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Zero Clients— Even Thinner Than Thin Clients

The popularity of thin clients may soon diminish as districts catch wind of zero clients.

The popularity of thin clients may soon diminish as districts catch wind of zero clients, the latest computer technology that is even thinner and lower maintenance. Zero clients, small silver portals the size of a Big Mac box, differ from thin clients in that they have no internal processing at all. "It is more or less a portal between the user and the keyboard," says Mark Lamson, director of technology for the Westerly (R.I.) Public Schools (WPS ). "It records key strokes back to a virtual machine which is running securely in the data center."

Officials at WPS , which serves 3,300 students, began considering opportunities in virtualization when they updated their high school computer lab in spring 2008. Zero client stations, which rely on a centralized host computer for all information processing, stood out as an alternative that addressed the district's needs for a system requiring little maintenance, energy or physical space. Satisfied with the results, by fall 2009, officials began implementing 40 additional zero clients into their middle school.

These stations do not require the maintenance and service associated with individual PC s. Thin clients, while also requiring less maintenance than PC s, still hold some version of a PC embedded in them. "Thin clients have an operating system inside of them," says Lamson, "and some of the headaches that go along with it."

"The biggest benefit of zero clients is their significant reduction of operating costs," says Parmeet Chaddha, executive vice president of engineering at Pano Logic, manufacturer of the zero client stations Zero Clients— Even Thinner Than Thin Clients used in the Westerly district.

These clients have proven to be effective in not only their capability, but overall savings, as well. Thirty-five zero-client stations are predicted to save the district $159,320 over a three-year period. The district funded its zero client endeavors in part with a state grant, the Rhode Island Teachers and Technology Initiative (RI TTI), which is given to teachers who participate in continuing technology training.

According to Lamson, the future looks bright for zero clients as more districts begin investing in virtualization. "I think there's a great opportunity to lower total cost of ownership for any district, big or small."