bigger factor than in previous years. The suggested retail price of the 4410t in the configuration I tested is $625 with a one-year warranty. A comparable notebook that is fully equipped would easily cost $1,000 and not have the management capabilities included.

Disadvantages

I had to look hard to find any drawbacks. One thing I found annoying was that the Write Filter prevented changes to the notebook, including preferences. For example, I do not like the touchpad to have tapping enabled. I was able to make the change, but a reboot of the system re-enabled the tapping feature. I also was not able to save my wireless network keys (which is especially a problem with a long key that is saved on a USB drive that you can’t access).

But these are quibbles. The only real disadvantage to this mobile thin client is the lack of a built-in wireless WAN card. The unit that I tested had a nonfunctioning WLAN card that wouldn’t work until I sought tech support from HP. Apparently I had a pre-production model with a firmware problem that has since been fixed.

All in all, this is a great option for mobile users who don’t need a full-featured notebook. With an investment in Windows Terminal Services or Citrix, you will be able to fully utilize HP’s innovative mobile thin client.           

 

John Case is technology coordinator at the Ohio Hi-Point Career Center in Bellefontaine, Ohio.
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