The desktop device that is part of HP’s PC blade system is about the size of a thick hardcover book and can be centrally managed -- a feature that makes it easier to secure than PCs, HP says.

Moreover, HP this month announced improvements to its Blade PC technology that the vendor claimed will give users a “true desktop experience.” Rival ClearCube Technology followed suit recently, introducing three new end-user devices that it said create a “perfect PC experience” for users of its PC blades.

Sounds great — so why aren’t more businesses buying the PC blades offered by HP, ClearCube and other vendors?

According to researcher IDC, about 100,000 PC blades were shipped worldwide last year, and it predicts that the number of units shipped will increase to 260,000 this year. That’s still infinitesimal compared with the more than 250 million PCs that the research firm expects to ship globally during 2007.

When asked about PC blades, attendees at last week’s HP Technology Forum & Expo 2007 in the USA said they liked the idea of ditching desktop PCs in favour of blades. But in some cases, they’re being held back by technical or cultural issues.

Moving to PC blades is “a very tempting idea,” said Jim Becker, IT manager at the Urban Institute in Washington, USA. Becker thinks that using blades on the desktop would reduce the costs associated with provisioning and maintaining PCs. The only potential problem he cited “is a perception issue on the part of end users,” who might be reluctant to give up their PCs.

Harold Baker, a senior developer at DirecTV, said that if his PC were replaced with a blade system, “it wouldn’t make any difference to me.” He said his biggest concern would be whether he could store files locally in case the blade system failed, but PC blades equipped with USB ports support that.

Balancing act

Dominic Costanza, a technical systems analyst at a financial services firm that he asked not be identified, says he sees the issue of moving to blades as a case of balancing the migration cost against the risk of sticking with PCs that are less secure. Security and risk management “are starting to have more weight as time goes on, and maybe the benefits [of switching to blades] will outweigh the cost,” Costanza adds.

Vendors are trying to reduce end-user resistance to PC blades by adding enhancements such as the ones announced this month by HP and ClearCube.

HP said it is upgrading its Blade PC offering with new Athlon 64 chips from AMD and incorporating proprietary compression software, called Remote Graphics, that previously was used in its workstations. The compression technology is designed to boost the graphics capabilities of the Blade PC devices to PC-like levels, HP officials said.

ClearCube said its new I9400 Series products include technology that eliminates the need to hard-wire the desktop end-user devices to PC blades installed in data centre server racks. The need for the direct connections had limited the distance such that the thin clients could be located from the blade units to no more than 200 metres, according to ClearCube.

Now the two devices can be connected via an IP network, eliminating the distance restriction, said Tom Josefy, ClearCube’s director of product management.

To make that possible, the company is equipping both the end-user device and the blade itself with PC-over-IP chips developed by Teradici. The chips use a compression algorithm to help speed the delivery of video streams and other high-bandwidth graphics, Josefy said.