Governments Find Perks in Network Computers

Governments Find Perks in Network Computers

By John Makulowich
Senior Writer

State governments and federal agencies don't need to look very far to discover the varied uses and multiple benefits of network computers.

Among the success stories are the city of Marietta, Ga., which replaced PCs with IBM Network Stations to support its building inspectors. They need access to daily route assignments.

In the process, the city reduced its annual information technology maintenance costs while increasing ease of use.

The U.S. Navy's new obstetrics and gynecology clinic near the Naval Medical Center in San Diego uses Network Stations for untethered communication with servers for word processing, conducting Internet research or transmitting e-mail.

Doctors and staff access patient records running on different platforms and legacy equipment, and they check labs and order prescriptions using applications stored on Unix servers.

And take the case of Dominick Maio, chief information officer with the California Housing Finance Agency in Sacramento. He is a satisfied customer of Network Computing Devices Inc., Mountain View, Calif.

As an original equipment manufacturer, Network Computing Devices makes machines for both IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y., and Redmond, Wash.-based software giant Microsoft Corp.

Maio's problem arose four years ago with the need to migrate off a minicomputer to a different platform.

Since all his systems were based on Unix, Maio did not see a good fit for PCs.

"What we needed was a terminal emulator, not all the baggage of a PC," said Maio.

"We did ask ourselves if we needed to go that route since we wanted a [graphical user] interface for the organization. We started by looking at X-windows."

What Maio finally chose was Network Computing Devices, which has served as his staff's desktop for the last four years. Then, two years ago, a decision was made to go to the Windows environment.

For that he chose WinFrame, a product of Citrix Systems Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

WinFrame is an application server that basically transforms any client into a thin client and allows complete server-based processing.

Why was he so successful at introducing thin clients into the organization?

"The users never had the PC to give up in the first place. Therein lies the secret to our success. We are delivering what the users want at a speed they want," Maio said.

"We even got around the issue of CD-ROM drives by adding a CD server to network," he said.

Maio said he's perplexed at how what he calls the "mainstream paradigm" got started, that is, the need for a fully loaded PC on every desktop.

But it is clear to him that thin clients, by any name, cannot equally handle all loads.

On the one side, thin clients are excellent for purely textual operations and point-of-purchase uses, like entering orders, monitoring manufacturing shop flow, viewing billing applications on a server, airline reservations or processing transaction in banks. They are even good for use by law enforcement for accessing databases to check expired licenses or traffic violations.

On the other hand, low-end thin clients with no random access memory or microprocessor on board slow perceptibly when the task involves complex data analysis or graphics work, such as presentations with Microsoft's PowerPoint.

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