Lean and Mean

When it comes to saving your business's time and money, thin is in.

Despite the name, thin clients aren't overly diet-conscious customers-rather, they're stripped-down computer systems that run applications remotely from a server. They forego all the "fatty" aspects of regular desktop PCs and are able to operate without hard drives, screaming-fast processors, removable media drives or souped-up RAM. Although thin clients still use regular monitors, the devices themselves look more like vertical pancakes than computer towers.

Thin clients are attractive for businesses that don't want to-or can't-employ a platoon of IT professionals to baby a slew of regular desktops. Because most software is deployed on the company server, the IT load job is a lot lighter. Upgrade the programs on the server, and you upgrade all the thin clients as well. Upgrade the server hardware, and the thin clients reap the benefits. It all adds up to tech-support savings.

Sometimes, employees like to tinker with their computers by adding programs, making downloads and changing settings. But with thin clients, employees can't do much more than work with the programs they have access to on the server, because usually there are no drives and the main operating system resides elsewhere. On the other hand, any employee can access his or her files from any machine in the office simply by logging on to the server.

Keeping files secure and backing up data is much simpler when everything resides on one machine. Plus, the life expectancy for a thin client far exceeds what you would expect from a normal PC. There are fewer parts to break or wear down, and all the real computing power comes from the server, so there's no need to have the latest and greatest processor in every client. Also, thin clients are faster to install than their desktop counterparts, and they cost less to deploy.

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This article was originally published in the July 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Lean and Mean.

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