By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc. July 12, 2017
Thin clients inhabit an odd corner of business IT where enthusiasm for the technology can tend to outshine its relatively modest but constantly growing market share. That’s partly because the idea of thin clients and related technologies arrived well ahead of their time and initially didn’t respond to any real demand from the market.
In the mid-1990s, Sun Microsystems, Oracle and a handful of other vendors championed the idea of lightweight “network computers” that would run a simplified OS based on Sun’s Java and access applications, storage, collaboration functions and other assets through corporate networks. Thin and zero clients arose as variants of this approach that promoters said made them superior to “fat” PC solutions for certain tasks and job roles.
Network computing was largely a strategic feint against Microsoft and its increasing dominance in desktop computing which posed real threats to Sun’s workstation business. But it also recognized the benefits that increasingly robust network-delivered services could offer individual employees and work groups. Plus, centrally managing assets within data centers offered businesses some significant OPEX values.
The main problems, however, were 1) that several foundational technologies were incapable of delivering fully PC-quality experiences for thin client end users, and 2) that the necessary CAPEX investment was about the same or even more than what PCs required. The continual price drops that PC vendors delivered placed thin clients at an additional disadvantage, though they did find ready acceptance in unique use cases, including computer labs and service call centers.
On the plus side, those problematic foundational technologies finally caught up with thin client visionaries, and valuable new wireless and desktop virtualization solutions complemented a variety of use cases. Plus, the increasing shift away from packaged software to network- and Internet-based services and apps has steadily increased interest in modern thin client offerings. Which brings us to the new XC Xpress, Latitude and Wyse solutions that Dell launched this week.
Focusing on thin client appliances and mobility
As background, though Dell has long been interested in thin clients the company’s focus sharpened considerably after its acquisition of Wyse, a leading player in “cloud client computing” (i.e. virtualized thin and zero clients). Since then, Dell has steadily expanded its thin client offerings. Plus, its 2016 acquisition of EMC added assets that offered clear, formidable synergies to the Dell Wyse portfolio. More on that below.
So what all did Dell introduce this week?
- Originally announced at Dell EMC World, the new Dell EMC XC Xpress for VDI is a 3U form factor Nutanix-based hyperconverged appliance designed to provide SMBs what they need to deploy, manage and run robust, scalable virtual desktop infrastructures. The XC Xpress combines server and storage infrastructure, virtualization software, and back-up to Microsoft’s Azure cloud into an integrated solution that also allows businesses to choose their preferred hypervisor and desktop brokers. Customers can start with a three-node cluster configuration and scale up to four nodes, plus an additional four node cluster as needs demand. That flexibility makes the Dell EMC XC Xpress an ideal VDI solution for growing SMB organizations with 150+ employees.
- The Dell Latitude 3480 mobile thin client features a 14-inch full HD display, along with an Intel dual core processor, integrated graphics, 8GB DDR4 RAM, and extended battery life. Designed for task and knowledge workers, the new solution leverages Windows 10 IoT Enterprise, and offers broad connectivity options, including USB 3.1 and 2.0, RJ45, HDMI and VGA ports, and WLAN and Bluetooth. Dell Latitude 3480 also supports virtual desktop brokers, including Citrix XenDesktop, Microsoft RDS and VMware Horizon. In addition, customers have an option of adding an additional security layer to their Latitude 3480 solutions with Dell’s Threat Defense advanced threat detection solution.
- Dell also noted recent enhancements to its Wyse Thin OS 8.4 solution, as well as the new Wyse Management Suite. Thin OS 8.4 now supports VMware Blast Extreme remote connection protocol for rich graphical end user experiences, and the latest Citrix HDX RealTime optimization pack (2.2) for increased unified communications, and greater video and multimedia capabilities. The Wyse Management Suite is a new solution that allows organizations to configure, monitor, manage and optimize Wyse thin client deployments. Two versions are available, and the Pro solution offers options for on-premises, cloud and combined management methodologies.
The Wyse Management Suite and Wyse ThinOS 8.4 are both available now. The Dell EMC Xpress for VDI and the Dell Latitude 3480 mobile thin client will be available later this month.
The new Dell solutions offer some interesting insights on both the substantial value proposition of thin clients and why these technologies play increasingly vital roles in so many organizations.
To the first point, the Dell EMC Xpress for VDI and Dell Latitude 3480 both demonstrate how thin client solutions can adopt and be adapted to current technological trends and use cases. Xpress for VDI leverages the considerable progress that Dell EMC has made in hyperconverged platforms, as well as the company’s partnership with Nutanix. The new solution also complements Dell EMC’s hyperconverged solutions for larger organizations: the VxRail for VDI and XC Series for VDI.
Similarly, the Dell Latitude 3480 mobile thin client extends the company’s portfolio of Latitude notebook solutions, and benefits from Dell’s significant supply chain and manufacturing investments. But the availability of Dell’s Threat Defense solution aims to provide additional, enhanced security to thin client customers that require it for their mobile workforce.
The inherent flexibility demonstrated here by Dell EMC goes to a deeper point—that thin client computing has never been exclusively about end points so much as it is optimally using an organization’s IT assets to maximally benefit its end users. “Network computing” may have encompassed that in the 1990s, but with the rise of mobility, flexible workplace solutions and other recent trends, “infrastructure computing” may be a more apt description today.
In any case, these new solutions highlight how Dell EMC is and intends to remain at the center of thin client innovation.
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