Decentralizing the Client

"Split Client" architecture places the user interface on the desktop while keeping the CPU in a centralized location. Will this really save you money in the long-term? Maybe...
Posted November 19, 2001

Jim Freund

It is belaboring the obvious to say that a desktop computer consists of a CPU and peripherals such as storage, keyboard, video display, mouse, and other add-ons.

However, in some environments -- such as factories or trading floors -- it may be advantageous to place the CPU in one location and maintain the user interface in another.

2C Computing has developed a different paradigm for client topology using what it refers to as "Split Client" architecture.

Basically, the company provides a box that sits on the desktop, not unlike a thin client. This box, or Cstation as 2C calls it, maintains connectivity with a CPU living in a remote location - such as a secure equipment room, perhaps on a rack or even a blade server. This is maintained through a PCI card and a proprietary protocol, C-Link, which together make up what the company terms "Digital Extension Technology."

The Cstation is connected using standard CAT5 wiring good for a range of 100 meters. The appliance contains two PCI slots, one used by a graphics card and the other left free for other typical PC expansion options. (AGP graphics options are not available.)

All other devices, such as keyboard, mouse, audio input and output, are connected to the base unit through USB interfaces. In essence, this divides the user interface and the computing resource; thereby the "Split Client" moniker.

The advantages of this at first seem hazy, but after examination a number of applications come to mind for this set-up. From the administration point of view, the PC now lives in a sort of a star topology. Should there be a problem with the workstation, it can be swapped out swiftly with all data still available on the host.

Another advantage to the administrator is that all the CPUs are now in one centralized location, which should make life much easier when the help desk needs to deploy someone to look into a hardware problem.

This then, is another solution for enterprises that would like to employ a thin-client solution in what would appear to be a more robust and expandable situation. The network administrator has the option of enabling either the extra PCI slot or USB port, allowing company policy to determine the amount of control over the PC environment.

The Cstation should work well with existing infrastructures. It uses existing CAT 5 cable, although there are fiber-based models which can carry the data over much longer distances. It uses an adaptor in the PCI slot in the PC-based unit. Any Intel-based operating system can be used, including Solaris, Linux, and any Windows variation.

The company touts its product as providing cost savings as well. However, a Cstation is currently priced at $895, which is not much less than a CPU. Where, then, are those savings? 2C Computing claims that, in a large environment, the cost saved in air conditioning alone should help the ROI. They also assert that PCs have a life cycle of a few years, whereas peripherals such as this should last at least five to seven years.

Over the long term, according to the company, as you move toward a future technology such as blade servers, wherein you have multiple CPUs in one box, you are then paying less per PC. More importantly perhaps, the current price is likely to decrease as OEM deals are put together with VARs and more units are sold horizontally.

Cstations are sold through value added reseller channels, system integrators and OEM partners.

This article was first published on CrossNodes, an site.

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