A gradual return to thin client computing may be on the way, as IT managers are faced with more options for PC blades and blade servers that can emulate desktop PCs.
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Such computing models promise to lower IT costs, increase resource efficiency and return on investment, and ease the burden of PC management, said analysts.
PC blades are fully-functioning PC motherboards held in racks in the datacentre. Users connect via the network and there is no desktop hardware for them to interfere with, making the blades highly secure.
Last week, Hewlett Packard updated its year-old BC1500 PC-blade system, currently only available in the US. Hewlett-Packard's Consolidated Client Infrastructure (CCI) platform is now based on AMD's Athlon 64 processor, instead of the Transmeta Efficeon processor. About 20 companies have trialled HP's original platform.
An alternative is to use secure blade servers in the datacentre, which use virtualisation software and function as desktop PCs.
In October, IBM teamed up with Citrix and virtualisation software firm VMware to create such a system. The IBM Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure is based on xSeries and Bladecenter servers and Citrix's Presentation Server. It supports printing, USB drives, dual monitors and audio.
IBM said users would be able to make total cost savings of up to 60% and get a return on investment in six months. It also provides utilisation rates of up to 80% when used with VMWare, said IBM.
Dan Fleischer, senior research analyst in IDC's European enterprise server solutions team, said IBM was likely to have more PC blade options in the future, as this computing model grows in popularity.
Call centres and financial institutions will be the main users for the immediate future, but Fleischer said, "There are obviously benefits from deploying a PC infrastructure in these ways, and there are really strong arguments on the cost side."
IDC analyst Roger Kay said, "Companies with high requirements for serviceability, security, availability, or low-noise environments should consider a blade client solution for at least a part of their client population.
"PC blades deliver tangible and substantive benefits for certain classes of users, notably high-density large enterprises, security-conscious military, and high-availability departmental or enterprise computing."
l IBM is this week expected to announce a manufacturing deal with ClearCube, the PC blade market leader. ClearCube recently added a new chassis to its PC-blade platform and introduced management software.
Banking group switches to blade PCs
This summer, Anglo-Dutch banking group Insinger De Beaufort Bank, London, became one of the first UK organisations to replace its workstations with PC blades from ClearCube Technologies.
ClearCube's PC blades are essentially a set of motherboards in a rack that can hold up to 112 boards. Each blade has an Intel chip and components including a hard drive and memory. Blades connect to a user port about the size of a paperback book at the user's desktop.
Insinger de Beaufort said it was attracted by the secure nature of the system and the fact that users could not tamper with the PC's CD drive or USB ports.