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Case Studies: Thin clients work for Amazon.com and others

Thin clients are more than just a cool idea; they are powerful tools for businesses and organizations all over the country. Amazon.

Thin clients are more than just a cool idea; they are powerful tools for businesses and organizations all over the country. Amazon.com, one of the Internet's most popular retailers, has used thin clients in its customer service and shipping departments since 1995. In a company with a year-to-year sales growth that's more than twofold, these departments are growing apace—and they require a PC infrastructure that can grow along with them. Easily deployed and easily upgraded, thin clients are ideal for such a situation. This past fall, Amazon purchased several hundred new Explora thin clients from Network Computer Devices (NCD), augmenting a network of several thousand similar units.

"We realized that the holiday season would be big," says Jenifer Watts, technical procurement manager at Amazon. The NCD Explora runs a flavor of Unix known as ncdware. Like the Windows CE–based NCD ThinStar 400 we tested, the Explora offers an ICA client for running applications from a Windows server, plus several terminal emulators for running software from older devices. The Explora also includes a Java Virtual Machine for running remote Java applications, software for running X Window applications, a Web browser, and other tools. The company has no complaints. "We went with ncd because we were pleased with the performance and reliability," says Watts. "We started with ncd and were happy, so we're staying with what works best."

The use of thin clients goes far beyond call centers, however. The Consortium for Worker Education (cwe), an organization that provides educational and training programs for New York City workers, has over 20 different offices and classrooms across the city's five boroughs. Until last summer, each office depended on desktop PCs. Since then, the company has replaced existing hardware with Netier NetExpress xl2000 thin clients. The company's servers, also purchased from Netier, run MetaFrame and Citrix's VideoFrame tool from servers equipped with Windows NT 4.0 tse. The clients offer Microsoft Office, applications specific to cwe courses, and audio and video streams for videoconferencing.

Using MetaFrame and Netier's proprietary Rapport management software, cwe can monitor the activity of each Netier device and make software changes as needed. Tasks that once required trips to several different places can now be handled from a single console.

"It made all the sense in the world," says Mark McGovern, senior vice president and chief information officer. "To have the classrooms running on thin clients alleviates the administrative nightmares and eliminates a lot of the damage that was coming from outside software and viruses."