The Zero Client Diet
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.”
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.”
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.”
Business owners and experts say there are many factors to consider before making the decision to migrate to zero clients. Before making the move, ask these questions:
- How are my employees using their computers on the front end? It is important to understand what programs and applications employees are using to determine if migrating to zero clients makes sense, says Harvey Green III, assistant manager of information systems and technology at Smith Turf & Irrigation. Users who do standard productivity computing in a single location are good candidates for zero clients, he says.
- What does my business need in terms of backroom infrastructure? Zero clients cannot function without a server back end and the necessary infrastructure to support it. A data backbone is needed to deploy zero clients, Green says.
- Will zero clients have better performance characteristics than PCs? Businesses that use PCs to display high-performance graphics and videos or to listen to audio files may experience lower performance with zero clients, says industry analyst Dan Kusnetzky, founder of Kusnetzky Group: “You have to ask, does the device come with software that lets zero clients do this? It could result in slow performance.”
- Do users have minimal USB devices? Zero clients are designed for minimal USB connections, such as a keyboard and mouse. Thumb drives, digital cameras and other gadgets can create performance issues. “You have to know what peripherals people use so there won’t be any issues,” Green says.
- Is your company confident enough in its software plan to support a five- to seven-year lifecycle for zero clients? “Competing trends could get in the way of zero clients,” Kusnetzky says. “You have handheld battery devices, smartphones, tablets and all types of devices that are starting to emerge.”