Is it time to ditch your desktops for PC blades?

Will thin client ever reach critical mass proportions of the PC market? Vendors such as HP and ClearCube are trying to overcome end-user resistance to PC blades with some new offerings.

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The desktop unit that is part of Hewlett-Packard's PC blade system is about the size of a thick hardcover book, and it might be mistaken for a modernist vase if not for the various ports for connecting thumb drives and other USB devices. The device is centrally managed, supports desktop virtualisation software and is easier for IT administrators to secure than PCs are.

Moreover, HP last week announced improvements to the Blade PC technology that it claims will give users a "true desktop experience". Rival ClearCube Technology followed suit this week, introducing three new end-user devices that it said create a "perfect PC experience" for users of its PC blades.

Sounds great - so why aren't more businesses buying the PC blades offered by HP, ClearCube and other vendors?

Analyst firm IDC said that about 100,000 PC blades were shipped last year and predicts that the number of units shipped will increase to 260,000 this year. That's still infinitesimal compared to the more than 250m PCs that the market research firm expects to be shipped worldwide during 2007.

When asked about PC blades, attendees at this week's HP Technology Forum & Expo 2007 said they liked the idea of ditching desktop PCs. But they're being held back by a variety of issues, some technical and some cultural.

Moving to PC blades is "a very tempting idea," said Jim Becker, IT manager at the Urban Institute in Washington. Becker thinks that using blades on the desktop would reduce the costs associated with provisioning and maintaining PCs. The only issue he cited as a potential problem "is a perception issue on the part of end users" - in other words, a reluctance to give up their PCs.

Harold Baker, a senior developer at DirecTV, said that if his desktop PC was replaced with a blade system, "it wouldn't make any difference to me". His biggest concern was whether he would be able to store files locally in case the blade system failed, which PC blade vendor do support.

Dominic Costanza, a technical systems analyst at a financial services firm that he asked not be identified, said he saw the issue of moving to PC blades as a case of balancing the migration cost versus the risk of sticking with less secure desktop PCs. Security and risk management "are starting to have more weight as time goes on, and maybe the benefits [of switching to PC blades] will outweigh the cost," Costanza said.

Vendors are trying to reduce end-user resistance to PC blades via enhancements such as the ones announced this month by HP and ClearCube.

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