Thin Clients Won't Eat Storage

Recent innovations aside, it's unlikely thin-client PCs will pack their own storage

January 15, 2007

3 Min Read
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Despite recent news that staffers at blade-PC maker ClearCube Technology have won a patent for virtual storage, ClearCube has decided against using it. And it's unlikely other makers of PC blades or thin-client technologies will get into the storage game, either.

"We had a prototype, but as we were looking through the matter, the storage market changed," says ClearCube's VP of product marketing, Tom Josefy. ClearCube, which makes PCs on blades that can be remotely connected to monitors and keyboards, says ClearCube discovered it just wouldn't make sense to offer storage with its wares, given the price and availability of external storage gear. "We thought the cost difference versus what we'd have to charge didn't make it worthwhile," Josefy says.

ClearCube, which works with VMware, Citrix, and other software solutions aimed at supporting remote applications in lieu of full PCs, now suggests that customers use iSCSI or Fibre Channel SAN or NAS with its centralized PCs and remote clients.

Last month, news broke that ClearCube has been awarded a U.S. patent for "a system and method... for using free storage capacity on a plurality of storage media as a virtual storage device on a computer network comprising a plurality of computers." Among the recipients of the patent are Syed Mohammad Amir Husain, now CTO of ClearCube, who, along with colleagues, filed for the patent in 2002.

Josefy isn't sure what will happen to the patent, or whether ClearCube will sell it.ClearCube, which is headquartered in Austin, Texas, has 120 employees and funding of $52 million. Since its founding in 1997, it claims to have gained "thousands" of customers for its wares, including Catholic Health System, the City of Little Rock, Ark., and the Chicago Board of Trade, to name just a few.

Key selling points include elimination of extra management at the PC level, as well as security for remote users. "Prior to our implementation of ClearCube, if someone lost a notebook PC, for instance, there's no telling what kind of information was compromised. Now, even our wireless tablet computers are thin clients that don't contain patient health information," said Jere Roche, network services team leader at Indiana's Clark Memorial Hospital, in a prepared statement.

Solutions such as ClearCube's use a centralized PC blade and software that dynamically allocates PC applications to remote ports, which can be attached with cables or wireless links to monitors and keyboards or to PDAs and styluses.

ClearCube competes with similar products from eMachines, HP, IBM, Sun, and Wyse, to name just a few. It has partnerships with Neoware and Lenovo -- relationships that reportedly are expanding, though the specifics are vague. Other potential competitors include Microsoft, via its purchase of Softricity last year. (See Microsoft Makes Virtualization Play.)

While all of these firms tout savings on PC maintenance and security among their advantages, none seem any more eager than ClearCube to make themselves into storage suppliers -- though their technologies might conceivably have some application to storage. Instead, most are focused on working with VMware and leaving storage to be solved by the boxmakers that might link to central bladeservers or multiple PC blades in chassis."It defeats the purpose of thin client computing to put storage on the thin client. You want the applications and storage to be centralized," says one analyst, who asked not to be named.

At this rate, perhaps we'll see some intellectual property related to thin-client storage put up for sale.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

  • Citrix Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CTXS)

  • ClearCube Technology Inc.

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Lenovo Group Ltd.

  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)

  • Neoware Systems Inc.

  • Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW)

  • VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW)

  • Wyse Technology

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