Hewlett-Packard brings thin client to feds

Hewlett-Packard Co. last month jumped into the thin-client market with the release of its first Microsoft Corp.'s Windows-based terminal, now available on the General Services Administration schedule.

Windows-based terminals are low-end desktop computers designed to access applications that run on a server rather than locally; they therefore lack disk drives and other features used for local processing.

Thin clients typically are aimed at organizations that run networks with hundreds of users on text terminals and older PCs. The low-end design makes the system inexpensive and easier to manage.

The new system, developed in conjunction with Wyse Technology Inc., costs $611 per unit on the GSA schedule.

The goal of a thin client "is to have a desktop that is extremely simple, extremely secure and very low-cost," said Brent Remai, senior product manager for HP's thin client. "They are specifically for people who are looking to dramatically reduce the cost of ownership."

The market is still relatively new and untried but is expected to grow dramatically, leaving large gaps to be filled by vendors willing to take the plunge, industry analysts said. A study by Zona Research Inc., Redwood City, Calif., found that in 1997 fewer than 350,000 thin clients shipped in the commercial market. Zona projects the market will grow to almost 650,000 units shipped in 1998 and 5.5 million in 2000.

Selling Windows-based terminals manufactured by Wyse might be HP's way of testing the market before jumping in with both feet, said Eileen O'Brien, analyst at International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass.

HP's release "is a good announcement for the market because HP is a pretty high-profile vendor," O'Brien said. "They have [a] good installed base of legacy systems" that can be upgraded, and HP can offer a complete system, including the terminals, a server and traditional PCs, she said.

The Windows terminal will work in a system with older legacy terminals and PCs, and "for people performing a fixed set of activities that are server-centric...this is an ideal desktop alternative," Remai said.

"For the government, the thin client is ideal for users that would be performing data entry or data lookup," he said. Because it will run Windows off the central server, "it allows textual users to get more access and functionality."

At the same time, however, "a key benefit is you can set the terminal up so that it boots up looking like a text terminal or set it up so it boots [up] looking like a PC," he said. "This gives [users] the familiarity."

The HP terminal supports all applications running on Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server with Citrix Systems Inc.'s MetaFrame or WinFrame server software.

Wyse, HP's partner in this venture, is already a major thin-client manufacturer. In the past, HP has offered only its NetStation X terminal, which is a Unix-based terminal, and the NetVectra NetPC, a Java-based network computer.

"This is a cost-effective device not only on the purchase end...but over the life of the device you should save incredible dollars," O'Brien said. "Upgrading an entire network [of desktops] is very costly and very time-consuming," but if everybody is using a terminal, all IS has to do is upgrade the server and everyone is affected.

Another factor to consider is security.

"Within a government installation, it's an extremely secure device," O'Brien said. Because there is no floppy drive in a terminal, "there is no way to get into the system and corrupt it."

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