Hardware vendors Dell and Fujitsu have both unveiled zero-client devices, designed to cut power consumption as well as desktop management and rollout costs by allowing enterprises to centralise IT.
On Tuesday, Dell announced an enhanced version of its FX100 device, which contains no processor, operating system or image, and requires no drivers or fan. The device contains only the base input and output, and consumes 30W, according to Dell. It was previously available only as an access device for the Dell Precision R5400 rack workstation, but now works with the PC-over-IP protocol.
The PC-over-IP protocol is important to zero-client devices because it enables information to be passed as pixels, rather than data, which makes transmission quicker and allows devices to be simpler. A monitor must be purchased separately.
On Thursday, Fujitsu took the concept a step further by incorporating zero-client technology from Pano Logic inside a monitor. As with the Dell product, there is no operating system, local storage, processors, memory or fan in the device, named the D602.
Wyse and Samsung already offer similar products but, according to IDC consultant Matthew McCormack, it is still early days for zero-client computing and desktop virtualisation as a whole.
"We are seeing some verticals adopt it, such as finance, healthcare and government, where security and management of data has a high priority," he said. "It is relatively niche in a few industries."
Vendors are promoting the products as enabling considerable cost savings, but McCormack said the technology is more expensive than thin clients. Nevertheless, the devices are "a bit more compelling" where they are integrated into a monitor, he said.
Dell's FX100 costs €399 (£360) as a one-off, excluding a monitor. Fujitsu's D602 costs €450, and will be available for order in March.
McCormack said a return on investment could be made for organisations already using VMware and graphically intensive applications.
Dell acknowledged that the hardware is expensive, but said the costs were mitigated by allowing enterprises to centralise their resources. "Indeed the savings are not on the hardware. The savings are in moving capex to opex as customers can make better use of the cloud," said Samuel Larsson, head of commercial desktop products for Dell EMEA.
Fujitsu said hardware costs could be less than traditional desktop hardware, and energy costs could be cut by 60 percent because processing and cooling are centralised.
Fujitsu estimates that each device will require between 2Mbps and 3Mbps of bandwidth across the corporate network, which could add to networking costs.
"This is the year that people will evaluate zero client, and test this in pockets where they can move users over," said Larsson. "I agree that it's early days. But it's on the list of things to do for IT managers and CIOs this year."
Fujitsu plans to upgrade its product in the second half of 2010 by incorporating Power over Ethernet into the device. That change will allow it to be networked with just one cable, potentially making it easier to deploy.