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Monday, June 2, 2003

Thinning down computing problems of schools

THIN clients are the next generation of computing. Used in client/server applications, thin clients are designed to be especially small so that the bulk of the data processing occurs on the server. The term thin client is an especially popular buzzword now because it serves as a symbol dividing the computer industry into two camps. On one side is a group led by Netscape and Sun Microsystems advocating Java -based thin clients running on network computers. The other side, championed by Microsoft and Intel, is pushing ever-larger applications running locally on desktop computers.

Although the term thin client usually refers to software, it is increasingly used for computers, such as network computers and Net PCs that are designed to serve as the clients for client/server architectures. A thin client is a network computer without a hard disk drive, whereas a fat client includes a disk drive.

In a thin client-computing environment, itís just the mouse clicks, keystrokes and images that travel through the network. All processing and information storage is done on the server. This dedicated main server provides applications and other resources to a large number of terminals. The terminals often have just enough intelligence to operate the mouse, keyboard, and monitor. A thin client terminal generally does not have a hard drive, and normally does not even have a floppy drive.


Thin client technology solves many problems of budgeting and complexities of computer-based technologies for the schools.

In case of fat-client system teachers have to spend time on troubleshooting rather than planning lessons or assisting students. Thin client machines are more reliable and require less troubleshooting and essentially no set up, leaving more time for teaching and learning.

In case of thin client computing server handles all processing, so client machines do not need a hard disk, do not require large RAM, do not have floppy drives and CD ROM drives which results in low overall cost. Schools can even connect 486 PCs to thin-client network. Software costs can also be reduced through site licensing, concurrent licensing, and standardisation.

Reliable computing devices with a consistent look and feel will encourage more educators and staff to integrate them into their curriculum and daily work. Thin clients are less expensive, faster, more durable, and easier to maintain. The system administrator updates and maintains the clients by managing the server and its resources. New applications and upgrades are loaded only once onto the server, and they become instantly available on all devices

By concentrating data, applications, and processing power on servers, the thin-client environment reduces security risks of data loss and equipment theft. Itís just that backup servers are required. Servers can be secured in rooms with alarms and limited access. If thin clients are stolen, the hardware is easily and inexpensively replaced and data is not lost. Users do not need floppy disks to move files, which reduces the risk of viruses.

Another feature, shadowing, allows certain users access to another userís desktop in real time to support student learning and teacher training. A teacher can show a student how to solve a problem remotely. Thin client devices generally consume just a fraction of the electricity of their PC counterparts.


There are certain limitations, which must kept in mind before installing a thin client computing environment. Thin client networking requires high performance and reliability from servers and network infrastructure. If server fails, the whole system breaks. Thin clients may not be suitable for every computing environment. It is not used for graphics and rich multimedia applications. The process of generating screen images consumes large amounts of resources and limits the number of users a single server can support.