NEC has produced what it claims is the next generation of thin clients.
The US100 comes with advanced IP telephony and video processing thanks to the company's NetClient system-on-a-chip. It comes with VMware's Virtual Desktop pre-installed.
The idea is that users wil get a complete Windows XP environment unlike conventional thin client products which provide a restricted view. NEC claims its VirtualPC Centre (VPC) provides much better graphics and IP telephony than conventional thin clients at forty percent of the price.
NEC has worked with VMware and uses its virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to host up to twenty complete Windows XP sessions in virtual machines on its SV5800 server. The client comprises a standard screen, keyboard and mouse plugged into the US100 box, which is about the size of a video cassette. It contains NEC-developed graphics and sound decompression chips.
Conventional thin client products, such as Citrix, receive uncompressed video and sound. Video playback can also be interrupted because the network and hosting server aren't powerful enough. By offloading the server CPU with thin client accelerator chips NEC claims it can provide uninterrupted video playback.
Conventional thin client products also provide a restricted emulation of Windows and not all applications run. Provision of a full Windows XP session per thin client, through VDI, means that a user can be switched from a PC desktop to a US100-based thin client and perceive no difference at all, applications running exactly as before.
The US100 has no hard drive or fan; it runs silently and uses a fraction of the energy of a desktop PC. NEC has integrated its own management suite into VMware providing a management console for thin client administration. It has also integrated VoIP so calls between clients are of high audio quality. A Phillips SV7000 server is an option for VoIP calls outside the local thin client network.
NEC is also providing the first diskless, wireless-connected TM160 mobile thin client. But if it loses connectivity it cannot work. This product is for "corridor warriors" according to Jean-Claude Tagger, head of NEC Europe. He said the VPC product line is intended for call centres and health care amongst others.
NEC claims to have a nine-to-12-month lead on other thin clients. IBM has a VMware-based thin client system (VHCI) but it does not have the multi-media acceleration features of the NEC product, nor does it have the cost advantages, according to NEC staff. Wyse also has a thin client product integrated into VDI, again without graphics acceleration and VoIP. There are many other companies in VMware's VDI alliance development programme.
The NEC product is available now, priced from 450 euros per client.