The Future of the Thin Client Device Market

Some folks from a management consulting firm working on a research project recently interviewed me to get my thoughts about the future of the thin client device market space.

Some folks from a management consulting firm working on a research project recently interviewed me to get my thoughts about the future of the thin client device market space. Here's what I told them:

1. Analysts are projecting 15-30% growth rates for thin clients though growth hasn't been that strong recently. Do you think those rates are attainable? Has anything fundamentally changed to really drive that growth or is it pent-up demand that will be unleashed once IT spending recovers?

Yes, those rates are attainable. In fact, it's not that growth will be unleashed once IT spending recovers, rather, it's the current IT climate that's driving this spending.
Once IT spending does pick up, I think people are going to be a lot smarter about how they spend. However, future IT and application models will totally support thin client devices. Look at the current emergence of server blade computing and the software to manage those types of environments. This is why IBM bought Think Dynamics. Also, don't forget about the emerging importance of virtual server technology. (This is why Connectix was acquired by Microsoft) Also, the fact that Bandwidth is becoming a commodity allows thin client solutions to get stronger and stronger.

2. We know that HP broke off its relationship with Wyse... Do you think PC vendors are trying to enter this space? How will they go about it? What success do you think they'll have?

I think they'll have to. They're all commodities, PCs and Thin Clients. All the PC vendors are trying to push their value-add services (which is why HP bought Compaq, why IBM bought PWC Consulting, and why Dell bought Plural). I think they'll be successful.

Compaq has always made sexy stuff. They used Wyse early on so that they could test the waters. Now, with their iPAQ 5700 we see them branching out on their own. IBM has been making thin clients for years. Dell always waits until things become commodities to enter the market (which is why they just now entered the printer and handheld markets).

The PC vendors will be successful.. Again, it goes back to the fact that these are all just commodities. The big vendors can afford the slim margins. The dedicated terminal vendors are the ones who are in trouble. Wyse, Neoware, NetX, etc.. They must differentiate themselves also, which is why Wyse now OEMs T-Scale from RTO under the Expedian name.

3. What are trends in software for thin clients? Are customers willing to pay for device management software? Will that become the key purchasing criteria? Which vendor has the stronger offering and why? What about software for reconfigured PCs?

The big trend in the thin client device market is the Move towards "chubby" Thin clients have always had local browsing, local 3270 terminal stuff, and local ICA and RDP clients. But with today's chubby clients, they now have local streaming media, maybe local Acrobat and local storage. Customers making purchase decisions will have to balance simplicity with the ability to offload work from their servers onto their clients.

As for management software, I don't think people are willing to pay too much for management software. I think it's expected. Thin clients have always been about ease of management, and I think that customers are turned off by high "a la carte" ad-ins such as management. Even with companies like HP and Wyse offering Altiris or Rapport licenses for the clients, some people are angry about having to pay thousands of dollars for the server software.

4. What is the typical useful life for a thin client (before it needs to be replaced)? Is that lengthening or shortening? How hard is it to switch vendors of thin clients?

Lifespan is shortening as these things become more powerful. I mean come on... these things have 1GHz processors now. I don't think that the current lifespan of these devices is much more than that of a PC. Sure they have no moving parts, but computing requirements still increase, ultimately eclipsing the current hardware.

Of course, all of this thin client hoo-ah is just a temporary stop-gap solution until we get to the true fluid computing / .NET / whatever the future holds.

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I am using thin client from past 2 yrs. I have found rearly problems but these problems are due to server computing speed or network transfer speed problems
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