Technalysis Research
Previous Blogs

July 1, 2014
Portable Digital Identities

June 24, 2014
The Future of UI: Contextual Intelligence

June 17, 2014
Moving to Markets of One

June 16, 2014
Insider Extra: Dell and the Battle for Business

June 10, 2014
Screen Overload to Drive Screen-less Devices

June 3, 2014
Apple Drives Vision of Seamless Multi-Device Computing

May 27, 2014
Surface Pro 3: The Future of PCs?

May 22, 2014
Insider Extra: SanDisk: The Many Faces of Flash

May 20, 2014
The Technological Divining Rod

May 13, 2014
Computing in the Cloud

May 6, 2014
Device Usage a Question of Degree

April 29, 2014
The Next Smartphone Battleground: Durability

April 22, 2014
BYOD: A Work in Progress

April 18, 2014
Insider Extra: AMD Back in the Groove

April 15, 2014
The Mobility Myth

April 9, 2014
BYOD Dilemma: Devices vs. Data

April 8, 2014
Insider Extra: Qualcomm's Evolving Story

April 1, 2014
A Wearables Forecast

March 25, 2014
Measuring Success in Wearables? It's Thousands of Thousands

March 24, 2014
Insider Extra: Intel Strategy Moves Forward

March 18, 2014
IOT: Islands of Isolated Things?

March 11, 2014
Wearables Cautionary Tale

March 4, 2014
The New Platform Battle

February 25, 2014
Watch What Happens

February 18, 2014
Talkin' 'bout Touchpads

February 11, 2014
The MultiOS Conundrum

February 4, 2014
Computing Redefined

January 28, 2014
The Apple Problem

January 21, 2014
The 2-in-1s People Might Want

January 14, 2014
The Post Tablet Era

January 7, 2014
The Innovation Asymptote

December 31, 2013
Top 5 2014 Predictions

December 17, 2013
Holiday Shoppers Gifting Themselves

December 10, 2013
Companion Apps

December 3, 2013
Aisle Check

TECHnalysis Research Blog

July 8, 2014
Virtualization Reborn

Timing is everything in the tech business and because of that, it’s not uncommon to see old ideas come back to life in new forms. Many important or innovative ideas just reach the market before the world is ready for them and end up having little or no impact initially. However, eventually some make their presence felt.

As a long-time follower of the thin client business, I’ve often felt this way about these devices. In case you aren’t familiar with them, thin clients are basic computing devices with limited or even zero local computing power and local storage, that rely on a network connection to a server or other computing host. Software is executed on this remote host and the results are sent back over the network connection and then displayed on the screen attached to the thin client.

Thin clients, which are arguably a rethinking of the mainframe and terminal concept, have been around in some form or other since the late 1990s. They have gone through numerous enhancements and revisions but have never really had the level of impact that many thought or expected they would. In many business environments, thin clients serve a critical function. However, their role is still more secondary and they’ve had essentially no impact on consumer devices—until recently.

In a classic case of “what’s old is new again,” we’re starting to see vendors leverage the thin client computing model in a variety of different devices, from wearables to smart TVs to connected cars. Of course none of them are calling their devices thin clients—because they don’t necessarily fit the “traditional mold” of a thin client and the term “thin client” has some baggage attached to it—but the principles behind the devices are the same.

At the core of the thin client experience is the concept of virtualization, where pieces of hardware are essentially modelled in software, running in a different location, in order to make it appear that the computing is happening at the thin client device. So, for example, in the case of some of the new connected car initiatives from Apple and Google, the car’s entertainment system may appear to be running software locally, when in fact, the software is running on a connected smartphone and the screen on the entertainment system is updated remotely.

Similarly, some of the applications for streaming TV from phones or tablets happens on the mobile device, and the “thin client” device connected to the TV, such as Google Chromecast or Apple TV, decodes the video signal and displays it on the TV. In the case of wearables, it’s expected that many of them will leverage the computing capability and screen of a nearby smartphone, just as thin clients require the greater computing power of a networked attached server.

In some ways, you can think of this as a new means of delivering a video signal to a display. In fact, the need for more standardization around various types of wireless video standards in these types of applications was the inspiration for my recent column on screenless devices (see “Screen Overload to Drive Screen-less Devices.”) But in the case of thin clients, it’s not actually just sending regular video—instead, the concept is called “screen-scraping.” With screen scraping, the host device renders the video, much like a video card instead a PC would do, and then sends compressed packets over to the thin client, which decodes the packets and sends the signal over to an attached display.

The benefit behind the thin client concept is that you leverage the greater computing power of the host device and create a simple, low-cost client that can work alongside it. With traditional models, that host tended to be a high-cost server located in a secure data center, but in the new thin client computing models, it’s smartphones and tablets that have become the host devices. They now have sufficient compute power to drive these new types of flexible compute models and, of course, that capability will only grow over time.

Thin clients and virtualization have always been very powerful, intriguing technologies that seemed to offer the potential to radically reshape how and where computing occurs. Now that these technologies can be deployed in more mobile forms, it seems like their time really has come.

Here's a link to the original column:

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