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Neoware: Leading Thin-Client Computing

The software empowers the thin-client model

Neoware provides software, services, and thin-client appliances to enable server-based computing, a computing architecture targeted at business customers that is designed to be simpler to manage than a traditional PC-based computing model. Neoware's software and management tools power and manage a new generation of smart thin-client computing appliances.

Neoware's philosophy is that the software empowers the thin-client model, which is their primary focus as opposed to hardware thin clients. Their core competency isn't only in the ability to delivery best-of-breed thin-client software but to offer state-of-the-art software solutions to manage those thin clients. They also maintain a platform-agnostic philosophy, choosing to provide thin-client solutions for both Windows and Linux. Currently they estimate 60% of their business comes from Windows systems and 40% from Linux, with both solutions being profitable for them.

The Neoware product line includes the ThinPC client software that converts aging thick client PCs into useful thin-client PCs, extending the useful life of the hardware significantly. For those PC users who are familiar with hobbyist live CD software distributions like Knoppix, SUSE's Live-Eval, or Lindows CD the concept is the same. However, in Neoware's case they have a distinct advantage. ezRemote Manager can administer these thin-client PCs through the use of their management software. This software allows them to configure and set permissions on thin clients through an administrative interface. This is very advantageous for commercial users who can manage access points from a central interface.

Neoware's chairman and CEO Mike Kantrowitz notes that the thin-client market is growing by approximately 27% annually according to IDC. Kantrowitz believes that their greatest value is to organizations that employ large numbers of task-based workers in highly decentralized organizations with no on-site IT staff.

Examples of sectors effectively deploying thin-client infrastructure include health care, all levels of government, call centers, and point of sale. Neoware supplies thin-client solutions to all these sectors. Ardent Healthcare consolidates hospitals into a health care network. With razor-thin margins Ardent realizes the cost savings associated with thin-client computing. Ardent's IT systems reside in the data center, and data and applications are redisplayed to Neoware thin clients, which can be quickly deployed as hospitals are added to their network. This model provides hospital personnel with high-availability solutions giving them access to information in an easily managed, portable computing model. Customers also include government organizations like the Cook County Illinois Circuit courts, who have more than 2,300 users that access thin-client PCs for information lookup and other tasks. Once again, this highly available, portable computing structure helps the courts effectively handle their course load. 1-800-Flowers, a leading e-retailer and florist, requires the flexibility to expand and contract their call centers for holidays like Mother's Day. By deploying a thin-client strategy they can expand their workforce to meet those peak times with ease. Neoware has also seen success in the retail POS market, where they have a strong relationship with GERS Retail Systems (GE Retail Systems). Levin Furniture, a western Pennsylvania furniture retailer, also sees the value of thin client. They deploy their Java-based POS software on Linux servers and then redisplay to Neoware thin clients. Sales professionals in the furniture store can work with a customer in the front of the house and then pull up the same desktop in the back while checking inventory, saving time and reducing errors.

Neoware has witnessed growth through acquisition. Kantrowitz sees the market for suppliers to be limited, and by consolidating thin-client products like Boundless Technologies Capio, NCD's Thin Start, and Pericom's Teem Talk they have become a one-stop shopping solution for companies searching for thin clients in the enterprise.

Despite a number of acquisitions, Neoware is still in a position to acquire additional technologies. With an August SEC shelf filing, Neoware has the ability to issue an additional 100 million shares and with recent presentations to Roth Capital Partners, they should have the flexibility and capital to acquire complementary technologies that further their thin-client offerings should the right opportunities present themselves.

Case Study: Riverhead Building Supply
Using thin-client computing to service branch infrastructure

Since 1948, Riverhead Building Supply has been the supplier of choice for quality-conscious builders, contractors, architects, and homeowners in the Long Island and New York Metropolitan area. Jeff Bailey, network administrator for Riverhead, shares his experience implementing Neoware's thin-client devices to support their distributed branch infrastructure in this case study.

Currently Riverhead utilizes a couple hundred thin-client terminals in their locations to supply desktop computing for the entire organization. Riverhead has been a long-time IBM customer and took recommendations for a thin-client computing model driven by IBM's AS/400 and Citrix. They chose Neoware's Linux-based Eon models because of their speed and manageability, especially over a geographically diverse workforce. Despite their relatively large user base they maintain all their IT functions with a staff of two who can administer any of the thin-client terminals from a central location. In the event of a damaged terminal, users can be back up and running in five minutes. Client software can be flash upgraded through Neoware's management suite remotely, eliminating the need for on-site IT staff. Also, since the computing systems are aggregated in the data center there is only one point to administer all the client's computing needs. This saves travel time and leverages their IT experts.

All of Riverhead's back-end systems are being served by IBM AS/400 and Microsoft Terminal Server with Citrix. However, Bailey notes that they have not chosen to upgrade their Microsoft OSs yet despite being on an older system. He is being compelled to move not due to a computing need, but due to the lack of support for these legacy operating systems. He places a great deal of faith in IBM and is apt to move forward based on their recommendations. With IBM's guidance he would definitely consider moving to a Linux back end with IBM's endorsement.

What's interesting is that Riverhead shares a set of traits common to many SMBs whose focus is selling their goods and services and controlling costs. Ideally Linux, with the support of reliable vendors like IBM and others, can become a viable alternative to current Microsoft or commercial Unix models. Also, because of the advantages and flexibility of the operating system, Linux technologies like those used in the Neoware Eon can be leveraged to augment those products used on other platforms.

You may note that this isn't a pure Linux success story, but a case of integrated technologies. This situation seems to be very common in a number of enterprises worldwide. The key is to understand your computing needs and then choose a solution. Riverhead is in a good position because their desktop computing solution offers them flexibility in changing back-end systems whether they are Linux or Windows or AS/400. The key to their future success is that they have choices in moving forward. They are free to choose solutions that best meet their needs, and are keeping an open mind to those solutions available from multiple vendors.

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

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