Last week Gabe and I visited HP's main campus in Houston to meet with Tom Flynn, the CTO of their thin client group. We talked about a lot of cool things (tablets, Android, ARM, Windows Embedded, thin clients), and invited Tom to join us on our radio show next week. In the meantime, Tom let us record a video demo of an upcoming product they're working on--a $200(ish) zero client that can be reconfigured to use RDP, RemoteFX, HDX, or PCoIP.
At BriForum last year, HP showed off this thing they called the "Smart Service" which is essentially a $400 flexible thin client that can boot up and download one of many protocol packages from the configuration server. This is very cool (apart from the confusing name which makes it sound like a consulting offering instead of a thin client). The only problem really is that it's $400 while you can buy thin clients dedicated to a particular protocol for somewhere around $200. (So you're paying a couple hundred bucks to buy the right to change your mind in the future.)
So the new thin clients are basically just like that, except half the price. In addition to the low-power main CPU, the heavy lifting of the protocol work is done in a DSP. This gives them good performance with a cheap cost and lower power consumption.
Like the Wyse C class / Xenith, only flexible
At first glance, these upcoming HP clients seem a lot like the "C class" thin clients Wyse released back in 2009. As we wrote about then, the C class devices leverage the same "low cost CPU + DSP" to get good performance at a cheap price. (They're also in the $200 price range, depending on options.) I genuinely like the Wyse C class and had one on my desk for a long time.
Then in 2010, Wyse released a Citrix HDX-only zero client called the "Xenith." This was also cool, except for one weird catch: The Xenith is based on the exact same hardware as the C class thin client, except the two are not compatible, upgradeable, or interchangeable. In other words, if you buy a Wyse Xenith thin client, you get the CPU+DSP zero client solution for $200(ish), but you're stuck with an HDX-based thin client forever. If you later decide that you want to use RemoteFX or PCoIP, then you have to throw those away and buy new ones, even if the protocol you want is available in another C class model with the exact same hardware. (This is something that we made fun of Wyse for back in the day--the first Wyse Xenith they showed us literally had a piece of masking tape on the bottom with the word "converted" written on it, but Wyse was telling customers that it was not possible to convert them!)
So that's why I like this new concept from HP. You've got thin clients that are small and cheap and you can use them with any protocol or product.
If you'd like to see a demo of these in action (to get an understanding of the performance of each) or to hear HP's Tom Flynn talk about more of the technical details, we shot a 15min demo video last week:
We learned a few things in that video, including how HP is getting / creating versions of the various remote display protocols to run on the DSP, and how these $200 clients will only be able to run one protocol at a time. (i.e. if you want a local browser or to connect to multiple simultaneous remote sessions via different protocols, you'll need to buy a more expensive thin client with more hardware.
So what do you think? Is this a cool thing, or something that doesn't really matter in the real world? Would you buy a thin client or zero client that locked you in to a single desktop protocol?
Your move Wyse!
By the way, when we were at HP, we were surprised to find that they had HP Thin Client cookies for us. I tweeted a photo along with a caption of "HP has thin client cookies. Your move Wyse!" Then a few days later I got a delivery from Wyse:
So I guess the same applies for the thin clients. HP's going to have $200 thin clients that can run any protocol. Your move Wyse!
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