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INTERNETWEEK : Thin clients need to be faster in performance, more manageable and more easily in-tegrated with conventional PCs, according to the agitator of server-based computing.
Robert Carter, chief technol-ogy officer of FedEx parent FDX Corp., made his complaints during a keynote address at the Citrix iForum '99 user and reseller conference in Orlando, Fla., earlier this month.
Still, Carter's criticisms were considerably milder than the keynote he delivered last year, at which time he railed against the high pricing of Microsoft Windows NT Server Terminal Server Edition ("Terminal Server Outcry," Sept. 7, 1998, page 1). Carter said the latest issues he raised are important if IT organizations are going to further embrace server-centric computing.
With WAN speeds improving, thin-client computing has only recently become desirable over WANs, but speeds on WANs need to be improved still further. FDX uses an MCI frame relay network with about 1,000 T1 points of presence to connect up thin clients at its delivery centers to datacenters in Memphis, Tenn., and Colorado Springs, Colo.
"Thin clients work on the wide-area network, and they work very well. But it's my desire to have superior performance; they should be faster than a PC accessing local information," Carter said.
Performance could be improved by allowing thin clients to cache information-the same way a Web browser caches Web pages.
Manageability and usability are often issues for thin-client software running on PCs. Citrix Systems said it is addressing those concerns with software designed to automatically present end users with icons displaying which server-based Citrix applications the user is entitled to use.
The first wave of functionality, called Program Neighborhood, was included in Citrix MetaFrame Version 1.8, delivered in February, and which Citrix has yet to deploy.
That same functionality will be available for Web-deployed applications using software code-named "Charlotte," which is scheduled to be delivered late this year or early next year. (See related story, this page.)
The need to replace thin-client hardware as memory, processors and other hardware get upgraded defeats the purpose of deploying thin clients. " That's the whole point of thin clients-to leave them out there for years," Carter said. Thin-client hardware needs to retain backwards compatibility.
Despite his concerns, Carter remains an enthusiastic proponent of thin-client computing. FDX has 6,000 thin-client hardware desktops deployed, with plans to increase that number to as much as 20,000 this year.
Thin client computing-or server-centric computing, as Carter prefers to call it-allows FDX's mobile staff and managers to log onto any desktop device on the FDX network and be presented with their own, familiar array of personalized applications and desktop.
Pricing for thin-client software has vastly improved since he delivered his tirade last year, Carter said.
"Last year, I stood here like David throwing a rock at Goliath and dared to say that Windows Terminal Server pricing is punitive," Carter stated.
Since then, Microsoft's pricing for terminal servers has dropped by half, and terminal server support will be embedded into Windows 2000. ("Microsoft Eases IT's Terminal Pain," Jan. 25, page 1).
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