A major advantage of server-based computing technology is that the type of client platform and device that determines which applications you can use is removed from the equation . While this is a good thing from a business perspective, it can have the negative effect of making your technology decisions difficult. It was easy when applications only worked in Windows environments. If a user needed to use the application, they needed a computer running Windows-period.
Now that MetaFrame has come along, users can access Windows applications from virtually any platform and virtually any device. Since each platform and device combination offers slightly different options for you (the administrator) and your users, you now need to spend time thinking about which client devices will be used.
In order to evaluate which types of client devices are best suited to your environment, you need to answer a series of questions. These questions can be broken into five broad categories:
- Technology management issues.
- Political issues.
- Environment and facilities aspects.
Let's take a look at these questions now.
Technology Management Issues
How will the client devices be configured?
Do you need client devices that do not require local configuration, as all parameters are pulled from a central area? If you have devices that require local configuration, do you have the skills or ability to automatically script and push out this configuration, or will you need to visit each client device manually?
How much time should be spent troubleshooting the clients?
If each client device contains custom data and configuration information for its user, then IT support personnel could potentially spend significant amounts of time troubleshooting and hunting down problems within each client device. Traditionally this has been the case with Windows-based PC workstations.
In the MetaFrame XP world troubleshooting doesn't require that kind of time. Many companies deploy generic client devices to end users with all of the users' applications executing on MetaFrame XP servers and their data stored on network drives. Then, if a client device stops working properly, the IT staff doesn't have to waste valuable time troubleshooting it. They can pull it out and replace it with a new device.
These devices can be thin client devices or full PC workstations that are managed as generic devices. When a PC workstation that is managed like a thin client device breaks, the IT staff simply replaces it with a generic, newly-imaged PC.
What kind of local IT support is available?
If your user environment is located at a main corporate campus or if there are local IT department staff, it's possible to have client devices that require some manual configuration or expertise to install. However, if there are no IT staff at the users' site, then you need to choose client devices that a non-technical person can troubleshoot. Usually, this means using thin client devices. If one stops working, a non-technical person can go to the closet, get a new one, and plug it in where the broken one is. The cables are color-coded, and all configuration information and application information is either preset or downloaded from a server.
How is the relationship between the IT department and the users?
Do your users respect the IT department or are they hostile? If there is mutual respect and the relationship is strong, it will be possible to introduce new technologies and devices to the end users. However, if the relationship is strained, every detail of the IT department's technology decisions will be scrutinized. Any aspect of the new technology that the users feel is lacking will cause a user revolt.
Have users become attached to their ability to "personalize" their computers?
In traditional environments where full PC workstations sit on each user's desk, many users have gotten used to being able to "personalize" their computers. You probably see this every day in the custom desktop themes, screen savers, wallpapers with pictures of users' kids, and animated dinosaur mouse pointers.
You might choose to replace your users' customizable PCs with thin client devices that are managed as generic company assets and that are replaced if they break, much like the telephone.
Even though these thin client devices provide a 100% identical look and feel of business applications, users can be put off if they were to lose some "freedoms," such as the ability to customize settings and use floppy disks.
How smart are your users?
Will your users be able to adapt well to new solutions or technologies, or will they call the helpdesk every day for a month? Even worse, are they too smart (or crafty)? Will they try to break or get around whatever procedures are put in place? You should spend time trying to understand what your users' true needs are. Keep in mind that some users are never happy. No matter what you do, they will always want more.
How easy is it for users to break the client devices?
Most users tend to meddle with whatever configuration settings and options they can find on their client computers. When looking at client devices, it's important to assess how easily they can be "locked-down," preventing users from breaking them.
What is the security level needed in the end user environment?
Will end users need secure access over the network, or will they need secure authentication, such as smart cards or biometric authentication? How about the client devices themselves? If they're located somewhere in which theft is a problem, thin client devices are more attractive than PC workstations, because thin client devices are worthless to thieves outside of the office environment (unless the thieves set up a MetaFrame XP server in their hideout). Even if they are stolen, thin client devices are cheaper to replace.
Is there a significant investment in the current client devices or licenses?
Sometimes MetaFrame XP is deployed in environments that haven't had new desktop technology for many years, so it's easy to justify the cost of new client devices that are purchased as the MetaFrame XP applications are rolled out.
Much more common, though, are the environments that lease or refresh their desktop technology every few years. Even if the IT department decides that thin client devices are the cheapest, easiest, and coolest client devices they could use, it may not be a possibility because the end user departments "just got new PCs last year, we're not pulling them out now."
If politics force you to use the existing client devices, then your client device selection process shouldn't take long.
Who pays for new end user hardware?
Often end user departments pay for their own client devices. In these cases, you need to know whether they typically purchase what the IT department recommends or if they purchase whatever they want (usually based on cheapest price). If they go by IT recommendations, are there particular vendors that must be used or price caps that must be observed?
Of course, even if the IT department pays for the end user devices, these same political and pricing issues may still apply.
Environmental / Facilities
Are there any special environment site needs?
If the end user environment is harsh or dirty, client machines may break more often, requiring ones that are inexpensive and easy to replace. If the client environment has sanitary requirements, as in hospitals, the client devices might need to be hermetically sealed or have the ability to be easily disinfected.
What are the power consumption requirements?
Many traditional computers require 200 to 300 Watts to operate, while many thin client devices operate on 25 Watts or less. When you consider that these devices are used for at least 2000 hours per year, and with energy prices always increasing, the power cost savings can be tremendous even with a few hundred users.
What types of applications will be used?
If only MetaFrame ICA applications will be used, then client devices can be almost anything (thin client, Windows CE, full PC, etc.). But, if users will ever need to access an application that is not delivered via MetaFrame XP, then they will need client devices that support other applications. Interestingly, this issue drives the balance between the number of applications in the MetaFrame XP environment and the complexities and expenses associated with different client devices.
How many different applications will be used?
In addition to the types of applications that are used, you must evaluate how many applications a user will need.
If the user is using less than five applications every day (word processor, email, web, and a line of business application), then it makes it easy for you to recommend thin client devices. However, the more applications a user requires, the tougher it becomes to use thin client devices. You might also need to consider other factors, such as the length of application usage. How many times is the user switching between applications per day?
What kinds of graphics and sound support will clients need?
Do the users have applications with high graphics requirements? Some thin client devices have much better graphics performance than others. This is especially evident with high resolutions and color depth.
Do the users need audio support on their client devices? Remember that even though audio support might not be perceived as necessary by the IT department, the users may be very upset if they "lose" sound when moving to a MetaFrame XP-based solution.
Do the end users require wireless mobile access?
If users need to be able to move around while using their ICA applications, is this movement confined to one area or one building, or will they need to access their applications from anywhere in the country?
How will mobile devices be used? Users that need access primarily from one location with the ability to roam are very different from users that primarily need to roam. Battery life is also a big factor.
What types of peripherals are used?
Some environments may require specific peripherals, such as bar code readers or scanners. If this is the case in your environment then you will need to evaluate whether applications will support the barcode readers through thin client devices and ICA sessions or if the applications will need to be installed locally on traditional PCs.
Will the users travel with their client devices?
If users will be traveling with their client devices, such as laptops, then you must make provisions for the users to have access to applications when they are offline.