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Latest mobile thin client combats tablets and smartphones

The latest mobile thin clients offer enterprises an alternative to tablets with improved data security for virtual desktops.

The rise of cloud computing has fostered mobility and the BYOD trend, but it has also led to data security issues. The latest mobile thin clients allow users to safely work off the cloud.

"Cloud strategies are very attractive for companies to consume software, and [mobile thin clients] will become more and more common as [companies] move to the cloud," said Eric Klein, senior mobility analyst with VDC Research Group Inc., a mobile analyst firm based in Natick, Mass.

The real advantage is businesses control the apps and [the device is] managed in-house.

Eric Klein, senior mobility analyst, VDC Research Group

Hewlett-Packard (HP)'s latest mobile thin client, the HP mt41, offers a secure way to access corporate virtual desktops remotely, with good performance, according to the company. HP released the t820 Flexible Series Thin Client back in August.

With a mobile thin client, IT can remotely shut down a machine and roll out a new one as needed. All of the information resides on a server in the data center, providing a higher level of security than devices that store data locally, according to HP.

"The real advantage is businesses control the apps and [the device is] managed in-house," Klein said.

The HP mt41 features a 14-inch diagonal LED-backlit high-definition display, Windows Embedded Standard (WES) 7E operating system, WWAN 3G/4G LTE capabilities, USB port, a dual-core AMD processor and TPM chipset. It'll also include HP Device Manager software for manageability and HP Velocity to improved network performance.

It will be available worldwide in November and cost from $649 U.S. to $900 U.S.

Mobile thin clients are available from other vendors as well. Dell Wyse sells the X class mobile thin clients and some of the specs on its devices are similar to what HP offers, such as a 14-inch high-definition screen, a dual-core CPU and Windows Embedded Standard 7, said Dan O'Farrell, senior director of product marketing for Dell in Round Rock, Texas.

Dell said an updated version of its X class is in future plans.

Mobile thin clients vs. mobile devices

Mobile thin clients play a small role in the mobile market. Worldwide thin client and terminal client device shipments decreased 8.4% in the first quarter of 2013 compared to the same quarter a year ago. But the market is expected to recover over the remainder of the year, according to IDC. It expects that 5.6 million units forecast to be shipped in 2013, a 7% year-over-year growth. By 2017, these devices are expected to reach 9.2 million units shipped worldwide.

They may be valuable to segments that rely on security for sensitive data that's used on a regular basis, such as health care and finance.

Klein believes that the mobile thin client has a chance to grow, especially with the drawbacks of using consumer tablets in the enterprise, the PC market declining and the adoption of cloud computing growing.

"Just because you can do certain things with a tablet, it doesn't mean it's the best way to do it," Klein said. "Large corporations might be resistant to go with tablets, but they might be open to go in the direction of mobile thin clients."

For example, there aren't many business apps that are designed to run on tablets, Klein said. But business apps can run on WES 7E and that's a huge advantage for mobile thin clients.

In terms of security, the difference between a tablet and mobile thin client is there's no data to protect on the thin client, said Jack Gold, principal analyst for J. Gold Associates, a technology industry analyst firm in Northborough, Mass. All the protection that's needed is securing the device and VPN.

IT can deliver virtual desktops to tablets, too, but a mobile thin client can support corporate apps and has the processing power to run them with good performance, O'Farrell said. Mobile thin clients imitate an office desktop environment when the user is remote and it gives them the ability to consistently run multiple high-end apps, like multimedia and unified communications.

Since tablets allow people to store personal information on the device, security breaches are always possible.

"If people want to [breach them], there's always ways to work around security on [tablets]," Klein said. "But on a thin client, there's nothing to get, just a login. To access data you need password."

The downsides of mobile thin clients

While not having data on the client device means better data security, there are some tradeoffs to consider.

"The downside is that there's nothing running locally," Gold said. "What you're doing is your trading off processing on a device for network performance. The user is now dependent on network and server performance. If it gets overloaded, than the user experience can be terrible."

Enterprises are also paying slightly more for a mobile thin client compared to what they can get from a full PC, Gold added.

"But in highly managed environments, it's efficient," Gold said.

In addition, end users may not like the lack of control with a thin client.

"You don't have control over the apps that are being provisioned to you," Klein said. "Security and manageability is the key here. It's tough. [But] it's about what you want to do as a business."

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