Asian markets not ready for zero clients

More zero-client computing devices hitting the market, but its associated requirements such as bandwidth, may hamper adoption in Asia, an analyst points out.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

More hardware vendors have recently jumped on the "zero-client" computing bandwagon, touting lower power consumption and fewer security risks, but the technology may not be as feasible for Asia, according to one analyst.

Earlier this month, both Dell Computer and Fujitsu rolled out their own versions of zero-client devices.

Dell's FX100 is a CPU-form factor device that taps PC-over-IP (Internet Protocol) technology to support both desktop virtualization and workstation sessions. It requires users to purchase a separate monitor. The Japanese vendor, on the other hand, is licensing zero-client technology from Pano Logic and incorporating it into the D602, a monitor-like computing device.

Like thin clients, zero clients do not have local storage and consume much lower power than a regular fat client. Beyond that, zero-client devices also do not have processors, operating systems or drivers.

"Thin clients were originally built for terminal services and therefore, require layers of additional software from multiple vendors in many cases, in order for them to work in most workplace environments, [and this] adds to the cost and complexity," a spokesperson from Calif.-based Pano Logic, said in response to e-mail queries from ZDNet Asia.

On the other hand, the lack of traditional computing elements in zero clients means businesses have "nothing to maintain or support", she added. Security breaches are, as a result, eliminated as well.

A Singapore-based Dell spokesperson concurred.

Thin clients, he noted, "force IT [departments] to manage two operating systems"--one on the device, and another in the data center. "A thin-client OS presents a bigger footprint," he said, noting that such devices require more hardware capabilities, adding to the cost and maintenance overheads.

"[A zero client] is effectively BIOS on a bit of flash memory so there is no management overhead, other than occasionally updating the flash chip," he added. "There are no security concerns because there is no user-editable information on the flash, and there are no patches to manage--only infrequent, complete updates."

According to Pano Logic, enterprises can reduce their TCO (total cost of ownership) of computing by up to 88 percent by moving from PCs to zero clients. The savings are derived from lower upfront equipment and deployment costs, reduced energy usage and removal of support and maintenance over the long term, explained the company spokesperson.

Asia's infrastructure not ready
Despite the benefits of zero-client computing as touted by vendors, analysts say zero clients, for now, appeal only to certain segments of users.

Lillian Tay, principal research analyst at Gartner, noted that the technology "makes sense" for high security and manageability requirements, such as in the defense and finance verticals. In these scenarios, users are "firmly desk-bound", she said.

However, Singapore-based Tay noted that zero clients--which are currently not available in Asia--may not be suitable for Asian markets. "This deployment needs high bandwidth and networks that are constantly reliable, which is still not possible in many emerging countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

"Additionally, the upfront cost in storage, servers [and virtual desktop] software in the data center...is also a hindrance for general usage," she pointed out.

Matthew McCormack, consultant with IDC's European Systems Group, told ZDNet Asia's sister site ZDNet UK earlier this month it was still early days for zero-client computing and desktop virtualization as a whole. Vendors, he added, say their products and technology enable considerable cost savings, but zero-client products are more expensive than thin clients.

However, Pano Logic's spokesperson noted that the company's short-term plans include expansion into Asia because "demand is increasing" in the region.

In addition, within the region, Dell's FX100 is available for order in Australia, China and Japan.

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