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Special reports - Are you in with the thin crowd? - Sept 1999
The following survey results are taken from the National Computing Centre’s IT User Survey 1999. The survey is based on a mailed questionnaire that was sent to 4,500 UK installations in March 1999.
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Nearly two-thirds of organisations polled in the National Computing Centre’s IT User Survey asserted that they would be using some kind of thin client technology within the next two years. This is not, however, expected to be a business-wide adoption, but rather a piecemeal application to meet specific project needs.

The growing interest in thin client technology was certainly borne out by respondents, who were asked to describe their existing position with respect to thin client technology and to forecast what their position might be in two years time.

Currently, fewer than 10% of respondents reported a major commitment to thin client technology and less than 30% have any thin client applications. However, by the year 2001, 63% will be using some thin client technology and almost a quarter of respondents say that they will have adopted it on a fairly wide spread basis or that it will be a key strategic technology for their organisation. The most common use for thin clients currently is for specific applications that can be more efficiently managed or implemented in the thin client environment. This trend looks set to continue with 40% of those intending to implement thin technology, planning to do so on a limited basis.

"The growth of thin client technology mirrors a general trend we have been observing towards managing users’ environments," comments Diane Finn, head of membership for the National Computer Centre. "Thin client technology allows the IT department to monitor and manage users’ desktops, giving it more control. What’s harder to explain is the piecemeal adoption which seems to be dominating the purchasing in this area. Our findings have shown that thin clients are not being used in the way first expected – enterprise-wide introduction has given way to an applied use of the technology on a project basis."

Size matters

The major factor which distinguishes those who will be using thin client technology is the size of organisation, particularly the number of IT users. More than three-quarters of the organisations with over 500 users indicated that they would probably be using thin client technology in two years time, albeit on a limited basis for most of them.

Ease of management of the desktop environment was seen as a major benefit of thin client technology by over 70% of the respondents. The possibility of using thin client technology as a means of regaining some control over the user environment may explain part of the emphasis on thin client technology in larger organisations. A few respondents amplified this message with comments such as:

‘…providing control over end-users to improve discipline and compliance…’

Lower total cost of ownership and improved security were also cited by over 40% of respondents as a major benefit of thin client technology.

Of the additional benefits that were raised by respondents, references to the lower bandwidth requirements of thin client applications were most common. These took several forms including:

  • Increased speed of applications over WAN
  • Improved access over ISDN
  • Enhance processing speed for remote dial-up users
  • Allows use of existing cabling

Clearly there will be many other organisations that are attracted by this aspect of thin client technology.


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