Wyse Technology's new device isn't your father's dumb terminal

Xenith for Citrix has engine for backend software updates, but desktops still rule

There may be a lot to like about thin-client hardware like Wyse Technology Inc.'s Xenith for Citrix, which is due next month. But, so far, this thin technology isn't shoving desktops off corporate desks.

The Xenith, which is similar in size and shape to a paperback book, has four USB ports, a video connector, a microphone input and speaker output, and lists for $329. It is sold at volume for less than $300, and can support Wi-Fi for an extra $50.

But these units, which cost less to maintain than a PC , use less power and last longer, represent just 5% or so of the overall corporate desktop market, according to IDC.

Wyse is trying to boost that adoption rate , especially with this release. Unlike earlier "zero client" devices that it has been making since 2006 for VMware and Microsoft environments, this system includes a software engine that will allow users to update to the latest Citrix protocols.

Jeff McNaught, Wyse's chief marketing and strategy officer, said the company realized that it needed to be able to update clients if users hoped to get eight to 10 years of use out of the appliance.

The Xenith's software engine is limited to Citrix HDX display protocols and management for the network and Wi-Fi stacks. As a result, it's better able to fend off malware attacks, McNaught said. The device was tested for vulnerability to viruses and other attacks but the engine is so limited "there really isn't any way for a virus to attack it," he said.

One beta tester is Miami-Dade County, Fla., which is considering the Xenith as a replacement for as many as 30,000 desktops that support its existing Citrix environment. Albert Alvarez, desktop virtualization technical lead for the county, said his organization has been testing 50 Xenith units and is preparing to deploy about 2,000 initially.

Alvarez said the county uses desktop PCs for the Citrix environment, but the new devices will reduce support costs because there are no hardware crashes or viruses to worry about. It also uses less power than a desktop.

"It's nothing more than a connection to a virtual environment," said Alvarez, "but at the same time the user experience is equivalent" to a graphical interface on a desktop.

Mark Bowker, an analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group, said he liked the Xenith because it was easy to manage and setup. "There is a large population out there that has aging desktops in place and this can easily be a replacement for them," he said.

Even so, desktops continue to far outsell thin client devices, even in corporate environments that also use Citrix and VMware virtual desktop environments, according to Bob O'Donnell, an analyst at IDC.

Worldwide, about 77 million corporate desktops will ship this year, compared to about four million thin clients, said O'Donnell. "The challenge for all the thin client vendors is the amount of effort that the Citrix and the VMware solutions require on the backend," he said.

Any transition to virtual desktops, building in the management and controls for the applications and users, can be involved, he said.

There may be political battles in IT as well, because the cost savings often come from personnel -- although the need for increased server capacity could offset IT job losses, said O'Donnell.

In companies that are now server-based, only about 15% to 20% use thin clients on the desktop; some users continue to run sessions on their desktops for some local applications, said O'Donnell.

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 .


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