NEC hails next generation of thin clients

NEC hopes Australian businesses will look to its think client technology as an alternative to purchasing a business PC

NEC has produced what it claims is the next generation of thin clients. And with it comes high expectations: it is hoping its newly launched product will help it more than double its revenues in Australia over the next three years.

Last financial year the company's Australian operation generated US$500 million of its global $42 billion in sales. Company vice president Kazuhiko Kobayashi has set the aggressive target of $1.25 billion by 2010, much of it pinned on the back of the US100 thin client device. "That is my hope," he said.

The US100 comes with advanced IP telephony and video processing thanks to the company's NetClient system-on-a-chip. It comes with VMware's Virtual Desktop pre-installed.

The idea is that users will get a complete Windows XP environment unlike conventional thin client products which provide a restricted view. NEC claims its VirtualPC Center (VPC) provides much better graphics and IP telephony than conventional thin clients at forty percent of the price.

NEC has worked with VMware and uses its virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to host up to 20 complete Windows XP sessions in virtual machines on its NEC Express5800/VPCC Virtual PC server. The client comprises a standard screen, keyboard and mouse plugged into the US100 box, which is about the size of a video cassette. It contains NEC-developed graphics and sound decompression chips.

Windows Vista is yet to be supported, but the company said because of its memory hungry appetite, the current thin client system would be unable to support 20 users simultaneously. It did not name a figure.

Conventional thin client products, such as Citrix, receive uncompressed video and sound. Video playback can also be interrupted because the network and hosting server aren't powerful enough. By offloading the server CPU with thin client accelerator chips NEC claims it can provide uninterrupted video playback.

Conventional thin client products also provide a restricted emulation of Windows and not all applications run. Provision of a full Windows XP session per thin client, through VDI, means that a user can be switched from a PC desktop to a US100-based thin client and perceive no difference at all, applications running exactly as before.

The US100 has no hard drive or fan; it runs silently and uses a fraction of the energy - 6 watts according to Kobayashi -- of a desktop PC. NEC has integrated its own management suite into VMware providing a management console for thin client administration. It has also integrated VOIP so calls between clients are of high audio quality.

The product is expected to be available in April. The cost for a 20 user complete package is $40,000 which works out at $2,000 per client.

(Howard Dahdah contributed to this article.)

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