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'Dumb Terminals' Can Be a Smart Move for Companies

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the up-is-down-black-is-white dept.

372

Carl Bialik from WSJ writes "More companies are forgoing desktop and laptop computers for dumb terminals — reversing a trend toward powerful individual machines that has been in motion for two decades, the Wall Street Journal reports. 'Because the terminals have no moving parts such as fans or hard drives that can break, the machines typically require less maintenance and last longer than PCs. Mark Margevicius, an analyst at research firm Gartner Inc., estimates companies can save 10% to 40% in computer-management costs when switching to terminals from desktops. In addition, the basic terminals appear to offer improved security. Because the systems are designed to keep data on a server, sensitive information isn't lost if a terminal gets lost, stolen or damaged. And if security programs or other applications need to be updated, the new software is installed on only the central servers, rather than on all the individual PCs scattered throughout a network.'"

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372 comments

Not good for large installations. (2, Interesting)

Short Circuit (52384) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813242)

Sounds like it would introduce a single point of failure. One malicious user or virus, and the sytem goes down for everyone. Plus, software needed by different groups often doesn't play well together, leading to irritating misbehavior. Plus, netwo

I wouldn't want something like this campus-wide.

I could see having one terminal server for each department or lab, though. Not only would that localize failures and software requirements, but you wouldn't need to invest in upgrading your existing network infrastructure.

Re:Not good for large installations. (1)

brunascle (994197) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813286)

my school actually did have this pretty much campus wide. or at least most of the computer labs were terminals.

it wasnt too bad except for the bandwidth (slower response time than a desktop).

Re:Not good for large installations. (1)

kiatoa (66945) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813834)

What kind of terminals? vt100, xterminals or some sort of windows citrix or similar terminals? I've used all and with splitvt and screen I'd rather be on a 19200 vt100 terminal than a citrix terminal on a lously network. In all seriousness though for a lot of applications I think text only would make more sense than gui based. At the dentist the other day and the receptionist was going back and forth between the mouse and the keyboard. I think that if she had been forced to learn the , and similar keystrokes it would have saved a good two minutes for getting my data in the system.

Fancy new stuff ain't necessarily better for everything.

Re:Not good for large installations. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17813910)

Dang it! I missed it in the preview. That should read "<tab>, <shift><tab>"

Re:Not good for large installations. (1)

Alky_A (1015285) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813934)

The main problem I've seen with these systems is stupid people testing programs containing infinite loops and forgetting to shut them down. Way to take up 50% of the CPU capacity, ass hole.

Re:Not good for large installations. (2, Funny)

ErroneousBee (611028) | more than 7 years ago | (#17814062)

I like to go for 100% myself.

I like to vary the loop amongst APF authorised tasks, a TSO user, CICS regions, batch, and occasionally a non-swappable system task.

Its been some years since I've taken down a running mainframe, though.

Re:Not good for large installations. (4, Insightful)

delymyth (17681) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813340)

In a company like the one I work for, where users use anyway all the same applications, this would be great.
No need to reinstall clients, no need to change broken fans and hard drives and search the whole office for a spare dvd player just to install the operating system into a machine.

Right now it takes me about 2 to 3 hours (4 in the worse cases) to get a client machine ready for the user, and we already have centralized /home directories.
Switching to thin clients could cost a little bit more when it comes to servers, but surely it will be less time-consuming when installing clients (no need for installation) and supporting users (one-time server-side install for all OO.org dictionaries and other applications).

And, most of all, I wouldn't have all the "version inconsistencies" I have right now across the network clients, where one has application X version Y and the other a newer or older version (and plugin problems because of this).
Oh, sure, people won't be able to install their own stuff, but they already can't do it anyway ;-)

Re:Not good for large installations. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17813708)

What you need to be doing is using images (or remote install pxe) either of a dvd or share. No way you should spend that much time on restoring a pc.

Re:Not good for large installations. (1)

ggeens (53767) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813782)

Last year, I worked for an organization that was looking into a thin-client solution.

This organization (unemployment agency) has a large number of offices around the country, connected to the central servers by ISDN lines (or ADSL at best).

Their current workstations are running Windows XP. Each time a user logs in, the machine checks for updates with the central servers. Any significant update makes the machine unusable for a long time while it downloads the new software over a slow link.

The servers are Solaris. If they decide to roll out a thin-client solution, they will probably use Sun Rays [sun.com] .

Re:Not good for large installations. (3, Informative)

bev_tech_rob (313485) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813350)

If you lock down the server and no users have admin rights (except IT), then no danger of viruses, malware, etc. We support over 200 facilities using Citrix (with users either accessing via workstations with only the OS and a Citrix client installed or a thin client (Windows Imbedded), no problems with malware from end users since they don't have rights to install anything. You do have a point about the single point of failure. If one server goes down, many users can be affected. As well as in our case, each site is connected to corporate via a dedicated circuit. If the connection goes down, the site goes down. But our communications vendor actively monitors the connections and immediately starts work to correct outage (which typically only lasts a few minutes)..

Re:Not good for large installations. (1)

Short Circuit (52384) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813562)

For some of the situations I work in, you can't completely lock down the user accounts. Some software is simply written that poorly. (Take, for example, the Gordon Food Service client. Saves all data to the hard disk, in a specific place. No user-accessible option to save it somewhere else.)

Re:Not good for large installations. (1)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 7 years ago | (#17814034)

Simple. Rremap that location to a directory in the user's directory. This should be doable in NTFS given some of the remaping things I've seen done. IT would have to set it up, but once done, that should fix the problem.

Re:Not good for large installations. (1)

Short Circuit (52384) | more than 7 years ago | (#17814132)

I'll pass that along to the guy who prepares the ghost image. I think he hates it when I get advice from Slashdot. :-)

Re:Not good for large installations. (5, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813426)

Sounds like it would introduce a single point of failure.
It works both ways. A single point of failure becomes a single point of security. So it's a lot easier to make sure that everyone has the latest patches, and that the system is fully locked down. Besides, you rarely have only one server. You usually have a cluster of servers providing service to the users with the home directories on the network. If one goes bad, you can take it down and do maintenence on it while the users who were using it just log into a different server.

The truth is that there are very few business units that actually need their own desktop machines. The problem is that we developers are some of the few who actually need workstations, meaning that we often fail to push the best solution for the company as a whole. :)

Re:Not good for large installations. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17813460)

oi twit - multiple servers for failover and load balancing

Re:Not good for large installations. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17813538)

I understand your points about the network being a single point of failure but in a traditional client/server enviroment with a network down, clients wouldn't be able to attach to network storage to complete their tasks anyway. Given that in most corporate networks most work is performed in congunction with shared files, email or network printers the screens almost may as well be black for the amount of work they could do without an operational network to support them.

Also in terms of single point of failure. Anybody deploying a thin client solution would be strongly considering failover redundancy and load balancing across multiple application servers. Which can of course be placed at different points around the network infrastructure.

There are other issues to consider however. One biggy is that with MS Terminal server there is no saving on licensing (i.e just because you are running terminal server doesn't automatically mean that you could move to a concurrent licensing model) Plus to make it work really well you need to invest in third party products to suppliment Microsoft Terminal server.

Re:Not good for large installations. (5, Funny)

pipatron (966506) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813694)

One biggy is that with MS Terminal server there is no saving on licensing (i.e just because you are running terminal server doesn't automatically mean that you could move to a concurrent licensing model) Plus to make it work really well you need to invest in third party products to suppliment Microsoft Terminal server.

You could also move to an operating system built from the ground with this kind of usage in mind, for example Linux. Then you can stop worry about licensing too.

Re:Not good for large installations. (4, Interesting)

Frumious Wombat (845680) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813554)

Actually, it isn't. If you're doing this right, then you've set up some form of clustering and failover with redundant machines, the same way you run RAID arrays rather than single huge disks, or don't base large commercial web-sites on one standalone machine. If you add in that now the end-user can't access the server, even indirectly (no cd-rom, ports, etc), and the devices lack moving parts like harddrives, then cost of management goes way down. In the end, this is actually ideal for large companies. Having supported stand-alone desktops in a small environment (60 desktop systems), I would say that unless you're harnessing the compute power of those desktops when they're not being used (Folding@Pfizer, for instance) then the cross-over point of easier is around 2-4 machines for Windows, maybe 8 for Unix.

I saw U. of Chicago do this with SunRays [sun.com] years ago for public spaces in the library, and it works beautifully for anything other than intensive 3-d rendering. Unfortunately, too many IT departments are dominated by people who only look at the up-front cost (I can buy a PC for what that thin-client costs), and not the entire life-cycle.

Re:Not good for large installations. (1)

Chazmyrr (145612) | more than 7 years ago | (#17814030)

Your cost of management goes down. Your hardware cost goes up. The thin clients cost the same as the PC but do a lot less. That means you probably need more servers. Which means more floor space, electricity, etc. Your network traffic probably goes up. That means additional cable runs, more switches, higher bandwidth connections to other sites, etc.

The numbers usually don't work out in favor of terminals.

Re:Not good for large installations. (1)

Silver Sloth (770927) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813564)

I wouldn't want something like this campus-wide.
This is about business computing. We have hundreds of users using PCs for Three Layer Applications where the PC is effectively acting as a dumb terminal. It isn't that long ago (12 years or so) that we ditched the row upon row of Wyse 370s, and now they may be back again. The old mainframe has been replaced by Unix servers but the principle is the same.

One malicious user or virus
How can they, they're only allowed to get to what I let them (ahhh, the good old days), there's no more usb ports, no more downloading stuff from the internet, the user gets the applications and access they need and no more.

In an achedemic environment I agree with you, but, here in the business world, 90% of users are quite happy with a dumb terminal with one dedicated application - think airline checkin desks.

Re:Not good for large installations. (1)

Short Circuit (52384) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813646)

This is about business computing.
Microsoft has a campus. Google has a campus. IBM has several campuses. X-Rite's campus is just a few miles from me. These are not educational facilities.

How can they, they're only allowed to get to what I let them (ahhh, the good old days), there's no more usb ports, no more downloading stuff from the internet, the user gets the applications and access they need and no more.
Let me know when you can guard against every vulnerability before it's announced. Drive-by website malware, network worms and email viruses aren't necessarily eliminated just because you've switched to a locked-down terminal server.

No, probably good for everyone but IT (1)

ciaohound (118419) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813568)

The economics of web-based apps are going to hit local IT departments hard. It's not just the availability of web-based spreadsheets and word processors. Very soon the same concept will be applied to back-office apps like accounting, etc. Look at Netsuite and Salesforce.com for a hint of what's coming. Replicating that functionality in-house will probably become akin to trying to reinvent an app like Google search in-house -- it just won't be economical to do so.

Same thing could happen to the user hardware. If your competitors are all on cheap terminals and your employees are still slinging around fragile and expensive laptops, the cost of supporting that could really drive a move to terminals.

Re:Not good for large installations. (4, Informative)

tinkerghost (944862) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813640)

I think you're a little backwards. This is perfect for large installations - under specific requirements.
  1. Competent IT/management
  2. Limited variety in software between departments
  3. Software writen for thin-client/server environment

Software writen for server or thin-client environments is designed from the ground up to not interfier with other software, so proper software selection goes a long ways towards making sure that this type of project will work at all. Also note that this isn't about completely eliminating workstations/PCs it's about replacing them where it's not needed. Got a secretary pool of 40 and a call center with 200 stations? That's 240 fewer HD's to re-image after a virus gets past your defences. The Secretary for the VP of Marketing still keeps her PC since she is going to have to open/work with image files that no other secretary will.

My last scan of thin-client tech showed that a client server ration of 150:1 is possible for moderate level usage, with it dropping as low as 25:1 for specialized software that's resource intensive. For a 250-300 seat call center, 2 servers can cover the whole floor. Add in the added security of dumb terminals - no vector for USB thumbdrives, floppys, or CD burners to be used to steal data or inject a virus, and the ease of configuring them - usually you either turn them on & DHCP takes care of them or you point them at a server, and it's a winning combination for IT workload and Data Security.

Re:Not good for large installations. (1)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813932)

the added security of dumb terminals - no vector for USB thumbdrives, floppys, or CD burners

How do you think the keyboard and mouse are going to be attached to the terminal? Hardwired?

USB ports on terminals is a given. It will be up to access policies at the operating system level whether to allow removable storage devices to be mounted on these ports, and the CTO will be hearing a lot of compelling arguments as to why it should be allowed. Once one user has a storage device mounted, it could be all over.

Re:Not good for large installations. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17813870)

Actually... The environment I'm in now used to have ALL dumb terminals in a network that covered about 1/3 the state of Ohio. They only went away from that system due to vendor pressure and buyouts in 2004. Of course, many of our clients had abandoned the dumb terminals in favor of Windows PCs with terminal emulation in the 90s during the PC boom. However, what they didn't understand and that they lost was the simplicity of configuration from an admin's point of view. Essentially a dumb terminal was much easier to swap out than a PC. You'd have a user back up and running in a few seconds not including the time to get a new terminal out.

With the decentralized approach of a PC, you now had users beginning to (mis)use the power of the local device for their own purposes depending on the policy of the local admin. With that (mis)use, you wound up with PCs that suddenly had a lot more value to the end-user, but not necessarily to the organization. So, when the PC would inevitably blow up or get replaced due to upgrades, the users would complain about what they perceived to be the important stuff that was now missing. You also got saddled with people making requests for software that they weren't able to use on dumb terminals and the associated evaluation to determine if it should be allowed. Wasted time in many cases (witness the people who want iTunes on their PCs).

There are definitely benefits to having decentralized desktop systems, but they have to be weighed against the type of organization and it's work. In our case, dumb terminals were perfect as the majority of our organization is in the public service arena. They don't need to be able to do a lot of extras that extend outside of their realm of experience. However, the desktop PC allows for them to do more than they should even though some of those functions may be relevant to work. Take web browsing for instance. You could proxy them so that they only go to approved sites that relate to their jobs, however in this arena, since they provide public service, there are times when hitting something that would be considered entertainment is quite appropriate. So for our organization, that doesn't work.

In addition, the vendor buyout/pressure I spoke of was what I see as a disastrous migration from a set of old character based applications to a poorly designed GUI application. One of the nicest things about a centralized model is that ALL the work is being done on a single system or cluster of systems in one place. The client is actually local to the server in terms of the actual application. So, if the network connection for the dumb terminal goes down, there is much less of a chance for partial transactions to hose the data as the local client can time out and the server process knows to stop or roll back the transaction.

The current system we have has a really stupid client that is local to the PC and talks in a proprietary fashion to the middle tier server. If the network connection goes down, the client just disappears with no notification to the server. The server (being of a poor design) has all sorts of cruft left over in process. This is apparent when the network connection returns and the client attempts to connect, but the server says the client is already connected and rejects any further connections from that user. The only saving grace is that the back end DB server is robust and knows how to manage its transactions properly to prevent things from getting hosed. The fact that they are now using this particular DB for the back end is relatively new as they used to use their own proprietary DB in the past which likely would have suffered corruption if it's designed like the rest of their software.

So my experience has been that centralization, especially on a non-Windows system, is the best way to go. I do it at home as well with Linux and VNC for the family desktops (as in virtual desktops, not real ones). I've been running that way for the past five years with no issues. My wife and daughter can easily connect to their desktops from ANY of the machines on the network by just clicking an icon, entering their password. Then when they're done, they just click on the disconnect icon on their Gnome bar and their sessions stay running with all apps waiting for the next time they connect. That's the way computing SHOULD work everywhere.

Re:Not good for large installations. (1)

Richard Steiner (1585) | more than 7 years ago | (#17814044)

The disk of things like viruses, etc., depends on a whole array of factors including the hardware and OS being used, the amount of actual "access" a remote end-user has, etc.

There are still some types of applications (like mainframe airline reservation systems) which have never stopped being "green screen" applications (albeit often with an updated GUI or web interface), and some of those can run 100,000's of terminals concurrently and do so worldwide without issues.

Sometimes Not Good (2, Informative)

mfh (56) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813274)

We have dumb terminals at work and their caches are always clogged. We are constantly rebooting them. While setting the cache to a larger size is likely a good idea, someone at head-office has the perms to do this, so we have to sit back and stomach it.

How many times have we heard this before? (5, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813278)

I swear I've heard this "companies migrating to dumb terminals" prediction about 100 times since the early 90's. And, in all that time, I've yet to personally see a company actually doing it. I'm beginning to think some dumb terminal or server company periodically plants these articles or something.

About the closest thing I've seen to this is a few companies I've worked for who ran certain applications (like Office) on a central server. But even that has become passe I think (in fact, the agency I work for recently abandoned that model due to server strain and just started installing the apps on individual computers).

Does anyone here actually work for a company that currently (or ever has) used true dumb terminals?

-Eric

Re:How many times have we heard this before? (2, Informative)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813326)

Um.... autozone did it. All dumb terminals in the stores and one linux server.

Works great, and they have a far lower TCO per store than Advance does with their windows based setup. Wyse terminals are dirt cheap. Hell, thin X terminals are dirt cheap compared to a PC running windows for a sales terminal.

Re:How many times have we heard this before? (4, Informative)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813544)

Autozone? Yep many retail outlets use dumb terminals especially for computers located at the counter many that double as a POS (Point of Sale.. IE Cash Register). The question is are there companies out there that use dummy terminals for office machines. Oh sure, some do, but its not widespread.

Re:How many times have we heard this before? (2, Informative)

jm91509 (161085) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813806)

Sun use sunrays throughout their network. They are stateless terminals with smartcard readers in them. You put your id badge into them and you desktop pops up. This works globally, so if you are normally based in the US and travel to Europe, you just stick your card into a sunray and (after a short pause...) your desktop appears, just as you left it back home. All works perfectly smoothly and mostly hassle free.

http://www.sun.com/sunray/sunray2/faq.xml [sun.com]

Re:How many times have we heard this before? (1)

timshead (856736) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813372)

I was just about to say the same thing. It's like every year or two the MSM gets convinced that the world is going to shift to dummy terminals. They're useful for retail stores and for other limited usage, but that's about it.

My company has never used dummy terminals but we have certainly configured and installed them for clients. Let's just say they're good for government usage if you're concerned about information storage and retrieval.

Re:How many times have we heard this before? (1)

thetroll123 (744259) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813388)

As usual, this coverage blurs the software/hardware aspects of thin clients. While Citrix etc. use is fairly widespread, the client software is typically running on a standard PC, not dedicated dumb termial client hardware.

Although this model does give the advantages (and disadvantages) of centralized administration, it certainly doesn't meaningfully reduce the client hardware TCO.

Re:How many times have we heard this before? (1)

und0 (928711) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813436)

Don't know how dumb they are, but city of Largo use thin clients. I've read somewhere the blog of one of the IT staff, last time he was testing some HP models with 3D HW accelerated support, to run Beryl, IIRC...

P.S. first hit searching "city largo beryl" with Google

Re:How many times have we heard this before? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17813560)

Sure, my company uses thin clients rather extensively throughout the corporate environment. We use Citrix with a few servers at each site, and at least half the desktops are thin clients.
We use a mix of Wyse terminals and PC's running a version of the Thinstation project from sourceforge that I customized, running the linux Citrix client.
The Thinstation terminals skipped at least a major upgrade cycle, as we can run it fine on P400 desktops, and the users have a much more responsive environment than if they were running XP. With only an 8MB linux image and citrix client running, it's much faster than running XP on the same machine. Even local drives, CDs, USB and printers are supported, pending policy allowance.

On top of that, application upgrades and rollouts are much faster and easier.

Re:How many times have we heard this before? (1)

Daemonstar (84116) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813584)

The local newspaper where my parents work at used to use terminals to write their stories (even had the black and green monitors!). I don't remember what type or anything about them; I just know they used them for a long time.

A few years ago they migrated to Windows; they had some software company come in and deploy their software suite (another newspaper in the chain had migrated over, so this one followed suit). The company I worked for was supplying all of the hardware (Win98 and NT4 Server) except for 1 Mac that is hooked to the WIR service. They knew enough about networking to be dangerous (their internal NAT is a public routable IP). They also didn't allow Win2k on the workstations because they claimed their software wouldn't run on it (they said their software was 16bit and wouldn't run on 2k). They no longer support that software suite. FSI (Freedom Systems Incorporated) is the name of the company, in case anyone cares.

They are fairly popular in call centers (3, Informative)

sczimme (603413) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813620)


And, in all that time, I've yet to personally see a company actually doing it.

Obviously such companies must not exist since you have never seen them... (Sorry - I find that logical fallacy quite irksome.)

The new+improved dumb terminals are reasonably popular in call centers. The terminals offer detailed granularity over the limited and very specific needs (including required permissions) of the call center employees.

I have seen terminals that run Linux as well, and appear to be sold with the server and requisite applications as a package.

Re:They are fairly popular in call centers (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813862)

Obviously such companies must not exist since you have never seen them... (Sorry - I find that logical fallacy quite irksome.)

I'm not saying my experience is typical. But if this truly were a trend (as indicated in the dozens of articles I've read over the last 15 years or so) one would expect it to at least be NOTICEABLE to the typical office-worker/geek such as myself.

As for the call-center/"front desk at autozone" thing, that wasn't what I meant (and these articles and lofty predictions clearly didn't mean that either). I'm well aware that dumb terminals have been and continue to be used for modern cash registers, teller machines, etc. But I mean for general office use.

-Eric

Re:How many times have we heard this before? (1)

yorugua (697900) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813670)

We dont need no stinkin dumb terminals. We already have a lot of dumb users around here.

Re:How many times have we heard this before? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17813690)

At the lab I used to work at we had X terminals for the students (we used basic diskless PCs booting Linux over the network), with dedicated machines only for those
that needed local processing power. Most of the staff had Linux workstations on their desk, with access to a Windows terminal server for those tasks that could only
be done on Windows (this was around 2000 or so). Worked pretty well over a 100MB switched network. Since technology has advanced since then, I'ld say using
thin clients is perfectly viable if you don't need to do any "serious" computing or graphics work, and if you don't have too many clients per server.

Re:How many times have we heard this before? (2, Informative)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813716)

These stories might be plants, but this stuff is out there and it works fine. I think the big holdup is the IT mentality of 'one computer per person' Thin-clients go against the norm and is probably a very hard sell for management, who can only think of things as 'how is this like my home version of windows.'

I did visit one company that ran citrix on every desktop. I believe the desktops were either full blown versions of windows or windows ce. The citrix client ran on top of that and connected to a server on the lan. They all use the same apps anyway so it works out.

Where I work now we run citrix as a remote solution but I dont see any reason why we cant move all of our desktop users to it. Most wouldnt even notice a difference.

Re:How many times have we heard this before? (1)

edgr (781723) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813748)

I work for the largest retailer in Australia (supermarkets, mainly) and all the POS computers are thin clients. They appear to run on some kind of Windows.

Re:How many times have we heard this before? (1)

mikael (484) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813772)

Sun proposed the JavaStation [tldp.org] .

The only problem was that just after Sun was introducing this hardware, the target markets started using the advanced JAVA multimedia API's to implement basic applications - medical students were using the image
library to view MRI scans by loading in hundreds of 2D images. And other companies needed to play video files
for staff training purposes (including DVD's).

It more or less remains the same now. By the time all the necessary hardware (video card, sound card, CPU) is
put together with an OS, device drivers, windowing system, video/audio codecs, a hard disk drive for caching applications and data, it's all but a desktop computer. And using a hard disk drive to cache applications and data off the network is worse than just stamping on a standard installation downloaded from a server, as old versions can become munged up with new versions.

Re:How many times have we heard this before? (1)

eln (21727) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813792)

Sun Microsystems uses thin clients extensively. Each employee has a little card that they carry along with their badge. Any system they walk up to, they can put their little card in, and up pops their desktop. They also have systems at home that will work the same way, gaining access through the corporate VPN.

I'm not sure of all the details of how it's implemented, but we had a Sun engineer out here a couple of months ago, and he gave us the basics. He said basically everyone in the company uses the same system.

Personally, it sounds sort of appealing. It makes you a lot more portable if you don't have to lug your laptop around to various company locations.

Re:How many times... (about SunRays) (2, Informative)

Anonymous Know-It-Al (1000756) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813904)

Having worked for Sun I must say that this is one of the things I miss the most. Apart from being able to bring your card to any colleague when asking for advice, the absence of noisy fans is really noticable.

Re:How many times have we heard this before? (1)

Secrity (742221) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813812)

Many moons ago I worked for AT&T and used many dumb terminals. Most were either AT&T/Teletype 3270 clones or were vt100 terminals. One particular terminal I worked on did windowing and supported several different async protocols. Another type of sort of dumb terminal was attached to an HP minicomputer, the terminal had two small tape drives in it and the operator could run programs from the tapes.

I now work for a different company and support over 200 SunRay stations.

Re:How many times have we heard this before? (1)

Dan East (318230) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813950)

MEDITECH is a healthcare software system used extensively by hospitals (thanks mostly to a terrible decision by Columbia, now known as HCA), that uses dumb terminals with a proprietary server-side OS called MAGIC. It's a wonderful, cutting edge technology if you think it is 1980. These systems are still being installed. In fact, our local hospital was just bought out by a chain, and they installed MEDITECH within the last few months.

Interestingly, the exact opposite of what this article is claiming is happening in these hospitals with regards to client hardware. They started off with mainly dumb terminals 10 years ago, but have switched almost completely to PCs and Laptops running terminal emulation software. Laptops on carts provide portability, and actually end up cheaper than dropping cables into every single patient room, installing hardware on which to mount the keyboard and display, and buying the actual terminal, keyboard and display. In addition to saving money with laptops, they save a lot of room not having to permanently mount hardware in the patient rooms.

The thing is, the cost of PCs and laptops have dropped so much that they can compete with the cost of dumb terminals. Both require keyboards and monitors anyway, and the massive gains from having a multi-purpose computer (able to view HTML, etc) simply outweigh the small increase in cost.

My partner's practice had dumb terminals for over a decade for patient registration and billing at the front desk. They recently replaced the dumb terminals with PCs running terminal emulators.

Dan East

Old is new again! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17813288)

We go back and forth over and over. PC's, Terminals,PC's, terminals!, LAPTOPS!, Thin clients!

Honestly, there are advantages to both, just most CTO's and IT managers are not educated enough to understand that a hybrid works best.

We call them thin-clients (3, Insightful)

genessy (587377) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813298)

And all of our tellers and member service employees use them. Not only are they easier to maintain and support, it's a lot harder for users to really screw things up! :)

Re:We call them thin-clients (2, Informative)

Frankie70 (803801) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813438)


it's a lot harder for users to really screw things up


It may be a lot harder for the user to screw up hardware,
but I don't see how it makes harder to screw up software.

You can make it harder to screw up software by setting
permissions, but that can be done both on thin or
thick clients.

When the cost less to purchase (1)

Jinjuku (762364) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813304)

I'll go with dumb terminals when they cost less to purchase than a standard PC. There are scenarios like car dealerships that we have had success. But for general office computing environment, we have stuck with a 'traditional' desktop PC.

GE did this to avoid rewiring office building (4, Interesting)

DrDitto (962751) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813310)

I heard of General Electric doing this at a few of their old, large buildings because the AC wiring couldn't handle power-demand of the next PC upgrade cycle. Instead of incurring the cost of rewiring the entire building, they installed low-power terminals at desks. Makes sense to me. GE has some very old office buildings (they are an old company!).

Re:GE did this to avoid rewiring office building (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17813780)

GE has a wonderful ip range. 3.0.0.0/8
Now, i believe that's more than China has ;)

they can also have a computer named 3.13.3.7 which is awesome ;)

Re:GE did this to avoid rewiring office building (1)

DrDitto (962751) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813914)

GE has a wonderful ip range. 3.0.0.0/8
Now, i believe that's more than China has ;)

Yup. Its insane the GE has more IP addresses allocated than most other countries. When I was an intern there, I pinged until I found the lowest active IP address. I don't remember exactly what it was, but is was not 3.1.1.1. Not positive, but 2.x.x.x and 1.x.x.x are unused? The one division of GE I interned at had over 3000 subnets alone.

You're too early! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17813328)

Dumb terminals arn't due to come back into fashion for at least two more years yet!

I guess we'd better decide quickly then: we've tried "Dumb terminal", then "Thin client", so what do we call them this time?

Re:You're too early! (3, Funny)

ebvwfbw (864834) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813970)

I guess we'd better decide quickly then: we've tried "Dumb terminal", then "Thin client", so what do we call them this time?

How about "Dumb client" or "Thin terminal". Oh wait, "Dumb Client" is already taken. The people that use SCO.

Back to the old-days (1)

lemmen (48986) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813346)

Back to the old-days, but yes, it works fine!
This is one of the suggestions I always make, but nobody wants to give it a go... They should have listened.

Dumb terminals.... (4, Funny)

lofoforabr (751004) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813348)

...for dumb users! Doesn't it seem right?

Re:Dumb terminals.... (4, Funny)

maxume (22995) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813472)

Do you think they also have asshole servers for asshole sys admins?

Re:Dumb terminals.... (1)

i.r.id10t (595143) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813930)

Used to but the goatse.cx domain has expired....

Cost (1)

Jon Eiche (1053158) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813406)

I realize that total cost of ownership involves a lot more than the initial purchase price, but you can buy a nice PC for what a typical dumb terminal costs. That's hardly an incentive to go thin-client. Plus there's the specter of Jeff Goldblum uploading a virus and bringing down the entire armada.

Re:Cost (1)

delymyth (17681) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813434)

Don't forget installation time.
It's a matter of more that an hour for a pc (without actually reinstalling the whole OS), while it's a matter of minutes for a thin client.
As for viruses, simply don't give users administrator privileges and viruses can have a hard time trying to infect your servers.

Thin Clients! The Future of Computing Since 1994! (4, Funny)

Nova Express (100383) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813418)

I look forward to the 2017 Slashdot article proclaiming how thin clients are the wave of the future as well, right next to the stories about how practical fusion and "real" artificial intelligence are just around the corner...

Re:Thin Clients! The Future of Computing Since 199 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17813608)

Don't forget "Linux on the Desktop in 2 years"

*hides*

Re:Thin Clients! The Future of Computing Since 199 (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813972)

It will be right next to the articles entitled "Why aren't there more women in IT?" and "Is PC gaming dead?"

-Eric

In theory.. (1)

cccc828 (740705) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813440)

"Because the terminals have no moving parts such as fans or hard drives that can break, the machines typically require less maintenance and last longer than PCs."

Yes, but only if the manufactor also provides updates for the -usually propritary- firmware. The hardware can life as long as it wants, but if the software lifecycle ends after two years you can basically trash it.

cccc828

SWEET! (2, Funny)

cepler (21753) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813444)

...now where'd I put my DEC VT102? *Scurries off to the attic* Time to eBay it! :)

ad campaign (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17813448)

I can envision the ad campaign now: "Dumb Terminals for Dumb Users"

Depends on the area of use (1)

doktorstop (725614) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813464)

We have recently switched to thin clinets.. a whole big organisation. Plues, sure: quet, fast to start, less desk clitter.
Downsides: VERY unsuitable for graphic applications because of bad graphics, sound problems and the frustration of connecting any USB periferals.
Thin clinets or dumb terminals are ok if you have an organisation where everyone uses Excel or Word the whole day long. Creative work, extensive use of periferals - forget it.
Just my 2C

Sunray, Linux, Windows or ??? (2, Interesting)

amulder (257708) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813468)

The article doesn't say what kind of OS these thin clients support.

Presumably it isn't Solaris, since they would have mentioned Sunray terminals otherwise. Poor Sun, they've been trying for years -- halfheartedly -- to push their sunray terminals without much success.

Personally, I'd be interested in Apple producing a thin client solution. But not just for the office. Consider how many of us have 3-4 computers at home these days for our families? I'd like to see a small home setup where a G5 tower (or smaller!) would support up to four thin terminals around the house. Much easier to administrate and backup.

Thin Clients? (2, Interesting)

JoeCommodore (567479) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813478)

I think they are thinking more of thin clients with some sort of remote desktop thing.

I myself would like to strive for Linux Termimal Server [ltsp.org] type of installtion at our work, check out this Story from Newsforge [newsforge.com] and the one year follow up [newsforge.com] which chroniclaes the city of Largo Florida government deploying Linux Terminal Server/Clients.

I think it's happening a lot more then you think, it just takes time to configure and roll-out.

Wow i was unware a new kind of computer was out (2, Insightful)

Ksempac (934247) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813480)

"More companies are forgoing desktop and LAPTOP computers for dumb terminals"

Everybody welcome the "dumb laptop", a keyboard and a screen that automatically connects to your company main server no matter where you are in the world.

Joke aside, i fail to see how a dumb terminal could replace a laptop for a commercial/engineer who needs to travel frequently. And theses are the computers that are most likely to be lost/stolen so this is the kind of computer where you should improve security (disk encryption, ...)

Dumb Terminals... (1)

Paulrothrock (685079) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813502)

... for the terminally dumb.

what maintenance costs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17813506)

where i work we have CSR's using 7 year old Compaq PC's that never break except for being slow once in a while and they are long out of warranty. and we have 10 year old servers we still use for testing.

we use Citrix for a few things but have no plans to upgrade our 5 year old version because it's not cost effective. by the time you spend the cash for fault tolerant hardware that can handle 1000 users you might as well leave things the way they are

k12ltsp.org remains a great way to use this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17813508)

It's a standard Fedora Core 6 install, with terminal server configured to be installed with a pointy-clicky menu. One moderately beefy terminal server can easily serve 40 plus clients. I have used this at home for three years with zero problems. Pentium 1 166s/233s with 64 meg of ram work perfectly as a terminal.

Yes, it has kindergarten programs available on it, in addition to Firefox 2, OpenOffice, etc. No, you don't have to install the kindergarten programs.

that "dumb" laptop replacement... (1)

LM741N (258038) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813520)

Is going to need an awfully long cord, as well as a large supply of batteries.

This actually sounds like a VMware ad.... (3, Interesting)

8127972 (73495) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813536)

.... when I first started reading it as they have a concept called Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. The article sounds like the link below:

http://www.vmware.com/solutions/desktop/vdi.html [vmware.com]

When the power/server dies, it's a paperweight! (4, Interesting)

ysaric (665140) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813546)

Unlike laptops/desktops, when the server goes down or we have power problems, my computer becomes a paperweight unlike some of my co-workers who got laptops/desktops before the thin-client requirements were instituted. They at least can continue work with documents and files stored on their local drive. Me, my work just stops.

Also, responsiveness in a large company is a huge problem when it is a broken process. If I need to add a piece of software, I can't do it on a thin client, I have to go back through IT which might only take a few days (still too long) but can also take significantly longer. Yah, I can't do significant damage but I also can't get crap done when it needs to get done. I know that's a systemic issue and not the fault of the thin clients themselves, but companies in my experience are not adjusting well and it's terribly frustrating.

Finally, it's worth noting in my company anyway that senior management, of course, is exempt from the this client requirements. So when I was describing the paperweight problem to a senior director one day she said "I had no idea!" Hey, no sh**, you with your nice laptop and docking station. They don't give a crap 'cause they don't have to deal with it.

Re:When the power/server dies, it's a paperweight! (3, Insightful)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 7 years ago | (#17814076)

when the server goes down or we have power problems, my computer becomes a paperweight

Do you have power outages frequently at your workplace? I only recall two times in my career where the building I was working in went black, and both times we all had better things to think than "If I had a battery-powered notebook, I could still be editing that Powerpoint presentation right now!"

If you're expected to work by candlelight, I'd say your company has bigger problems than a poor terminal implementation.

We thought about this... (2, Interesting)

SlashdotCrackPot (1019530) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813578)

I work for a POS dealer, and we thought about using this type of machine for our terminals. In the long run for us, it would actually cost us money, since we make most of our money on support and maintenance. On the other hand of this matter, the same equation for in-house equipment can be a tremendous savings. With alot of medium to large companies using SAP servers these days, it really is not that bad of an idea to run these "dumb" terminals. Due to the fact that if your VMware server goes down anyway, you aren't going to get much done anyway with centralized storage and application deployment.

.02 cents

I've been working at a thin client site for a bit. (5, Interesting)

kahei (466208) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813594)


I've been working at a site that went to a thin client solution back the last time that was fashionable (so there's been some time for it to settle down). They've saved some I.T. costs but it's at considerable cost in functionality -- application responsiveness is OK for light Office and web use but terribly slow for heavy-duty Excel users, the network is studded with PCs installed for people who just had to have some bit of software or just had to run things fast, network bandwidth is a constant problem and there's also a strange issue whereby users connect to the BigSystem server to run BigSystem, and to the BiggerSystem server to run BiggerSystem, and are surprised when they can't use the same paths, settings, clipboard etc on both.

I think they could have achieved the same effect by just scaling back IT in the usual way -- cutting staff, sticking with older computers, fixing only the most critical problems. I'm not saying the thin client system hasn't worked, because this organization isn't computer-focused and doesn't generally demand much from its computer systems. But it certainly makes me doubt whether the idea would work well in a demanding, information-driven business.

Not a dumb terminal (2, Interesting)

oshkarr (199024) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813596)

This article is talking about network appliances, not dumb terminals. See http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/D/dumb_terminal.html [webopedia.com]

I don't think anyone is going back to using green screens anytime soon. In fact, even the VT100 wasn't so dumb. It could show bold, blinking and double-width characters, among its other features.

Home solutions? (4, Interesting)

Stone316 (629009) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813600)

I'd love to have a couple of dumb terminals around the house hooked into my main computer. What options are out there for home users? I know there are some diskless linux options but I really don't almost full systems around the house... Just something compact with most of the room only needed for monitor, keyboard and mouse.

Re:Home solutions? (2, Insightful)

squatex (765966) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813794)

I thought about installing some jack pc's in my house (http://www.chippc.com/thin-clients/jack-pc/index. asp). We bought a couple at my company and they work pretty well. They are wince based however.

Re:Home solutions? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17813832)

iMac - it's just a screen (with a full computer built in) with a keyboard and mouse. Not actually a dumb terminal but you can use it as one, and it'd be a good OSX joke.

Any old laptops - also not dumb, but a 500 Mhz laptop off ebay is about as powerful as a modern thin client and likewise can work as one. Not exactly the form factor you want but it's comparable in size.

Sun Rays

Thin Client (1)

wolf31o2 (778801) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813650)

I think the author's choice of the word "dumb terminal" is unfortunate, as these sorts of systems are anything but dumb. Most people think of these as a "thin client" instead these days. However, the author is spot on about how these can drastically reduce the cost of a system. One company that I have done work for decided to start using their old systems as thin clients. I built a custom software set for them. The hardware platform was old Dell Optiplex GX1 machines, with the hard drives removed. The machines boot solely off the network, load Linux, then connect to the appropriate resource. This has saved the company a ton of money, not only in the support costs required to maintain these machines, but also in the disposal of this aging hardware and the savings of not having to replace the machines with newer ones.

For a company just starting out, buying thin client hardware is a good investment. It shouldn't need updating of any kind, and most hardware is field-programmable anyway.

Questionable Language? (1)

Speed Racer Sr. (1057568) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813652)

Anyone else object to the phrase "Dumb Terminals" "TM"? This language isn't needed, no need to use such insulting language. "TM" Dual Twin Turbine Racer Car Driver of the Year. "TM"

Re:Questionable Language? (1)

Roger Carmichael Jr. (1057550) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813770)

I also object "TM". Dr. Speed Racer "TM", thank you for pointing this out. Quad Twin Turbine Racers Association President. "TM"

Dumb Terminals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17813662)

Have support more tubes for connecting to the internets

Missed the point (5, Informative)

plopez (54068) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813668)

FTA:
Because the terminals have no moving parts such as fans or hard drives that can break, the machines typically require less maintenance and last longer than PCs. Mark Margevicius, an analyst at research firm Gartner Inc., estimates companies can save 10% to 40% in computer-management costs when switching to terminals from desktops

The TCO is not in hardware, but in software and support. What makes a PC network so horrendously expensive (Gartner estimated 4K to 10K USD per seat per year at one time) is the army of technicians required to keep them running. Dumb boxes allow centralization of support which is much less expensive. So you spend less on hardware and labor, and use some of those savings for a really, highspeed network and a really reliable server cluster.

BTW, now-a-days this is often pronounced 'Citrix' or 'Remote Desktop'. Same basic principle.

One word (1)

LS (57954) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813682)

Google.

They are buying up lots of companies that provide Office-type applications, web-based or otherwise, and are also providing business customized versions of their services. Perhaps they are converging towards this type of model...

NC warmed over? (1)

Sneftel (15416) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813700)

Oracle called. They want their ten-year-old miserable failure of an idea back.

These aren't "dumb terminals" (TM LSI) (2, Informative)

argent (18001) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813756)

The things they're describing aren't "dumb terminals [decodesystems.com] " (which is a TM of Lear Siegler International), by any stretch of the imagination. They're dumber than Xterms, but they're smarter than any of the "smart terminals" that LSI was competing with.

More like a fancy PDA than a simple PC (1)

ewg (158266) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813800)

One manager used the term "culture shock" to describe the user's experience switching from a full PC to a thin client. That sounds about right: thin clients are sold as a cheap alternative to PCs, but end up functioning more like a fancy PDA.

I work for an .edu (1)

nsanders (208050) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813838)

Our department here has looked into moving to dumb terminals to replace our current Linux desktops. Having a single server with 200 some dumb terminals would make updates and auto mated tasks a lot easier. The main reason we haven't switched is because we are a math computation/research department and a lot of our users make use of the core 2 duo's provided to them in their desktop machines. But for staff, we are certainly looking to move.

author (2, Interesting)

DaMattster (977781) | more than 7 years ago | (#17813852)

For the most part, the author of this article seems to be on target. However, one of his reasons for not going to Thin Clients is just so plain wrong that it is worth commenting on.

Simplified terminals can translate to less freedom for individual users and less flexibility in how they use their computers. Without a hard drive in their desktop machines, users may place greater demands on computer technicians for support and access to additional software such as instant messaging, instead of downloading permitted applications themselves. Analysts say it takes time for employees to get used to not controlling their own PCs.

Most companies lock the desktops down so tightly that the employee has no freedom to install applications whatsoever. In fact, one company I worked for allowed customization of keyboard, mouse, and background display only. And, you had a limited range to choose from on approved backgrounds.

In fact, going to thin clients, from a managerial stand point makes an incredible amount of sense. The downside is the phasing out of the desktop technician. Many people would be facing unemployment but networks would ultimately become more secure and stable. The Active Directory and SMS woes would be gone because instead of having to manage several thousand desktop PCs, the IT professional would be looking at management of a few hundred servers.

I welcome our new dumb overlords (1)

ahodgkinson (662233) | more than 7 years ago | (#17814002)

I would welcome the return of dumb terminals, provided they have the traditional black background with green or orange foreground. The (default) bright white settings of most PCs hurt my eyes.

..and I'd also like the 'gold' key to come back too.

One laptop as a terminal? (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 7 years ago | (#17814008)

Using terminals is only useful, if they are much cheaper than PCs. The old DEC VTs were much more expensive than a PC, which caused them to fall out of favour. A terminal should cost about $100 to be worth it. Maybe the $100 laptop project will make good terminals and then the office workers can get their daily exercise by winding them up...

Sunrays on eBay (4, Interesting)

BrianRoach (614397) | more than 7 years ago | (#17814018)

I did this for my small business, and it rocks.

I run an online and brick-and-mortar retail shop. Starting out on a budget is always a challenge, and for our computing needs I went with eBay (this was 3 years ago):

Sunblade 1000 workstation with 2G ram, 2x700mhz uSparkIII, D1000 raid array: $700
Sun Ray thin clients: $30 a piece
21" monitors: $50 - $100 a piece (Now a days I'd prob go with cheap flat panels)
17" sunray 150 (monitor/thin client combo for the counter) $70
HP Laserjet 4mp+: $50 (And it's still cranking out pages 3 years later)

Done. Everyone has a nice setup on their desk, I have one machine to admin, and life is good. We don't need any MS software, so that wasn't an issue for us (the Sunblade is running Solaris 10)

The sunrays really work great ... I bought a couple to use at home as well because they were so cheap on eBay and the sunray server is available for linux (and I think Windows now).

- Roach

Dumb Terminals for Dumb Clients (1)

SatireWolf (1050450) | more than 7 years ago | (#17814090)

Personally, I applaud the idea of dumb terminals for dumb clients. Most people are too ignorant to operate a fully functional battle station, I mean windows computer. Besides, at least when Mr. Smith figures out how to get his Doodad Game 9k to run on the Terminal server and it starts spitting out 5 googazillion email messages per second and the network guys start running around like chickens with their heads cut off, it'll only be one 8-16 processor server with 10GB x 4 worth of bandwidth at its disposal. I mean seriously, who needs to fix a measly little celeron box with a 100MB connection when your terminal server is romping and stomping the entire global intranet?
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