Cutting out Windows and fat clients, part 1

Find out how cutting out the fat clients meant significant productivity gains for two IT managers.

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Ron Nath and Bryan Tidd traveled the road most trampled. They both worked for organizations that ran on Microsoft Windows and a host of proprietary applications. But they were about to change all that.

Both IT managers quickly realized that their operations were being held back by the proprietary model and they began searching for a fresh approach. They eventually found the answers they were looking for in the form of Linux, thin clients and open computing.

In part one of this two-part case study, Tidd, explains how trimming the fat and opening up to Linux proved to be a boon for productivity for the City Canton, Ga. Then be sure to read part 2, where Nath, IT manager for CT NeuroCare in Wallingford, Conn., explains how taking a thin client approach helped him avoid vendor lock-in.

Thin wins in a time-space continuum

The City of Canton needed a cost effective solution for cash receipting stations. Filling that need posed some challenges for IT director Bryan Tidd because the stations, which consisted of Windows 98 and Windows NT based computers, were located in very small spaces and would be very costly to maintain.

"I wanted to reduce TCO (total cost of ownership) across the board for application-specific, physical workstations," Tidd said.

With that goal in mind, he began testing Maxspeed, Neoware, and Wyse thin client terminals running on both Windows CE and Linux.

When the evaluation process was completed, Tidd chose Neoware because the space efficient thin clients could easily be integrated into Canton's existing heterogeneous network. And running them on Linux instead of Windows meant lower initial procurement and ongoing maintenance costs. Tidd also found that Neoware on Linux could be deployed more rapidly than the Windows-based alternatives.

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Tidd also liked that fact that the Neoware units required minimal configuration and coule be easily moved from one location to another. Overall, Tidd thinks the Neoware thin clients are virtually zero maintenance machines.

Taking another non-traditional step, Tidd rolled out the thin clients flat panel displays. That helped with the space crunch.

"I could justify the initial cost of the flat panels through the low cost of that thin client," Tidd said.

The flat panel displays also use less power and produce less heat that CRT monitors. Users, who are usually resistant to change, didn't balk at the introduction of thin clients, because they also got a new flat panel display, Tidd said.

The thin client deployment was so successful in the cash receipting space that thin clients were deployed for use by the City Manager, Mayor, and other personnel across the City of Canton's MetroNet.

Overall, users are happy with the thin clients. They know that if they run into any type of glitch, they can simply reboot the device and return to their session. The limited access to local floppy or CD-ROM drivers has been their only complaint. Tidd considers this a benefit, in that users are not introducing non-approved software to the system.

"With PCs, users are given a powerful tool," said Tidd. "The PC, like a surgeon's scalpel, in untrained hands can cause more harm then help for them or others on the network. Thin clients provide a bit more control over the knife by the IT department."

Tidd's only regret is that he didn't get a few thin clients with more features, particularly graphics features. Recently, he's purchased thin clients with more storage and video capabilities.

Next on Tidd's agenda is moving more applications to the thin clients. He's also upgrading some server-side equipment to handle additional units going in the field this year.

Click here to read part 2 and find out how thin clients helped CT NeuroCare of Wallingford, Conn., save money and increase productivity.

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