Del. agency gets thin

Officials from Delaware's Labor Department have turned away from personal computers to upgrade their public access workstations, choosing instead to go with thin-client systems as a more secure and cost-effective option.

PCs had become the de facto workstations of choice when the Labor Department decided to refurbish systems used by department employees and relocate them for the public's use, said Barry Fellman, a network engineer with Versalign Inc., which supplied the thin-client systems. People who go to the department's various public employment offices around the state used the PCs to apply for unemployment, search job postings on the Web, and send and receive e-mail, among other things.

But the machines had a number of disadvantages, Fellman said. One of the most severe was that they couldn't be locked down very well, so users could change configurations and open them up to security problems such as viruses.

The PCs also were costly to manage since software updates had to be made on each machine. Hard drives would fail frequently, forcing the department to buy costly replacements, Fellman said.

All of that has been eliminated with the new thin clients, he said. Security is no longer an issue, software can be changed for all the workstations simply by updating the central server, and reliability is improved since the thin clients have no moving parts to suffer from wear. They last about three times as long as PCs, Fellman said.

The Delaware project is a good example of the direction government users are going with their use of thin-client systems, according to Mike Kantrowitz, chairman and chief executive officer of Neoware Systems Inc., which manufactures Delaware's thin-client systems. The company also provides thin clients used by the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill., and the City of Kenosha in Wisconsin.

The need for better security and lower costs are certainly major drivers of the trend, Kantrowitz said. But another reason is the fact that most major operating systems today, including Microsoft Corp. Windows platforms, have built-in thin-client support, making it much easier for organizations to use the stripped-down systems.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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