In what may strike some as a "back to the future" moment, European thin-client maker IGEL will launch a beefed up version of its terminals, in response to what it claims is growing demand within enterprises for more powerful devices to support multimedia applications.
Which would seem to make them, well, PCs again, surely? IGEL markets the Universal Desktop (UD) range of thin clients, based on Linux and Microsoft Windows, which let customers access a broad spectrum of server-based infrastructures and applications. It announced on Thursday two new devices: the UD5 and the UD3. The UD5 is based on the Sandy Bridge chipset from Intel, with an Intel Celeron 847 dual-core CPU with 1 GB of main memory (DDR3 RAM) and up to 2 GB of flash-based memory (in the form of a SATA solid state disk). The UD3 is based on a VIA Eden X2 dual core processor with the VIA VX900 chipset and offers users 2 GB of DDR3 RAM and up to 4 GB of flash storage in the form of a SATA SSD.
"Two years ago, when people started doing VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure), it was all very entry-level in terms of what customers wanted from their thin clients," the firm's U.K. and Irish managing director, Simon Richards, told InformationWeek.
Now, he said, companies want to offer much more complex multimedia apps to their staffs -- which, he said, is easier to do technically by ramping up the display device than by passing it down the network via a "thin pipe." This trend, he said, is forcing thin-client hardware suppliers like IGEL to make their offerings more and more powerful, not just in CPU capacity but also in terms of caching and management.
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IGEL said it has on-boarded features to accelerate multimedia playback. Flash animations and other video files can be redirected from the server over to the thin client, which then locally decodes the content and plays it back "smoothly and seamlessly," it said, allowing the UD5 in particular to conserve server resources while also offering users the "best-possible" playback experience.
When asked if the simpler thing to do might be to just swap out thin clients for tablets, which seem to offer the ability to support multimedia, Richards replied, "I see a lot of tablets on trains and in offices, yes. But they are replacing laptops, not desktops. There is still very much a role for a thin-client end device in many work contexts that BYOD [bring your own device] won't touch."
IGEL, headquartered in Bremen, Germany, is, according to market-watchers IDC, number three in the Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) market behind Dell (which bought Wyse) and HP, and fifth globally, with a 3.5% share. The company said that what's missing from that data is its success in what it calls "software thin clients," which turns old PCs into thin clients by removing their OSes and all existing apps. IGEL said it is a major growth area in Europe, specifically for its Universal Desktop Converter product. IDC's market analysis said the EMEA thin-client market grew 9.2% year-on-year to more than 1.7 million units, with the research group predicting a 6.2% growth in 2013.
IGEL also announced Thursday it has extended an existing Germany and Nordics region distribution agreement into the U.K. with its partner Arrow Electronics.