WiseManager: Positioning the Managed Client

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by Serenity Systems International


Managed Client and Other Client Models

This document will discuss basic computer client models, positioning the Managed Client, as implemented with WiseManager, Network Computers, thin clients, traditional PCs or fat clients and some other models. The Managed Client incorporates charactistics and benefits of both network computing and PCs, offering significant benefits to users. This could include improved responsiveness, availability, in the areas of controlling expense, and return on investment. By necessity, this document must speak in general terms. Please judge it as a first step in a discussion and contact us to continue the discussion more specifically.

This topic can also be complex because of the terms and definitions used. For example, when the term Network Computer (NC) is used it can refer to a specific hardware configuration, how software executes, an organizational infrastructure, or we could be referring to the relationship of the workstation to the network.

In this document, hardware configurations are less important than how a product is implemented, the relationship with the network, management of users, applications, machines, software updates and day-to-day operations. This is because a Managed Client is extremely flexible. It can be implemented on a variety of hardware and supports a breadth of software. Managed Clients provide a great deal of choice for the user organizations.

A Little Historical Perspective

Briefly, The Rise of PCs aka "Fat Clients"

Before there were PCs there were host computers and networks which supported "Non-programmable Terminals" (NPTs). These terminal devices are also described as "dumb terminals" or "green screens" because there is minimal logic or function at the terminal, the local site. In this model, the keyboard is simply an input device, sending instructions to the host computer. The display is a simple output device. The information and functions are executed in the host computer.

This design works well. It provids maximum control, especially in areas of support, and the system was characterized by availability and reliability. Large computers were developed and terminals were nothing more than local access to those systems, the programs and data. Over time, controllers were developed which allowed terminals to be located in remote locations. But, essentially, computation, applications, data and information, remained with the host computer. All development centered on the host.

The PC was developed as a stand alone device, capable of functioning independently of other computers and networks. PCs are intelligent devices as opposed to NPTs because programs execute in the PC. As costs of PCs came down, closer to NPTs, many PCs running NPT (3270, 5250, etc.) emulation programs began to replace terminals. In some cases, the PC was used as a controller for combinations of PCs and NTPs.

As soon as PCs became part of the network, many support issues became more complex, increasing the cost of support. Even though these PCs were running simple emulator programs, not significantly changing the network model, their emergence brought a lack of uniformity of software and hardware. And because the nature of the PC was local, not adminstered centrally as characteristic of the host network model, support had to be delivered to the local PC user. This cause a sharp increase in the cost of support.

As more robust PC operating systems were announced, such as IBM's OS/2 in 1987, programmers found ways to attach NPTs to a PC which functioned as a host computer. Now multiple NPTs were executing applications in the PC. Applications tended to be simple, character based and command line oriented. This was required because the PC hardware platform was quite restricitve. However, these characteristics were not seen as significant drawbacks at the time because they were largely the nature of the existing PC applications.

A leader in such technology is Citrix Systems, founded by Ed Iacobucci in Fort Lauderdale, FL, 1989. The Citrix WinFrame product model has been embraced by Microsoft's Windows Based Terminals (WBTs) which is based on this technology. WBT is being jointly developed by Microsoft with Citrix.

The original reason for replicating the host network model with PCs was essentially cost. The terminals cost significantly less than PCs of the day. At the same time, some PCs tended to be under utilized and the applications were trim and responsive. So, the model was adopted for a limited set of users but has never been widely implemented. As the cost of PCs fell to the range of NPTs, this model lost a key benefit. However, some of the drawbacks of this design compromise remain.

PCs simultaneously supporting multiple users on NPTs would be considered a specialized environment because it is a departure from the intended design. And attention would need to be paid to the impact on network traffic and the responsiveness associated with executing multiple applications executed by multiple users accessing one PC system. Today's PC hardware platform is more powerful, but the applications have also become larger and use of Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) also adds to the size of the software used.

The PC continued to evolve primarily as an independent device. Networks of PCs evolved with more powerful PC devices assuming the role of servers on networks. These PCs became extremely powerful, capable of storing large amounts of data and running large programs. And PCs have become true servers for file and print services and application servers.

There may be an inherent conflict here. Today's powerful PCs were developed to execute as a standalone devices and most application software supports this model. However, most business PCs are part of a network. For the most part, this network connection is leveraged to exchange information, file and print services, but tends to fall short in areas of network or systems management, including application and user management.

Network Operating Software (NOS) has been developed for these PC servers and include more and more features for managing networks, users, and applications. This tends to demonstrate the size and complexity of the problem. Entire companies evolved which develop and market solutions to network management problems.

The costs associated with today's PCs has decreased while the rate of change associated with technology has increased. The point has been reached where it is attractive to supply all users with rather powerful workstations, regardless of user needs. In the network environment, these PCs have earned the uncomplimentary title: fat clients.

In other words, most computer users don't need the all the hardware and software provided to them as a business tool. But there is little choice for users associated with network PC model. The workstation hardware and software must conform to a standard to facilitate support functions. However, the nature of a standard is based on common denominators or compromises which tend to work against the needs of any single user or group of users.

Users find themselves pressured to upgrade to the latest release of software and a new PC to support the new software, even though their job, the tasks they perform, has not undergone a similar rate of change. This is referred to as "technology churn", placing users on something that has become a "technology treadmill".

The Rise of Network Computing aka "Thin Clients"

In 1995, IBM Chairman Lou Gerstner addressed a securities meeting and told the analysts that IBM would be focusing on an emerging computing model, Network Computing. Network Computing proposes that the primary tasks performed by many computer users do not require the power of a PC. It also recognizes that PCs are not very "network friendly".

In fact, the difficulty and expense associated with running and managing PCs and the associated users and applications provided the impetus for the Network Computing model. More and more analysts and organizations brought forward information indicating that the major expenses associated with business computing involved supporting users. The term Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) was born. TCO focused on all the tasks and activities associated with business computing and the associated expense.

It is in these activities that true differences between PCs and NCs can be seen, not simply the hardware or even the software, though both can play and important role. The NC computing model has found champions in industry leaders including IBM, Sun, and Oracle.

Network Computing tends to reestablish the earlier model of NPTs and host computers. However, it has been significantly modernized to leverage current hardware and software technologies. The essence of network computing is a "thin client", a computer which tends to have a smaller hardware configuration than required by fat clients, traditional PCs, suitable for the more limited role, the work to be done by the user.

These thin clients require a network connection. Typically the Network Computer (NC) does not store information locally, so many NCs do not have hard disks, no permanent storage. Some portion of the operating system is downloaded from the server. Some portion of the application and data may also be loaded and executed in the client. Or, like the NPTs of earlier times, the client can simply send instructions to the server.

This model provides great potential savings to an organization because of the ability to manage software and users. However, the impact of the model on the network traffic is seen as an issue which could limit its use. Generally, NCs are seen as more of a solution for users who have very restricted uses for a computer with a focus on "transaction" users. Users who execute transactions with databases, such as bank tellers and reservations agents.

NCs, as a rule, do not use the traditional operating systems because an NC was not a traditional PC with an Intel compatible processer. Many NCs were powered by RISC processors and ran Java as the operating platform. This means that NC users may not have access to their established applications, requiring an organization to absorb the expense of upgrading or migrating the applications to new forms.

There is great synergy between NCs and Java OS. Here Java can be the "native OS", while PCs run Java Virtual Machines (JVMs). Java is new so the existing inventory of applications for Java is small, though it is increasing. Some large organizations are looking at converting in-house applications to Java to take advantage of the NC model. It is in this environment where most NC activity is taking place. However, any system with a JVM can execute these same Java applications.

Microsoft's Window Based Terminals (WBTs) represent a marketing and technical response to NC by Microsoft. Essentially, WBTs are NPTs attached to a Microsoft Windows NT 4 Server running Windows NT Terminal Server. This allows the WBT users to execute applications running the Win32 APIs. However, support for legacy applications, including DOS, Win3.1, and Windows for Workgroups is not clear. While it is network computing, it is limited to a subset of "Windows" applications. Again, user and software management can receive significant benefits, but another set of computing environment issues are raised in addition to the software restrictions.

Microsoft licensing fees for this environment are not clear, making the cost advantages of WBT murky. And there is an issue regarding the suitability of the existing Windows NT server product to support this environment. According to a recent study by D.H. Brown and Associates, which compared NT to five "brands" of UNIX Network Operating Systems, the present Windows NT server product is seen as needing "significant improvements" in scalability, reliability, availability, serviceability, and system management. The comments refer to normal LAN support, without the added complexity of running multiple applications accessed by multiple users on the same system.

Enter the Managed Client

The Managed Client was developed specifically to address the strong points associated with PCs, access to applications, investment protection wherever possible, including applications and user training. But the Managed Client also incorporates the stong points associated with Network Computing, reliability, availability, accessibility, serviceability, ease of administration and management for users and applications. The TCO associated with the Managed Client should be the same or lower than NCs, which could be less than half the TCO associated with networked PCs.

The WiseManager - WiseClient relationship allows the server to associate selected files for use by the client. In as little as 27 seconds the client system image is ready. Then, when the client is started or a log on is executed, the server quickly loads the appropriate files for the operating system, the desktop, and the application which can be accessed by that user on to the client system. This creates an extremely responsive system for the user.

Because of the role the server plays in managing users and software, the Managed Client model provides more security and protection for intellectual property than the traditional PC model.

Software access is controlled by the server, providing the benefits of Network Computing, but program execution is performed in the manner of the traditional PC, providing the robustness associated with the traditional PC model. And many existing PC applications are supported by the Managed Client.

Because the images are stored on the server, it is extremely easy to:

  • add or delete workstations to the network, including creating the initial installation, literally in a matter of seconds
  • update files, including "rolling out" software updates;
  • managing applications
    • installing new applications, or providing updated versions to users
    • adding or deleting applications from a user's desktop, or a group of users
  • managing users
    • adding or deleting a user or group of users
    • creating new classes of users and associating them with an application or group of applications
    • establishing access levels for users or groups of users
  • providing user support and problem determination, even from remote locations
    • restoring access to applications
    • replacing a corrupt file, or even the entire desktop, in moments

WiseManager facilitates all these activities as simple drag and drop tasks from an easy to use GUI. Much like the Network Computing model, the Managed Client is characterized by the ease and simplification of network and systems management, ease of installation, day-to-day operations and administration, support and problem determination, creating a more responsive environment with higher availability than traditional PCs on a network. These are the tasks which contribute so much to the Total Cost of Ownership, allowing the Managed Client to represent a significant savings opportunity.

At the same time, the Managed Client excels as a robust application and network platform. Providing application support, execution, and performance generally associated with traditional PCs. The Managed Client can run DOS, 100% Pure Java, REXX, OS/2, and most Windows applications. And there is nothing "thin" or restrictive regarding how the Managed Client handles the applications. From a program execution standpoint, the Managed Client implementation affords all the advantages associated with traditional PCs.

The Managed Client delivers so many benefits that any size organization or any type of user can benefit.

  • Large organizations or enterprises tend to have the greatest support expenses and large numbers of casual users (see user descriptions and benefits below). The Managed Client provides significant capabilities for managing users, applications, systems, rolling out upgrades, and day-to-day administration and management activities. This can translate to significant cost saving in the area of support. Another cost benefit may also derived from the significant investments in software and hardware which may be better protected in a Managed Client implementation than migrating to NC or sustaining the fat client model. The enterprise would also be able to participate in the savings and benefits associated with the Managed Client evolution as a platform for Computer Telephony Integration (CTI), see CTI Convergence Direction document on this site.
  • Small to medium organizations can derive a significant benefit because the Managed Client allows these organizations to simplify user support in-house. Generally, small to medium sized organizations do not want to make significant investments in information technology or the infrastructure required to support the information technology. These organizations have limited resources. What resources they have tend to be focuses and properly prioritized on servicing customers. Therefore, many small to medium sized organizations do not have the technical resources required to support their computing environment. These organizations tend to have information technology services performed by an outside consultant or company. This requires on-site work which can be expensive and difficult to schedule and can interrupt and interfere with course of conducting business activities, creating a double exposure to the user organization. In an emegency, a catastrophic failure ... well, you just hope these don't happen. Small organizations can be completely idled by an emergency. Unfortunately, while many of these emergencies can be set right by simple corrective actions, the organization frequently does not have the resource available to identify and execute the corrective action. The Managed Client model permits organizations to contract for complete service and support, including the entire desktop as a service, if desired. The Managed Client permits all the management and operational activities to be executed from a remote workstation. A remote consultant or helpdesk could correct problems for users and any time from any location. This is a tremendous service and support opportunity for the small to medium sized company, which wants to use computers as a tool to do business and does not want to spend business resources to become masters of computer technology.
  • Casual Users: Casual users are workers with limited use of the desktop computer. They tend to be application literate but do not have strong PC skills. Generally, they are not technically oriented and the PC is a simple business tool for their use. A Managed Client provides these workers with a tool which is a superior vehicle for delivering applications for their use. At the same time, they receive quick response to common failures associated with PCs, like program "hangs", or corrupted data, even resolution of hardware failures or "missing applications". This increased availability can translate to increased user productivity, improving the expense to revenue opportunity. Casual users tend to require sets of applications including scheduling, calendaring, e.mail, database access, and commonly used tasks which require sharing information with other users. This enhances the role of the network and the server for these users. Generally, these users are associated with existing or legacy applications which may make the implementation and deployment of NCs less appropriate because of the extensive migration which would follow. The Managed Client, with its application support and enhanced operational support, is an excellent choice for these users. Capable of supporting legacy applications while lowering the cost associated with user support.
  • Transaction User: The transaction user tends to have limited requirements and access to applications and databases, generally retrieving or inputing information to the database. The Managed Client can fit into this environment in much the same way an NC would. But, as noted earlier, an NC would generally require migration of software and hardware. The Managed Client can provide management of software, users, and day-to-day operations in line with NCs, while providing application flexibility, supporting typical PC applications as well as access to host applications, and even 100% Pure Java applications. At the same time, the Managed Client provides similar flexibility in the hardware area. Unlike NCs, Managed Client hardware can be used in areas normally supported by traditional PCs running PC applications.
  • Power Users: The improved reliability and data protection associated with Managed Clients can be a tremendous advantage to power users. This group of users tends to suffer the vagaries of other computing models. It is the power user who tends to have hardware devices fail or suffer from corrupt .INI, CONFIG.SYS, or other essential software. While these users tend to be small in number and relatively self sufficient, power users also tend to be highly paid and have linked dependancies to other workers. In other words, when the power user is "down", other employees may be waiting for that person to be back "up". These power users will benefit greatly from the ability of the Managed Client to correct problems involving corrupted data, or to replace a hardware device without suffering loss of data.

Where The Industry is Today

To some industry observers, the business computing environment seems to be experiencing a rift. The PC, the fat client running Microsoft Windows as the general business desktop computer on the one hand and on the other hand the emerging NC, the thin client, running Java applications with a Java OS. Today most business desktop computers are still PCs. NCs are seen as a possible direction among business users because of the cost benefits associated with them, the continuing evolution of Java as a platform and as a programming language, and emergence of Java applications.

The PC is considered to be so dominated by Intel and Microsoft that the very term PC, brought to market by IBM in the early '80s, is being replaced by the term Wintel (Windows+Intel) computer. The dominant advocates of NC model are IBM, Sun, and Oracle. But these thin client advocates continue to support fat client business units, such as Unix. IBM retains a presence in other computing envrionments; AS/400, AIX, and MVS. And, from the other extreme, there is Microsoft's entrance into Network Computers, or the thin clients, with Windows Based Terminals.

The differentiators cited most often between thin and fat clients are the hardware configuration, TCO, and access to applications. With this in mind, The Managed Client was developed to participate in the benefits of these models and minimize any disadvantages.

  • Non Programmable Terminals (NPTs) connected to host computers are still a factor in the industry. Most common may be 3270 type terminals connected IBM 390 computers and 5250 type terminals connected to AS/400s. However, the cost of many PCs is so low that many users buy PCs, running them as PCs and also running terminal emulation programs to connect to the host computer. Strengths: Tend to be simple devices with high reliability and availabilty. The host is also characterized by reliability and availability. The centralized host environment allows for strong controls, support, and maintenance. Typically a low cost implementation because of the devices used and the economy of support. Weaknesses: Function and access to applications is limted to the host. Best suited for a restricted workstation, a specific line of business application such as customer service representative. Applications tend to be character based, losing the user friendliness associated with GUI applications, however using a product like IBM Host-on-Demand can address this. Not only can these devices be replaced by PCs running emulation programs, but NPTs are also considered prime targets for replacement with NCs, which would require a migration of part or all of the application to support NCs. Managed Client: The Managed Client is an excellent replacement product for NPTs. The infrastructure of the Managed Client provides all the benefits associated with Network Computing: application and user management, ease of updating applications and databases, security, reliability, and availability. However, the Managed Client may also provide these advantages without requiring the account to undergo a significant migration expense, migrating software and replacing hardware. The Managed Client ability to support legacy PC applications, including NPT emulators, not only protects the organization's investment in IT, it avoids extensive retraining of application users.
  • The traditional PC, the fat client, is generally an Intel based, or Intel compatible, processor. It has a hard disk and a resident operating system, such as DOS, Windows, OS/2, or Linux. Applications generally reside locally on the hard disk. Software, operating systems and applications, grew and became more demanding of hardware resource. However, hardware kept pace, processor speeds, memory and storage also grew. Fat clients have become extremely powerful devices. Generally, PCs are much more powerful than most business users require, though still suitable for use by power users, such as programmers, graphics artists, and other users who require the ability to function independently of the network. Strengths: The traditional PC model has the advantage of being the dominant model, providing the broadest access to applications and skills. Generally, it is not necessary to "migrate" to the dominant model. The PCs provide a powerful application platform. Weaknesses: Tends to be the most expensive model to implement, both in terms of cost of acquiring the software and the hardware, but even more so to support and maintain the environment. Because the independent nature of PCs, much support and maintenence tends to be delivered at the local workstation, which is a very expensive way to deliver support. Even as network and systems management tools roll out, they tend to add layers of expense and complexity to the model. These issues also tend to make the PC a less responsive model because users must wait for support, with the data "held captive" in the system. Managed Client: While providing many of the application and configuration benefits associated with PCs, the Managed Client implemenation provides tools and procedures which allow the support organization to install software, support users, and manage day-to-day operations across the network, even from remote workstations. This tends to support the PC application benefit while removing the serious drawback involving the difficulty involved in supporting PCs or fat clients. Microsoft and Intel have launched some initiatives to address the shortcomings of traditional PCs including Zero Administration Kit (ZAK) for Windows and Windows Based Terminals. However, both these implementations are incomplete today, awaiting functions to be added to future products. This adds to the technology churn which concerns so many organizations, requiring upgrades in hardware and software to support vendor strategies, even when no corresponding benefit is gained by the user, improving their ability to perform tasks. So far, these initiatives have added to expenses and created a dependency on vendors and future products while still falling short of the benefits provided to users by Managed Client PCs using WiseManager and WiseClient, exclusive products of Serenity Systems.
  • Network Computers (NCs) are not associated with resident software and typically do not have local hard drives. All software is loaded from the server towards the use of multi-user software executed in the server. This scaled down configuration also allowed many products to be built with small form factors and carried with it the term thin clients. Generally, these systems are considered most appropriate for transaction or task oriented workers but network computers may be sufficient for many general office applications like e.mail, calendar management, word processing, and may also use the Internet or the corporate intranet with a browser interface. Network computers tend to be less expensive configurations than traditional PCs, but that cost is not the significant cost associated with business computers. The Total Cost of Onwership, (TCO), generally identifies the equipment and software as 20% of the expense, and the cost of support for users and operations as 80% of the expense. The ability to decrease those costs is the attraction associated with network computers. NCs are easy, and therefore less expensive, to manage. Strengths: NCs can possibly lower the cost of acquisition associated with hardware and software. The real advantage of NCs, howerver, comes from being able to control and administer the environment, improving reliability and availability of systems, applications and data, improving the productivity of users while lowering support expensees. Weaknesses: NCs tend to involve new hardware and software, requiring an additional capital investment and significant operational expenses, including retraining of employees and users. NCs are not designed to support a wide array of user types or run a breadth of applications. NCs tend to be considered "niche" workstations, suitable for subsets of users. Managed Client: Emphasizes the same benefits normally associated with NCs, the management and support of day-to-day operations, software management, administration and support of users. However, the Managed Client provides more application support than NCs. Managed Clients can be configurations similar to "thin clients". At the same time Managed Clients can also be a configuration suitable to supporting a power user. This combination of hardware and application support enables Managed Clients to do an excellent job of supporting a wide range of users, further protecting the resource and investments made by the organization.
  • Windows Based Terminals (WBTs) deserve some attention here, though they are essentially a specialized implementation of the Network Computer concept. WBT does provide some server and management control over terminals, while still allowing users to execute a subset of Windows applications, generally associated with PCs. It remains to be seen how Microsoft develops, positions and promotes WBTs compared to other Microsoft client alternatives.

There is speculation in the industry that WBTs and NetPCs are more marketing response than a technical solution, intended as a Microsoft response to users who are attracted to the NC benefits. However, the long range Microsoft strategy for the desktop remains an ever increasing operating system, with larger applications, requiring more powerful hardware.

Before persuing a WBT solution, users are advised to locate several successful WBT installations to validate the efficiencies which could be transferred and implemented in their environment.

Strengths: WBT does provide some of the benefits for software management that are associated with NCs and the Managed Client and provide access to some legacy Windows applications, but not all.

Weaknesses: Generally considered to be unproven at this time because it has not been widely deployed. The design tends to raise issues and questions regarding the suitability of the components, reliability, scalability, responsiveness and overall performance under production work loads. The software and hardware are a subset of the Windows environment, suggesting that users would have an expense associated with upgrading software and acquiring new WBT software. Microsoft licensing policy unclear at this point. Managed Client: Provides wider application support than WBTs, provides more responsiveness and better performance because applications execute in Managed Client systems instead of on the same server which is performing the network operations. The local program execution should increase the client-to-server ratio, providing a hard dollar advantage to Managed Clients. Similar to the NC environment comments, the Managed Client delivers better application support and a more responsive execution model than WBTs.


The Managed Client, using WiseManager and Wise Client, provides the benefits associated with each client model. At the same time, the Managed Client avoids the associated weaknesses of these same client models.

Managed Client takes the best and leaves the rest!

WiseManager Brings IT Together!

WiseManager, an application used to implement the Managed Client environment. Wise Manager can be run from any machine which can connect to the server, even a machine dialing in to the server from a remote site.