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Thinking About Mobile Thin Clients

I came across a fascinating article yesterday morning…so fascinating that I needed a fair bit of time to put all my thoughts together in a (semi) coherent fashion.

It was an article on Microsoft’s website about thin clients and cloud computing.  The first sentence of the article cracked me up:

While not a new concept, thin computing is finally poised to take-off in a meaningful way.

No, thin clients are certainly not a new concept.  They’ve been around for at least ten years….and if you think back to the good old days of the VAX (now I’m dating myself), “dumb” terminals have been around for ages!

Scroll down the article and there’s this other gem:

There’s also a rapidly growing need to fulfill specialized work functions where thin clients are an attractive alternative to higher cost and more full function solutions. Think about environments where task workers – a retail salesperson, nurse or manufacturing floor manager – need access to a limited number of web-based or single-function applications.

Totally agreed….but why should I pay $500 for what is basically a dumb terminal with no screen?  Look at the specs of the machine….it’s got a 1.6 GHz processor, 2 GB of RAM, 4 GB of storage…but it does have “the WiFis” (check out the video at 1:40) of the 802.11 a/b/g/n variety.

Aren’t these specs pretty similar to what you can get from the latest crop of smartphones?  And hence when the dim light turned on over my head.

The mobile device will become the thin client for cloud computing.  Heck, I could even get cheezy and say that the smartphone will become the dumb terminal.  But do you see where my mind is headed?

More and more apps and services are headed to the cloud.  Do all the heavy computing in your PaaS/SaaS environment and display the data on your smartphone or tablet and bring it to the user via a rich/native user experience.  The data can reside wherever you want….either on prem or in the cloud, with only the bare minimum living in your device of choice.  This applies to both personal and corporate information.  Need a bigger screen?  Just dock your smartphone or tablet (even with a HDMI cable) to your desktop screen and voila, you are now hoteling like the best road warriors out there.

That almost deserves a Keanu Reeves moment ;-)

And then, I stumbled upon this fantastic article at The Wall Street Journal.  It’s all about the convergence of the cloud and mobile applications.  One important note in that article is that the mobile cloud is going to drive data traffic (and presumably data costs) through the roof!

So does the smartphone become the next thin client?  Who knows.  It makes a lot of sense to me, but as we know, a lot can change in the next couple of years that could make that vision look (in hindsight) antiquated.

What do you think?  Is the mobile device the next thin client?


  1. Posted February 18, 2011 at 17:03 | Permalink

    Phillip,spot on with your analysis. We are indeed going back to VAX days,in terms of concept of a thin client, but the only difference is that your mobile phone can be used either as a thin client, thick client, stand-alone client (disconnected) or a hybrid client to any different kind of cloud/server in your backend. What technology has given us powerful native capabilities on the mobile device, which was not possible before.


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  2. Posted February 19, 2011 at 15:54 | Permalink

    Philippe – already made this “vt100″ like change for mobile workers in the warehouse (voice picking). We moved the speech recognition to the cloud so that each worker would only require a ‘dumb’ terminal (thin client), such as a wireless phone. This saves big money on the per-user mobile hardware while bringing more powerful speech recognition technologies that are server-based. All this, and no green phosphor text like the old days. Now that’s progress. For more info you can look at if you wish. Doug

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  3. Posted February 19, 2011 at 22:55 | Permalink

    Philippe, both VMware and Citrix have been very busy integrating mobile devices with their virtualization software. The Citrix reciever client has been modified for both Android and IOS. While at Samsung, we worked with Citrix to have a special modification of the reciever for the Galaxy Tab as we thought that the 7″ size was perfect for healthcare, bring “Pockerable” in the lab coat or suit jacket. The cloud starts with mobile. ( ). Cisco and Juniper have also worked together to integrate mobile VPNs to the mobility fray. ( ).

    The devices is the interface to the backend compute system and virtualization is the answer to most of the CIO’s issues with mobile device security regardless of the mobile platform.

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  4. Posted February 20, 2011 at 01:49 | Permalink

    I am getting to next level deep. I am interpreting Thin as one of the capabilities within a smart phone. Browser as the means to see the enterprise..

    Thin is no longer Thin with HTML5 :)
    With HTML5 we are going to see revolutions.
    And that is the most fascinating thing about Mobility. 3 months before I thought HTML5 will take time to adopt. Now customers want think yet thick HTML5 solutions..
    Awesome… We were talking of ENTERPRISE SOCIAL NETWORKING LIKE APPs :) , and HTML5 will take us there.

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  5. Posted February 21, 2011 at 08:50 | Permalink

    @pdenagy – While I am certainly aware of the work that is being done by both Citrix and VMWare, the question for me is also based upon the varying philosophies around user experience – to provide a native experience or not. Some of the debate then becomes “religious,” but I’ll stay away from that part for now.

    @kumar – while HTML5 is promising, it won’t be ratified until 2014…at the earliest. That’s ages in the world of mobility!

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  6. Posted February 21, 2011 at 23:52 | Permalink

    2014 is way too long… when I type this I am solutionizing for HTML5, lots and lots of customer interests for the same! 2011 end 2012 mid we can see great stuff happening around that.

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  7. Posted February 22, 2011 at 18:39 | Permalink

    Lots of good facts here.

    -Back to thin clients (read, terminals)
    -Citrix and others make it possible to be remote and still have access to your personal image (read data and applications) on your server or office desktop
    -Modern Smartphones pack a heck of a power punch, look at the new HTC device launched on Verizon. Identical specs to the EVO on Sprint, but with 8GB of onboard RAM compared to 1. Fast processor, lots of memory, but still a small screen.

    Ok, here is where I come in as an average guy just wanting to live my life, work effectively and be free from an office.

    PLEASE let me keep my phone. I don’t want a 7 inch phone, 10″ phone or other. A phone should be small enough to fit in my pocket. That simply means that for me, my phone will NOT replace my laptop any time soon, however a tablet running Citrix might.

    What I love about this is that I may be back where I was in the 80′s in some regards.

    -My desktop computer will not dictate app performance
    -When I travel I can just take a light briefcase or folio with a tablet computer, roughly the size of a thick tablet of paper – NO 7lb, or even 4lb laptop! WAHOO!

    Ok, we didn’t have cell phones back in the 80′s, not really. So I guess I can count on having a sliver of metal in my pocket for calls and email when I need it!

    More of the same, but FAR BETTER!

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    • Posted February 24, 2011 at 09:22 | Permalink

      You hit the nail on the head Ric. We are back to the 80s. I think you’ll see more and more devices that try to do what the Foleo couldn’t….obviously Motorola is restarting this trend, but I expect we’ll see more of this in the future.

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  8. Posted February 22, 2011 at 20:03 | Permalink

    First of all, mad props on bringing up the VAX. For those of us who cut our teeth on VAX/VMSclusters, that was just a great blast to the past.

    Second, Palm Foleo guys have to be kicking themselves right now. The idea of a thin client screen was spot on, but the backend needed to be cloud computing, not a mobile device. They were just ahead of their time. But nowadays, there’s room for a number of cloud computing/VDI endpoints if the bandwidth can hold up.

    Of course, what happens when we stop expecting mobility to come from specific devices and just start assuming that all standard devices have some level of connectivity, memory, and networked context? With M2M and cloud, that type of truly persistent and contextual computing capabilities are only a few years away. The future has truly caught up to us.

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    • Posted February 24, 2011 at 09:20 | Permalink

      Given the state of the wireless networks (at least in this country), I think we are still a ways away from ubiquitous connectivity. That said, the opportunities around M2M are truly astounding.

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  9. Posted February 26, 2011 at 08:44 | Permalink

    mobility = cloud = mobility = cloud
    They are two sides of the same coin. The majority of the end points that connect to the cloud will be mobile devices, not necessarily smartphones, but mobile devices. The two were made for each other:
    1) a resource constrained device + a resource abundant platform
    2) the need to synchronize data amongst multiple devices in real time
    I find it humorous to see the cloud vendors spending so much time and money to make sure that their cloud is well organized and managed, but not looking to solve the “last mile” issue of how do they deliver high quality services to the diffent endpoints.
    My Cloud will only be better than Your Cloud if it can effectively deliver services to mobile devices.

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