Tracking costs and keeping them low is a rule of thumb at law firms, and for the IT group at Walsworth, Franklin, Bevins & McCall (WFBM) in Orange, Calif., reducing support costs was a goal. To achieve it, the firm turned to thin clients and is incorporating server consolidation and virtual desktops into the mix for greater computing efficiencies and easier maintenance.
The firm uses Wyse Winterm thin clients, which incorporate a keyboard and mouse and connect to Windows servers or other virtual machines that perform the actual computing. “If we had deployed 175 PCs instead of the thin client terminals, our IT team would be spending a great deal of time managing those 175 devices, in addition to resolving any issues the individual users may be experiencing with those machines,” says IT Manager Michael Martin.
Setting up a new Wyse Winterm thin client out of the box takes only a few minutes, he notes, whereas a new PC can take hours. “The programs and applications are already loaded and updated across our server farm on a regular basis, so all we need to do is point the Winterm to the appropriate server.” The main benefit is that the terminals require minimal firmware updates, because almost all updates are done at the server level.
“You’re 10 times more efficient on updates and doing maintenance,” says David Lunn, president and CEO of DBL Consult, who works with WFBM. “The goal is to achieve high levels of uptime and security so users can’t upload information without specific permissions.”
Thin client and desktop virtualization deployment has grown gradually, says Bob O’Donnell, vice president of clients and displays at IDC. “It’s a market [with] a lot of opportunity, but it [hasn’t] taken off as quickly as many people expected.”
The main reason, O’Donnell says, is that thin clients promised centralized applications in a true PC experience, but they couldn’t deliver. Browsing the Internet was a challenge, users weren’t able to achieve a true multimedia experience, and growth was stunted. Slowly, those issues have been addressed. For small- and medium-size IT shops, the value proposition is attractive because thin clients offer the ability to remotely service multiple locations.
At Motor Werks of Barrington, a high-end Chicago-area car dealership, thin clients prove to be a viable option for managing 350 users in four locations, says Josh Martin, director of IT. “It seems much more manageable to have all the virtual desktops in one place so I can make a change to one and replicate it to all the virtual machines,” Martin says.
After researching and testing products for a year, Martin says, it has opened a fifth location in Wheaton, Ill., in order to set up a physical network where it will run from VMware View 4 on HP T5740W thin clients. Martin also has two servers running VMware ESX virtualization software, which controls the flow of information between the server and the virtual machines. Initially, only 30 employees will use the thin clients, because not all users have the same computing needs.
In addition, the cost is comparable to a traditional desktop, Martin says. A thin client and monitor cost around $400, but with licensing, the total price was about the same. “Over time, the savings will be huge since a thin client doesn’t do a whole lot; and once I open up a remote desktop connection, as far as support goes, I will never need to do any different maintenance to them.”
Energy-efficient thin clients use up to 80% less power than traditional PCs.
If the company’s memory needs to increase, Martin says, he will add RAM to the server instead of a desktop, and it will be shared among all 30 desktops simultaneously rather than requiring individual upgrades, he says. The life of a thin client should be at least five years, he adds.
His biggest challenge with desktop virtualization so far has been “understanding the software components that go into running it,” he says, because some of the documentation uses different terminology for the same thing. “But once you find the document you’re looking for, it’s great.”
As Intercoastal Medical Group was deploying an electronic health records system, the Sarasota, Fla.-based practice with more than 60 physicians wanted to increase security and maximize the IT group’s efficiency in setup and support.
What is the biggest benefit of desktop virtualization?
18% Simplified imaging
7% Improved security
7% Energy efficiency
4% Don't know
SOURCE: CDW poll of 84 BizTech readers
As a result, IMG decided to use thin clients to avoid sending IT staff out to troubleshoot issues for approximately 500 employees in six locations, says Mike Soler, IT systems and support manager. The organization has 200 HP Compaq t5730 thin clients running Windows XP Embedded in exam rooms and check-in stations. IMG also uses HP t5540 thin clients with Windows Embedded CE at nursing stations and in the front office.
The HP thin clients came preloaded with Altiris Client Management Suite software, which provides a single management console for the devices and allows IT to save and deploy images. Once the first device is set up and the image is saved, other machines are rolled out and attached to the network. Altiris recognizes the new devices and adds them to the console, making them available to IT to deploy any of the saved images. “So rather than spending a couple of hours setting up a PC, we’re spending a few minutes to set up multiple thin clients simultaneously,” he says.