Red Hat's thin client revival

If you’ve been in the IT industry for a couple of decades you might well remember when thin-client technology was big news. In particular you might remember when Oracle chief Larry Ellison sang the praises of thin-client technology. You might also remember when, in the late 1990s, Ellison again proclaimed the virtues of thin-client computing.

Today thin-client computing is no longer sexy. Many companies use it successfully but there aren’t that many vendors that will trumpet thin-client systems as a way to sexy-up their sales material.

Until now that is.

For those not in the know thin-client technology is simply stripped down workstations that pull all their applications and data from a central server, instead of storing them locally. The obvious benefits are lower workstation costs (not much more than a case, a processor and a power supply) and the ability to centrally manage users and applications. Want a new user on the system? Add them on the server and it’s done. A broken user profile? Fix it on the server instead of walking desk to desk to repair simple failures.

Over the years it hasn’t been only Ellison that proclaimed thin-clients as the future. Sun Microsystems’ Scott McNealy was also a big fan. But despite relative heavyweights backing thin-clients the technology never took off as broadly as most expected as thin-client workstations could never fully replace a desktop PC.

Red Hat

Although Red Hat is hugely successful as a Linux company its share of the desktop market is negligible. It is, however, pretty successful in the datacentre arena, powering a significant number of servers around the world.

Now Red Hat is hoping to give Linux on the desktop a boost with its new virtual desktop infrastructure plans. Simply put, Red Hat is hoping to expand and offer corporate users a thin-client offering. This won’t replace the existing full Red Hat desktop but will no doubt be aimed at corporate users with existing Red Hat servers.

The plan is to reintroduce Spice (Simple Protocol for Independent Computing Environments). Spice is similar to Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol and Citrix’s Independent Computing Architecture and depends on the Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM) which Red Hat has tightly integrated into its distribution.

Right now the only problem is that the server side of Spice needs to run on Windows. Which is a problem for a Linux specialist company. Red Hat is, however, working flat out to remove the reliance on Windows and late this year or early next it should release a version of  its thin-client setup that will be designed specifically for Linux servers, including replacing Microsoft server technology with Java replacements.

Red Hat’s move in the direction of thin-client desktops certainly won’t replace existing fully-installed Linux desktops but it will add a new string to Red Hat’s bow. Many corporates already have investments in Red Hat servers and a Spice-based thin-client setup could well be an easy sell.

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Red Hat's thin client revival