Why have a desktop machine anyway?

Why have a desktop machine anyway?

Summary: News coverage of recent Windows worm attacks may leave the uninitiated thinking only organizations who didn't keep up with the patches were victimized. those in the trenches know that keeping up with patches, especially at the desktop level, is a daunting task. On top of that, patch management is just a small part of total desktop management. Application installation, software updates, hardware maintenance, training, security, and more are all part of desktop management.

TOPICS: Hardware

Recent news reports regarding organizations, both public and private, who were impacted by the Zotob and Rbot worms is disconcerting. To the uninitiated, those who were affected did not practice good patch management.

However, those in the trenches know that keeping up with patches, especially at the desktop level, is a daunting task. On top of that, patch management is just a small part of total desktop management. Application installation, software updates, hardware maintenance, training, security, and more are all part of desktop management.

In 1996, Gartner Research announced the average Windows 95 desktop cost $10,000 a year to own. This includes - besides the activities mentioned above - the direct costs of user support, lost productivity, downtime, and administrative costs including depreciation, and finance charges.

Some would argue even then that the total cost of ownership (TCO) computed by Gartner was either overinflated or underrepresented. Whatever the cost is today, (based on your own TCO) there is no arguing that managing the desktop takes up a significant amount of an IT department's total resources.

The workload to manage desktops is such that a whole market of desktop management tools have sprung up to help us "control" them. Novell Zenworks, Intel Landesk, Hewlett- Packard OpenView, IBM's Tivoli TME10, or Microsoft's Zero Administration Kit are just a few examples. And even with these tools, the TCO for a PC just seems to stay the same or is even increasing.

So given all this, don't you have to wonder if it's worth it? I know I did. A few years ago, I looked at my organization's IT budget and the amount that was being used to purchase and support PCs and said "there has to be a better way."

That better way, after some significant research and testing was a hybrid solution consisting of thin client technology, Citrix, and Linux that would be phased in over time.

In a nutshell, the plan was to provide a "desktop" to the end user via their browser and run all their applications either directly from a Web server or from a Citrix server. Their individual machines would have their OS replaced by a very thin build of Linux and all machines purchased (new or as replacements) would be Linux-based thin client machines.

This desktop solution, in my opinion, was more secure and less susceptible to end user "intervention," virus breakouts, and emergency patches; thin clients were easier to install and troubleshoot, and workers were no longer "tied" to their workstation since they could get their own tailored desktop from any machine in the organization.

In order to succeed, we had to do two critical things.

  • Get buy-in from the organization;
  • and make sure we had a solid network infrastructure that had a very low latency.

The buy-in began with the IT governance committee. Fortunately, we had a very astute committee that, after seeing the research and the solution in action, quickly bought in to the idea. The next step was to eat our own dog food. The IT department made the move to this solution. From there, it was time to woo top management. We knew that if they didn't understand what was going on, the plan would eventually fail. Again, at the time I attempted this plan (and probably why I was comfortable in doing it) we had an incredibly sharp and IT-friendly administration. From the CEO to the CFO, they were on board and active supporters.

Meanwhile the infrastructure work was going on, and we were revamping and expanding what was a tired network to start with. So we began putting the solution into place, department by department, and you know what? It worked great! Yes, we initially had some kinks, but once they were worked out the network was greatly improved.

Unfortunately, this story has an incomplete ending. While doing the project, our community voted to merge local governments. So when the time came for the merger, we were not quite finished. Overnight, the whole environment that had been primed and ready literally disappeared. That ended the solution.

The point of this story, though, is that I know the solution works and you can be rid of a great deal of desktop headaches by ridding yourself of a fat client machine. I have seen the beginnings of it, I know what the TCO was turning out to be, and if I ever get the opportunity again I will seek to implement a similar solution.

And yes, I realize that this solution doesn't fit 100% of the users but it works for the vast majority. And I would rather be managing a very small subset of needy fat client machines than an entire organization's.

It’s a bold move, switching from fat client machines to thin clients and delivering an organization's desktop through a Web browser. But with the proper planning and execution it can be done. Just make sure you start at the beginning of your CEO's next term in office.

Thin Clients White Papers

Click here to see more results

Topic: Hardware

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Why? Because...

    * The telephone monopoly does not serve my blue-collar neighbourhood with DSL and the cable monopoly costs too much.
    * Software servers would not likely serve me with affordable software in my languages to do my kind of work.
    * The Internet is not safe enough to be trusted with my data.
    * I could do on my computer only what software monopolies wanted me to be able to do.
    * My co-workers would grow less competent to work around limits imposed by softinazis.
    • But for gov't/commercial, those issues don't matter...

      I think the point Mr. Padilla makes is that in a structured environment (gov't or commercial, not your home), the thin client technology removes a lot of variables and problems at the users' locations, providing central control at one or more servers. Besides the lower costs, there are simply less problems. Users log on, and get a consistent desktop or access to apps. In this environment, you generally don't want users downloading and installing any bit of software they find. As for the internet fear, technologies like Citrix provide that secure portal. And, if the internet is not appropriate, thin client technology can be used for any kind of LAN or WAN. We have been using similar technology for over ten years in our computerization of single and multi-location dental offices with great success.