IBM Puts New Spin On Client Computing

Technology is a hybrid between thin-client computing and local-processing power



IBM last week introduced technology that's designed to ease the manageability of business applications and increase the productivity of mobile workers.

The company says its Workplace Client Technology--a set of downloadable middleware components that work with server-based applications--marries the power of local processing with the efficiencies of thin-client computing.

The Workplace Client environment features scaled-down versions of key IBM middleware components, including DB2 database and MQ messaging software. That lets devices, such as laptops and handheld computers, that launch business applications through a server perform some data crunching locally.



Workplace Client supports a services approach, IBM-s Mills says
The technology could be a boon to road warriors. Armed with a scaled-down database, mobile devices that are disconnected from a corporate network would still maintain some functionality. A sales rep, for instance, could access customer data and update information once the connection is resumed. "This makes client devices a first-class participant in the creation of service-oriented architectures," IBM senior VP Steve Mills said at a press conference last week in New York.

IBM plans to tweak many of its Lotus applications to incorporate the Workplace environment. Lotus Workplace Messaging software and Lotus Workplace Documents, a document-management application, are the first products that IBM will adapt, with availability expected by the end of next month. IBM says it will charge business customers an annual fee of $24 per user for access to the rich-client middleware technology, in addition to the price of the application itself.

The strategy appeals to Guy Mills, VP for information systems at financial-services firm Manulife Financial. Mills says that server-based applications are easily managed but have been too costly to deploy widely because they consume expensive server processing power and network bandwidth. "If you're deploying them in an environment where they're really getting pounded, your costs are going to be prohibitive," Mills says. Offloading some computation tasks to the client makes sense, he adds. He foresees using the technology to extend messaging and other collaborative capabilities to Manulife Financial's 10,000 call-center workers. Still, Manulife will proceed cautiously, he says. "We'd need to see some evidence that shows this architecture could actually reduce costs."

IBM says Workplace Client also will give users more freedom to mix and match applications and operating systems. For instance, those running Microsoft Windows could access Linux apps through Workplace Client. "This breaks the operating system/application connection," says IT analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group, adding that the strategy could help further IBM's wish to drive Linux to the desktop.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft doesn't plan to enable its applications for Workplace. "We believe most users want to take full advantage of the powerful, inexpensive local-processing power that's readily available to them," says Dan Leach, lead product manager for Microsoft Office.

Still, a number of companies are lining up behind Workplace Client. Mobile-device maker Nokia Corp. will incorporate some of the technology into its forthcoming 9500 Communicator, a combination cell phone and PDA. Several software makers, including Adobe Systems, PeopleSoft, and Siebel Systems, have signaled their intention to develop applications that take advantage of Workplace Client.

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