Information Technology (IT) has a distinctive role to play in shaping and transforming business operations. Indeed, IT has become a fundamental enabler in the creation and maintenance of a flexible business network capable of responding to the dynamism currently characterizing the business world. Business processes deliver output and value to customers but how much do they cost the business? Improvement in IT systems in an organization can for instance reduce the expenses on labor, economize time and lead to increased profits. Though installation and maintenance of advanced technologies is costly, the transformation that comes with it in terms of increasing profitability and competitiveness is overwhelming if all support structures are adequately in place. Thin client technology is one of the technologies that businesses are currently pursuing in their bid to remain competitive in their respective industries.
Thin client technology
Thin client technology also called Server Based Computing allows any computer to access applications such as spreadsheets, wordprocessors and accounting programs that are based on either Microsoft windows or UNIX from any web browser on the internet or in a corporate intranet (Ansari & Tiwari, 2008). The applications run on Microsoft Terminal Services Servers and not on desktop systems. Goldenberg, (2003) adds that the modern thin client is usually a low-end computer terminal concentrating mainly on providing a Graphical User Interface (GUI) to the end user. The operating system is provided by the server. Implementation of thin client technology away from the traditional office or desktop environment can be a key enabler of the Activity Based Costing (ABC) as it significantly reduces the operational costs of a business. Thin clients contrast the traditional fat client where each computer is independent of the central server and runs on its own installed programs (Malhotra, 2000). An example of thin client software is CITRIX which is used mostly in educational institutions to allow students and staff to access any PC using low powered PCs or other thin client devices. Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) and New Moon’s Canaveral iQ are other new entrants to the thin client technology.
In the traditional fat client computing environment, the inability to control transfer of data possibly into the hands of competitors looms large. Even worse is the potentially catastrophic interference with or loss of crucial data and secret details of an organization (Lightfoot & Ihrig, 2002). Thin clients offer increased security in computing systems. The access of data and programs are limited to specific machines (servers) which ensures secure storage of documents and data files. Reduced access to the installed programs decreases the risk of compromising software. Since most thin client devices do not have disc drives the risk of introducing viruses via removable data storage devices such as compact discs is greatly reduced (Ansari & Tiwari, 2008).
The most outstanding cost benefit for utilizing thin clients is that they reduce the overall cost of IT systems in an organization. According to El Sawy, (2001) thin client computing can cut an organization’s expenditure on IT by 30-70%. Thin clients can operate on minimal specifications such as low Random Access Memory (RAM). Reduced specifications and components in the manufacture of thin client devices reduces their overall cost and makes them affordable to big and small businesses alike. Thin client notebooks for instance cost less than $1000 as compared to standard notebooks which cost in excess of $1100 (Sinard, 2006).
Thin client technology can also decrease the IT costs of a business by extending the lifetime of existing PCS since it can allow low level PCs to run state-of-the-art PC applications from a central server (Miller, Johnson & Woolfolk, 2002). The installation of the latest software enabling high speed network connections and achievement of better computing results in entirely all processes. The use of advanced accounting software such as QuickBooks by several accountants in a firm can significantly increase the accuracy of complex accounting data processing. Moreover, this can be achieved within lesser periods of time thereby increasing the firm’s capacity to handle more and larger clients.
Power bills are a dreaded document in businesses that are still using traditional PCs. With the use of thin technology, power consumption is significantly reduced. The power consumption of thin-clients is 14% less than that of a PC (Goldenberg, 2003). The absence of hard drives in some thin clients means reduced power consumptions as some do not require cooling fans.
Thin client technologies also have the potential to reduce maintenance and support costs significantly in a busy working environment since they cannot be easily interfered with and all software maintenance and upgrades are done from a single server.
When organizations use the traditional desktop computers they have two approaches in the use of software. The first is to deploy software to all PCs and then lock users out of those applications they are not licensed. The second approach is to purchase licenses for all the PCs regardless of their usage. While the first case can lead to prosecution due to infringements on copyright laws, the second can lead to unnecessary costs (Sinard, 2006). Since software licensing costs more than the initial costs of PCs, the second approach significantly increases the cost of running PCs.
Thin client technology involves the implementation of strategies that reduce the server support staff, increase process efficiency and enhance the security of the businesses IT system. Significant benefits can be realized by centralizing support functions not only in savings, but also in the consistency and quality of the support function. According to Sinard, (2006) the more diverse the geographical base, the more advantages an organization stands to gain. While many software exist that offer remote take-over abilities in shadowing most of them are slow when not on the same Local Area Network (LAN). Thin client computing ensures there is no performance drop-off since all users run on the same LAN. The implementation of thin client computing also eliminates the need for server support staff to respond to or based at remote sites for purposes of sever support. A research by Zona research shows that support costs for 15 PCs in a Windows NT server environment were about 500% more that in a thin client computing environment (El Sawy, 2001).
Thin client computing environments enjoy faster deployment times for upgrades or new software. Fewer people are also required to expedite the process. In a fat-client environment an application is first tested in a lab, packaged, scripted and then distributed to clients following instructions from the administrator with regard to bandwidth issues. The process takes time in the excess of four hours since an average of 80% of softwares integrating well with the computers (Sinatra, 2006). Under the thin client system, once an application is tested in a lab it is installed on the terminal server and is immediately to all authorized clients.
Thin clients can operate in more hostile environments as compared to conventional desktop computers. However, they do need network connections to servers which need to be isolated from hostile environments. Being cheap makes thin clients less attractive to thieves. They are also easy to replace if broken or stolen. They also occupy less space on desks.
Policy consequences of adoption of the thin client technology
There are varied policy consequences regarding to the adoption of thin client technologies in businesses. Policy decisions regarding the adoption of thin client computing hinges on the applications that a business relies on. For instance applications that rely on unique Internet Protocol IP require the implementation of a hybrid approach where the PC is used as a tubby device (a device that has limited reliance on the server) (Malhotra, 2000).
Thin clients have some disadvantages in a business environment since they have limited extensibility. In case a set of drivers or a software utility is required to support a locally attached peripheral device such as a printer or a scanner; a thin client operating system may lack the needed resources to integrate the n required dependencies. Lately, modern thin clients address this limitation via USB redirection or port mapping. Advanced research into the incorporation of vital devices such as printers will lead to the diversification on the uses of thin client devices.
Thin client technology in support of a net centric strategy
The thin client technology would support a net centric strategy in a variety of ways. The thin client technology is a network centric infrastructure in which case the network becomes the single point of failure. The deployment of thin client technology for net centric strategy would work when the network improves and wireless network improves.
Under a thin-client computing system, work conducted outside the office environment for instance at home can be done through a dial-up connection. This ensures the data remains with the server. E-mail security needs to be addressed to eliminate the leakage of confidential data through this system. The inability to introduce data locally significantly reduces the scope of introducing viruses and other unwanted programs to the computers. Since most thin client devices do not have disc drives, the threat of introducing unwanted programs is almost inexistent.
Thin client devices are cheap and portable. For example thin client notebooks have no hard disk and weigh approximately 2 pounds. They have a battery life of 10 to fifteen hours (Ansari, & Tiwari, 2008). The devices are also cheap and therefore attractive to use in small businesses. This allows for their usage on a diverse network befitting both small and large businesses.
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