Case Studies

The Zero Client Diet

Companies are migrating to zero clients to save costs and centrally manage their computers.
This story appears in the June 2011 issue of BizTech Magazine.
Zero Complaints
Harvey Green III of Smith Turf & Irrigation says zero clients save energy and improve security.
Credit: Brian Gomsak

Harvey Green III, assistant manager of information systems and technology at Smith Turf & Irrigation, was looking for a better way to cut IT costs and create more business efficiencies for his Charlotte, N.C., turf maintenance, irrigation and landscaping products distributor.

With more than 20 locations in the southeastern United States, the company uses more than 100 desktop computers and 80 notebook computers to conduct business, from purchasing lawn-care equipment and processing customer transactions to scheduling customer service calls and tracking equipment inventory.

“I was looking at creative ways to handle the business,” Green says. “I evaluated different ways to do things. Instead of buying equipment every three years, I was looking at ways to extend the time we use our hardware.”

With many small businesses still finding it hard to make money in a weak economy, experts say SMBs are considering zero clients because they cost less and are simple to install and operate. The zero clients are less likely to have mechanical failures, and problems can be solved at the server back end, eliminating costs for service calls.

“As cost constraints continue to bite organizations, people are going to say the cost of installing and maintaining personal computers is too high,” says industry analyst Dan Kusnetzky, founder of Kusnetzky Group. “They will look at alternatives.”

The reliability, low costs, ease of installation and reduced administrative requirements make zero clients appealing for IT managers, Kusnetzky says.

“Organizations are trying to squeeze every cost out of their IT departments,” he says. “The zero-client device is not much bigger than a pack of cards, and you get much more compact, manageable and secure hardware.”

Saving Green

Late last year, Green began implementing Wyse Xenith zero clients, which run exclu­sively in a virtual desktop infrastructure. The front-end device has no moving parts, no storage and no software, creating a centrally managed desktop environment that he says cuts costs and delivers reliability. As part of his company’s upgrade, Green also implemented Citrix ­XenDesktops, IBM servers and an EMC storage area network.

Later this year, Green will finish the migration and oversee 139 zero clients at Smith Turf. He points to reduced operating costs, minimal use of desktop components, low power consumption and a nearly virus-free environment behind real cost savings for the family-owned business.

With the purchase of the Wyse zero ­clients, Smith Turf is spending about half of what the company would have ­budgeted for traditional personal comput­ers, Green says. All user information and data are maintained in a central data center, reducing time and costs necessary for administering a large infrastructure.

“It’s a no-brainer, there isn’t any question about it” he says. “Instead of having sensitive data on each device, it is held in the data center. That cuts down on support costs.”

Total Control

At Seattle Children’s Hospital, the IT department is implementing 3,000 Wyse Xenith zero clients, a move that will help health-care professionals become “fast, nimble and mobile,” says Jake Hughes, chief technical architect at Seattle Children’s.

Migrating to zero clients will help increase the speed of care given by doctors and nurses because their desktops are following them as they move around different departments of the hospital, Hughes says.

“They don’t have to constantly log in and launch applications. Any station they walk up to is exactly the same,” he says. “Every click counts in healthcare. If we give them one minute back, that is time they can interact with kids and parents.”

Nephila Capital, a catastrophic risk hedge fund that provides reinsurance protection for earthquakes and hurricanes, began rolling out ClearCube I9422 zero clients at its headquarters in Hamilton, Bermuda.

Equipping all software and the operating system on servers and not on individuals’ desktops makes zero clients more efficient, says Nicholas Ferguson, a senior infrastructure architect at the firm. Because all the business intelligence sits on servers, the zero clients are also an added disaster recovery tool, an important consideration during hurricane season in Bermuda.

“We can control everything from the data center,” Ferguson says. “And if we have data center failure, we can recover the desktops in moments.”

The server-based nature of zero clients also makes it unlikely that they will be corrupted by viruses, Ferguson adds. “The chance of a security breach is basically nil. We don’t have to worry.”

Additionally, the low amount of energy consumed by the zero clients also pays dividends, especially in the tropical climate of Bermuda, he says.

Green estimates that his Wyse zero clients will each cost $1 per year to operate at Smith Turf, compared with approximately $21 annually for regular desktops. “Your power costs go down,” he says. “It’s equivalent to going from big CRT monitors to the LCD screens.”

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