HP releases 'power user' thin client

The push for 'Bring Your Own device' IT support may help foster high-end thin client adoption

Calling a thin client a device for power users may seem like an oxymoron, but Hewlett-Packard is giving it a try.

HP Monday released two thin client devices, including one it says is a potential replacement for desktops used by knowledge workers. The update is the first to HP thin clients in two years.

The new models include increased processing power delivered directly at the desktop to improve multimedia and graphics capability.

The high-end HP thin client runs an AMD G-series, 1.65 GHz Fusion processor with an integrated Radeon graphics capability.

Power users that replace a desktop computer with the high-end HP thin client system, the t610, "are not going to notice any degradation in their experience." said Jeff Groudan, who heads HP's global thin client operation.

That may be so. But thin client deployments are dependent on backend capabilities, including the number of VDI sessions the servers are handling as well as the responsiveness of the network and storage.

"It's always a management story," said Bob O'Donnell, an analyst at IDC.

Growing user demand for IT support of personal devices, including tablets, smartphones and laptops, may help spur backend upgrades to support thin client deployments. Demand for bring-your-own-device support could prompt more IT organizations to adopt VDI, which can be used to support personal devices and thin clients.

"Thin clients may be able to ride the coattails of things like the iPad," said O'Donnell.

Suzanne Kosub, CIO of Concentra, is exploring ways to provide such capablities to employee-owned devices used at the national health care provider. Employees "aren't going to want to carry multiple devices," said Kosub.

People want "a technology capability that will allow them to work in their personal space, but allow them to have a container or a partition for work that conforms to the requirements of the workspace," said Kosub, adding that security is paramount.

Concentra may be better prepared than most companies for the consumerization shift. It has been using thin clients for more than 15 years and runs a centralized IT operation despite having more than 310 national locations.

The health care provider supports some 500 fat clients, a number Kosub wants to continue reducing.

An HP user, she plans to test the new thin clients to see what their improved capability will bring. She said that by beefing up the thin client device is needed to meet the heavier demands on the client.

Concentra is working on a mobile technology management strategy that would allow users to work on a virtual desktop of their end point device. But Kosub believes deployments are still in the early adopter phase, particularly the governance models for managing these devices.

Thin clients are gaining traction with businesses.

IDC sees the worldwide installed base of thin clients growing from about 16.1 million last year to nearly 33 million by 2015.

IDC expects that five million thin client units will ship globally this year, a 15% increase from last year. That number represents around 7% of the total number PCs corporate users will buy this year, said O'Donnell.

Along with the t610, HP in March is slated the t510 running a VIA Eden X2 U4200 1 GHz dual core chip. This model is designed for purpose-built uses, such as a call center.

The t5010 is priced from $250 and the t610 from $399.

The pricing competition for thin clients will be the PC, said Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT.

Deploying virtualization on the desktops carries "a fairly significant initial investment," said King. "Where the real benefits accrue is in the relative ease of management."

But as far the PC is concerned, "it's fairly easy for an enterprise to roll out traditional clients on a case-by-case basis," said King.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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