Melbourne school considers thin for 4,500+ PCs

The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology said that the first half of 2009 would see the university evaluate whether to commit to a thin client solution for hundreds of thousands of university workstations.
Written by Suzanne Tindal, Contributor
The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) this week said that the first half of 2009 would see the university evaluate whether to commit to a thin client solution for thousands of university workstations.

"We'd have about 4,500 PCs in what we call student laboratories," executive director of IT services Allan Morris told ZDNet.com.au. "Many of those would be candidates for thin client." Other PCs which would come into consideration were those in the libraries.

Morris said that thin client solutions had been popular a couple of years ago but then the hype died down. However, he said he thought it was coming back again, surmising that its popularity could be due to the push for Green IT solutions.

The Department of Defense has also been considering thin clients, but for a different reason. Its tens of thousands of its workers require access to both Defense’s Secret Network and its Restricted Network. Without using thin clients, this has meant two PCs on many staff desktops.

Morris named the advantages of thin client as being cost of ownership, easy deployment and the potential to reduce the university's carbon footprint. The main disadvantage, he said, was that thin clients didn't work well for PCs running specialist applications, and he wouldn't consider making the switch for those types of computers. He couldn't think of any others. "I'm not too sure there are too many cons," he said.

One switch Morris was unlikely to make was XP to Vista. Morris said the university was running XP, but that like a number of other organizations it would likely jump straight to Windows 7 for its 10,000 PCs because to shift to Vista in the middle would be too much work.

According to the IT director, the main reason wasn't any of Vista's foibles, but rather how difficult a transition would be. "It's more of an operational decision around the logistics of it," he said.

Even if Microsoft were to offer a free upgrade to Windows 7 for those who took the step to Vista, Morris said he wouldn't bite. "It's a transition we'd only want to make once."

RMIT also had no immediate plans to move to Microsoft's hosted exchange mail program or Google's Gmail. Morris said that the university had decided to continue administering its email internally.

Macquarie University and the University of Auckland are examples of universities which have recently moved students to Google's hosted Gmail system. The University of Queensland and the University of New South Wales have adopted Microsoft's alternative.

"We looked at it. It's not something that we've discounted doing," Morris said. The main reason he held back was the privacy issue and the ability to know that a student had received a mail and at what time: "We've put it on the back-burner as something we'll revisit."

What is on RMIT's agenda for this year is working on a single gateway for the student portal, carrying out ERP upgrades for the university's SAP and Peoplesoft software installations, and infrastructure revamps such as beefing up the network on which 5,000 new Nortel Networks IP telephony phones will run or reassessing the lease agreement with Sun for Unix Servers. Morris said he was considering Linux as an alternative, but no decision had been made. The IT director will have to carry out these plans with the same amount of funds he had last year, which he said was less money in real terms because IT's "landscape" is broadening. The funds pressure could be dealt with via process improvement, better asset management and using technology to free up IT staff time.

This article was originally published on ZDNet Australia.

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