Sorry, couldn't pass up the cheesy title for this post. Cheese aside, though, as I box up the Devon IT Safebook and 6030 desktop thin client, I'm reminded of just how far server-centric computing has come from the green-screened dumb terminal of yore. I received a promo email today from Devon IT highlighting their 6040 series thin client that retails for just $139. It has a slower processor, but very similar features to those of the 6030. And for $139 (and almost negligible power consumption compared to a traditional desktop), you can deploy a lot of these on the cheap. Of course, if I were George Ou, I'd run out to Fry's buy some flash cards and clearance components and build them for a fraction of the price.
I'm well aware of the backend costs associated with thin client computing. Servers with enough horsepower to meet the simultaneous computing needs of student and staff aren't cheap, unlike the thin clients themselves. Neither is the networking infrastructure needed to make them run efficiently. But the energy savings alone can present long-term cost benefits, as can reduced management and maintenance costs. New multicore processors from both AMD and Intel continue to drive up efficiency and drive down costs on the backend, as well.
I will be the first to admit that a server-centric approach isn't for everybody. However, products like those from Devon IT and HP make this approach increasingly attainable. Every day we are asked to do more with less; talk back below if you've been able to improve efficiency and reduce costs with thin clients (or talk back if you're experiences aren't as positive as mine).
By the way, the final verdict on the Safebook, the $599 price tag for which I had questioned? If you're considering mobile carts and/or student laptop deployments, then $599 still undercuts most other solutions out there, while providing extraordinary durability (no hard drive), easy manageability, and strict control over what students can see and do in a thin and light package. This is especially true if you already have a server-centric infrastructure and simply need to supplement it with mobile labs or classroom sets of workstations. If you don't already have the appropriate backend in place, it becomes harder to justify with the cost of full-featured laptops dropping so quickly. However, since my students have become accustomed to thin clients in their labs, the Safebook got the thumbs-up all around from their perspective.