The benefits of thin clients

Wyse thin clients on remote desktops offer benefits

What do you do when two-thirds of your company's employees work in remote locations that don't have IT support?

Bring all the complex stuff back into the data center where you can control it, says Jack Wilson, enterprise architect at Amerisure, a U.S.-based property and casualty mutual insurance company.

Even the desktops. None of the PCs used by Amerisure's 800 employees were managed or locked down when Wilson was hired two years ago, making those resources hard to manage. Compounding the problem: 450 of the company's workers are in eight remote locations.

Users could load anything they wanted, which, combined with the usual mix of disk and power failures, added up to a constant headache, Wilson says. Worse still, the company had to rely on third-party support, so it would take anywhere from two hours to a full day to resolve outages.

To reclaim control Wilson installed Wyse thin clients on remote desktops, a Dell blade server at headquarters and Citrix software to bridge the two.

The thin clients, which don't have disks, run a stripped-down version of Linux that allows network connections and supports a browser. Each blade can support 45 to 60 sessions, everything from Outlook and Word to 3270 emulation. "We publish a desktop that looks like a PC," Wilson says. "All the user's apps are available."

The benefits so far:

-- The company can update all software at once.

-- Users can't load software, so the company is left with a standard set of tools that are easier to maintain and the environment has become more stable.

-- Help desk calls are down 35 percent to 40 percent.

-- Some applications run faster now because the architecture eliminated some database activity across the WAN.

-- Amerisure can step off the PC-upgrade treadmill. "The thin client costs US$230, and when you add the cost of Citrix and the blade servers, you get up to just less than the cost to upgrade a PC," Wilson says. "But you have to upgrade PCs every three years, which cost us just about $1 million. We'll go one or two refresh cycles without having to do anything."

-- Business continuity planning is easier because the company no longer has to maintain spare PCs with the latest image in case a location is rendered uninhabitable. "Now we just need to send out thin clients and people can get back to work anywhere there is Internet connectivity," he says.

The remote locations have been upgraded with nary a whimper, Wilson says, maybe because users' old 17-inch CRTs were replaced with 19-inch flat screens. Headquarters is next.

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