HP Pitches Thin Computing To SMBS -- But Are They Interested?

HP rolls out a raft of new thin client terminals -- some expected to cost less than $100 -- bolstered by new servers, new software, and new services. Will it be enough to convince SMBs that the time is finally right for thin computing to go mainstream in smaller companies?
As HP debuts new thin client machines along with new virtualization and management software it hopes will make the thin computing model simple enough to appeal to small and midsize companies. But SMBs have yet to show much interest in the concept -- typically choosing to virtualize servers and standard PCs.

The new hardware includes the HP t5740 and t5745 Flexible Series ($399) thin clients, with netbook-style Intel Atom N280 processors. The t5740 starts at $429 and runs Microsoft Windows Embedded Standard 2009, while the $399 t5745 uses the Linux-based HP ThinPro operating system.

Meanwhile, the $199 HP t5325 Essential Series thin client uses a Marvell ARM chip and is designed for simple setup and deployment in a variety of virtualized environments running the HP ThinPro OS.

The HP t5325 shows what a thin client looks like.

Then there's the new HP Multiseat t100 Thin Client access device, jointly developed with Microsoft (using Windows MultiPoint Server), lets you turn a PC into a simple server running up to sub-$100 thin access points (each with its own keybaord, mouse, and display). Instead of getting one PC for $1,000, Groudan said, you get four! And the sofware hides the complexity, showing users only what they need to use. Pricing has yet to be finalized for the HP MultiSeat t100, and the hardware won't be available until next year.

The HP Multiseat t100 is the little box on the left.

New hardware is always nice, but that's not the biggest news for SMBs, says Jeff Groudan, vice president, Thin Client Solutions, Desktop Solutions in HP's Personal Systems Group. According to Groudan, new software included with all the products serves to lower complexity and cost while simplifying the user experience of thin clients -- making them newly attractive to small and midsize businesses.

ThinPro Setup Wizard for Linux and HP Easy Config for Windows are intended to let SMBs who may not be familiar with thin computing set up, configure, and connect systems just by clicking a few settings. "Not a lot of documentation, knowledge, or training is needed," Groudan said.

What's The Real Problem?
But it's unclear if technology -- or even cost -- is really the issue, as thin clients are not on the radar screen for most SMBs. Groudan acknowledged the problem, and partly blamed the industry for not doing a better job articulating the technology's value proposition. But he also said that SMBs just don' realize the improvement that have been made in thin clients. "They're a new, different, strange paradigm," Groudan said. SMBs say "I like what it could do for me..." but it's too complex.

Simplicity is the key, he said, standing above costs. So HP is assembling modular thin-client solutions down to about 200 seats that allows businesses to scale by adding modular chunks of infrastructure.

HP is also offering new training options, including a $6,000, one-day HP Transformation Experience Workshop and the multi-week HP Business Benefit Workshop ($10,000 - $60,000). If thin client computing still seems too complex, HP Enterprise Services offers hosted Desktop as a Service options where HP handles everything for you.

What Do SMBs Really Think?
Will that be enough to change minds in SMB IT departments? Last week the topic came up in a conversation with several SMB IT folks at the KACE Konference user conference in San Francisco. While some of these people were attracted to the ease of management promised by virtual desktops, they seemed less interested in thin clients.

Tom Miller, senior director of information technology at medical equipment maker VNUS Medical Technologies, for example, explained that "we were leaning toward thin clients" to minimize the use of IT, but after seeing virtual containers in IE, he's now more interested in virtualizing applications on standard PCs.

Rich Battin, computer and network tech for Academy District 20 in Colorado Springs, Colo., finds desktop virtualization "intriguing," but he has yet to actually virtualize any. He too is more interested in locking down the browser. "That's where all the problems seem to come from," he said.

Of course, many SMBs have special requirements that still don't lend themselves to thin clients. Christopher D. Blake, workstation administrator for the Benchmark Group, an architecture and engineering firm in Rogers, Ark., explained that "We're interested in virtualization, to a point." The problem is that "some of our apps require quite a bit of horsepower," he said, so desktop virtualization and thin clients "are not attractive enough" to make a move.

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