Given the number of recent stories revealing how many laptops get stolen each year, it is perhaps no surprise that companies are looking at ways of securing their corporate data. And at the Citrix iForum this week there was no shortage of advocates willing to sway visitors further towards thin-client computing.
The argument goes like this. The more information that resides centrally and the less that resides on a laptop or desktop, the more secure that information is. The more dumb the terminal, the more the dumb user can't lose your sensitive company data, if you like.
Neoware, a partner of Citrix, is one company producing pretty smart devices that look like a laptop, sound like a laptop and probably even smell like a laptop but cannot contain any of the data you'd normally find on your average lost or stolen notebook PC.
Bob Cope, operations IT manager at UK insurance company Towergate, a customer of Neoware, says he's seen no data loss or leakage since his company started using Neoware's thin-client laptops for around 3,500 staff across the operation.
Neoware even ships its units in boxes that boast "theft-proof device". Of course the device is as susceptible to theft as any laptop but, once stolen, the victim has lost nothing but a shell. The data — far more valuable now than hardware — is certainly a lot safer.
If all the applications, data and, therefore, the balance of power are centralised, then switching users on and off also becomes a lot easier to manage, as does controlling who uses what. As a result, viruses are also easier to deal with and compliance can be a more manageable headache.
Another benefit, according to Sean Whetstone, head of IT at Reed Managed Services, is the thin-client model can be far greener — ticking an important box on the current corporate agenda. Whetstone, also looking after a 3,500 employee-strong company, previously had desktops running 24/7 "in case some Microsoft update had to be pushed out". Moving to a model that will see around 98 percent of PCs replaced with thin-client terminals means those updates are centralised and the terminals are not only using less power anyway but are on for only around 10 hours per day.
Whetstone says this measure has been a considerable step in helping Reed hit its objective of being a carbon-neutral company.
But it's not all things to all people. Some users, Towergate's Cope says, initially recoiled at the idea of surrendering their smarter laptops and many businesses will resist — especially when many are only now replacing desktops with shiny new laptops.
However, the thin-client hardware market will grow 27 percent this year, according to IDC, so it's clearly finding plenty of fans.
Gartner too has predicted solid growth over the coming three years, with security a major factor for those decommissioning PCs and laptops and taking the thin-client route, according to a 2006 report from the analyst house.