Virtualization software revives dumb terminals, cuts IT costs

With computers growing smarter by the day, why would anyone want to step back more than a decade and fill office cubicles with dumb terminals? The answer is simple - to keep cubicle computers in service longer, uncluttered and free of malware, viruses and hacking programs.

With computers growing smarter by the day, why would anyone want to step back more than a decade and fill office cubicles with dumb terminals? The answer is simple - to keep cubicle computers in service longer, uncluttered and free of malware, viruses and hacking programs.

At least that's the argument being presented by Persystent Technologies, a Tampa Bay company that today released Persystent Virtualization, a product designed to give companies more control over the PCs in their networks without compromising the ability to customize them with a variety of programs. In fairness, during a briefing with the company, I'm the one who used the phrase "dumb terminals," not their executives. But that's all I could think of as they described how the product works.

In the enterprise, employees are constantly making the cubicle computer their own. They install their favorite Web browsers and instant messaging clients. They visit YouTube and MySpace, download music, share photos and open funny little video clips that friends send them on their personal Web-based e-mail accounts. (This reminds me of that Southwest Airlines "Wanna Get Away?" commercial featuring the woman who infects everyone in her office just by opening a funny attachment.)

What Persystent has done is created an automated PC repair and configuration software program that launches during a computer boot-up - before the operating system launches. Through the software, each of the machines in the network is configured to boot-up with certain settings - maybe with the most basic programs for one group of employees and a suite of specialized software for another group. If at any point, an employee installs a new program (maybe something like iTunes), accidentally deletes a critical startup file or even inadvertently opens an virus-filled attachment, a simple reboot will take that machine back to its "original" state (or the default configuration the IT department has given it.) That also means the unauthorized install of iTunes or that nasty virus file will be gone or the missing bootup file will be back when the employee comes back to work.

Again, thinking back to that Southwest Airlines commercial, I can't help but wonder how long it would have taken the IT department to clean up the mess that was depicted in the commercials. Each of those computers in that work area - maybe even throughout the entire network - would have needed a reinstall of the operating system, drivers, software updates, anti-virus programs and proprietary software, as well as a reconfiguration of network settings, email accounts and so on. It would have taken days, if not weeks, to get the office back to normal.

That aside, Persystent is also highlighting in a whitepaper some of the time-saving and cost-saving benefits that might affect a company's bottom line:

  • Automatically repairing only the files that were added/modified/or deleted
  • Reducing actual repair time
  • Centralizing control remotely through a web?based, administrative tool
  • Enabling remote repair within seconds, instead of the average turn around time of “three to five days”
  • Providing the options to “not repair” or “repair on demand”
  • Ensuring desktop availability

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