Of course. What else would you expect John Kish (pictured left), the CEO of the company that claims itself to be the global leader in thin computing, to say? At Wyse, every year is probably the year of thin computing. How could they be anything else? But here we are at the end of 2006 and, when the pitch from Wyse's PR crossed my desk declaring 2007 the year of thin computing, how could I not bite?
Why this year and not the years before? Because finally, he could be right. Not just because of what Wyse has coming up in 2007 (which is pretty cool), but also because of all the money (and the deep pockets) behind making browser-based computing (essentially, thin computing) a reality. I'm talking about companies like Google, Salesforce.com, NetSuite, and RightNow who are driving hard the notion that most computing can take place in the cloud so that the only thing users need is a browser.
Although a Wyse terminal can be configured to be a stand-alone Web browser, Wyse's solutions are not and never have been just about browser-based computing (which is what most people think of when they hear "thin computing" these days). According to Kish, there are still a lot of people who need the horsepower of heavy duty applications that normally require the resources of a thick client; a desktop or notebook system with a big processor, a big hard drive, and big memory. Adobe's Photoshop for example is the sort of application for which no browser-based substitute exists. But, that doesn't mean it can't be configured to run on a thin client architecture where the processing that normally happens on a desktop is taking place centrally, and the device sitting in front of the user is something that costs only $200 to $400.
According to Kish, prior to 2007, even though thin computing was his companies chief selling proposition, there were still limitations on the sorts of applications that could be deployed in a thin computing environment -- limitations that worked against the promise of thin computing. But, today, according to Kish, there are some new developments working in his favor. For starters, he sees big bandwidth -- bandwidth of the sort that might constrain some of the more resource intensive apps -- as being far more ubiquitous than it has ever been. Cost of the terminals has also been an issue. When all was said in done (after investments in a thin computing architecture was made), companies could save money by going with the sort of thin clients that Wyse made, but it wasn't big money. Now, with Wyse's thin-client on a chip technology, Kish sees terminals in the $200 range (excluding monitor) that can really change the economics for certain types of companies.
Finally, Kish believes that, with the advent of some new enhancements to the RDP and ICA protocols used to "remote" desktop computing from some centralized host to a thin client like the ones made by Wyse, most of the problems with peripherals in a thin client environment have been eliminated. In years past, getting certain peripherals to work much the same way they'd work if you plugged them into a PC or notebook was much easier said than done.
Perhaps the barriers to thin computing have indeed finally been dropped.
To hear what Kish had to say, I caught up with him for a podcast interview. Using the Flash-based player above, you can stream the podcast directly to your desktop, download it, or if you're already subscribed to ZDNet's IT Matters series of podcasts, it should appear automatically on your desktop/notebook or portable audio playback device (depending on how you have your podcatcher configured). For more information on how to tune into ZDNet's podcasts, check our How-To.
Here are some text snippets from the interview:
ZDNet: So what's the final out of pocket cost to someone who deploys one of these on a desktop, and I know that I'm being incredibly unappreciative of the savings that are realized and the whole 'bigger picture' when you go to this architecture. But at the end of the day, a lot of people look at this and go, "well, you know, I can run those protocols on a typical desktop computer, might as well get the desktop anyway," particularly in mobile situations where it's not a desktop, it's a notebook computer and people have to telecommute and that sort of thing...
Kish: Look, the truth is, as bandwidth becomes more and more ubiquitous, we will see thin clients moving into the mobile markets and other things, they're not there today, and you know, we're the first to say that. We do think that they are a credible alternative and many of our large customers believe they are a credible alternative to PCs on the desktop. What does it cost? Well, today when large corporations replace PCs because they've depreciated, typically they leave the monitor and just replace the base unit. And that base unit costs them on average, somewhere between $700 and $1100. Now this is just an average that they pay...this is not interestingly, what you'd pay if you walked into Best Buy for a computer. But these are enterprise class machines and they have a variety of things that are required in order to run on corporate networks, etc. In our case, we can today provide you with a box that will provide all that functionality, not for $700 to $1000, but for $200 to $400. And as I said, the real value from this will come when we move beyond hanging these boxes on the back of monitors and begin embedding these single chip solutions directly into the monitors themselves.
ZDNet: What about the keyboard, you could embed it there as well right?
Kish: You could embed it there, however most people we spoke to would prefer to have it in the monitor. But yes, you could embed the chip anywhere you want to. You could walk around the floor of a building holding your keyboard and simply have it connect via Bluetooth to any monitor that you happen to be around as an example.
ZDNet: The thing I like about this, which is slightly different from where thin terminals and thin clients have been before, is that I can if I am an enterprise deployer of one of these devices and I'm going to be...let's say, giving people access to their Adobe Photoshop and other Windows-based applications over a network...for example over your ICA or RDP protocols, that eventually if I want to move them or migrate them to browser-based applications, that I don't have to throw away the hardware again...you are there with the technology that can run browsers locally, which is a good thing.
Kish: Right, the idea here was to try and provide some sort of a ubiquitous computing platform that could be adapted by the network to sort of deal with any changes that someone might want to have, whether that's "I want to change the operating system that you're running" to "I want to change the system architecture that your running in." So, I may choose [for David]... to give him the opportunity to do everything through a browser, but for Andre, I may decide that I really want him to run you know, certain applications locally or stubs of applications locally...
ZDNet: Mr. Kish, it sounds almost too good to be true, so I'm going to ask you a tough question here...be honest with us, there must be some sort of caveat, some compromises that have to be made when you deploy this sort of technology...
Kish: It's not a caveat, it really is a requirement that people understand that moving to a world like this does require embracing desktop virtualization...meaning that what you're doing, is you're shifting the processing from the edge into the network. You're shifting the storage from the edge into the network...and that is something that has been going on for a couple of years. We believe that the advent of these very cheap edge devices is in fact going to accelerate that.
ZDNet: But what happens when you have technology workers/knowledge workers that have to move around? Leave the building so to say?
Kish: Today they should use laptops. I mean I think in the future, I mean for example I was recently on a flight from San Francisco to Munich and there was a network on the plane and I worked the whole way. I didn't need my laptop on that plane.