Terminal Services vs. Thin Client

Steven Smith Comments
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Management software is a fundamental consideration for any self-storage operator, and the technology is always changing. The market has seen an influx of web-based management packages, which deliver an array of advantages. But which one do you choose? When shopping for the right product, your primary consideration should be how the software will connect to the Internet: via terminal services or a thin client. This article compares the performance, benefits and licensing costs of each.

Terminal Services

Terminal services allows multiple users to log into a facility’s server under separate user sessions, meaning several people can use a facility’s management software from remote locations. Rather than installing the software on several computers, you install it on a single server. From a user perspective, it works just like it’s on his PC. Terminal services consists of three components: a remote desktop for administration, remote assistance and the actual terminal server. It allows changes to the server from two administrator connections, and one system administrator can invite another to connect to the server from any Internet portal.

Terminal services works through Windows Server 2003. To use it, you’ll need a server with 256 MB of RAM to run Windows Server, plus an additional 21 MB for each user. Keep in mind if you are running an older software application, your server may support up to 40 percent fewer users, and you’ll have to increase your server memory by an additional 50 percent. Check with your software vendor to make sure its product is supported in a terminal-services environment.

The biggest benefit to terminal services is centralized server administration. Because all users connect to the same server, installing new software and implementing regular updates is easy. On the other hand, terminal services is not a good solution for an enterprise environment, and there can be a tremendous amount of overhead for even the simplest of tasks.

The cost of terminal services includes the purchase of Microsoft Server 2003 plus two licenses for every user: a Client Access License and a Terminal Services Client Access License. The accompanying chart gives an estimation of costs based on a server with 20 user workstations. Obviously, the price will fluctuate based on how many users connect to the server. The following does not include the price of storage-management software, hardware or any additional networking costs. The published price is the suggested retail price, and the street price is what you should expect to pay.

Cost Breakdown: Terminal Services
Item Description Published Price Street Price
2003 Windows Server Operating system for server computer $999 $729
Client Access Licenses (20) Required to connect Windows Server 2003 $799 $589
Terminal Services Client Access Licenses (20) Required to connect Windows Server 2003 terminal services $2,899 $1,799
Total    $4,697 $3,11

Thin-Client Applications

A thin-client application uses an Internet browser to connect to a central server. It allows for quick implementation on user computers because all Windows operating systems include a preinstalled browser. While some packages rely solely on Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, others allow use of additional browsers, such as Netscape. This is an important option, as Explorer continues to be plagued with security vulnerabilities.

Two types of thin-client applications are used with storage management software: application service provider (ASP) and webbased data warehousing. With ASP, you store all your data in a remote server “farm” the software provider maintains. This gives you a centralized storage area that can be accessed from any Internet location. However, ASP requires a constant connection to the Internet. If the connection is unavailable on either the user’s or host’s end, the software is unable to operate.

Web-based data warehousing provides “redundancy,” which enables your business to continue even if your Internet connection is disrupted. This software works with a transmitter applet that transmits data based on user-defined intervals. After the Internet connection is re-established, changes are automatically sent to the server.

In terms of benefits, thin-client applications generally outperform those using other server-connection methods. Plus, all you need is a computer with Internet access to view your data. Finally, they carry reduced operating-system costs. On the other hand, if you fail to choose an application with redundancy of data, your software is inoperable when the Internet connection is disrupted.

Thin-client applications do not require licensing fees for multiple users. The cost simply includes $599 (street price, $799 published price) for a Red Hat Linux ES Standard operating system. Your storage-management software and hardware are, again, separate expenses.

Regardless which web-based solution you choose, research the product thoroughly before purchasing. While thin-client connections generally surpass their terminal-services counterparts, ASP requires an Internet connection to handle day-to-day business operation. Consider web-based software for your storage business and connect to the possibilities.

Steven Smith is a technical support manager for Empower Software Technologies LLC in Sun City, Calif. His goal is to ensure customer satisfaction for each call received by his support team. He has 15 years of IT-based experience in technical-support management and as a network architect and design consultant. He previously worked as a database administrator and contract specialist for Boeing Information Systems. Empower is the developer of Storage Commander self-storage management software for single- or multi-facility operations. For more information, call 909.672.6257; e-mail sales@storagecommander.com; visit www.storagecommander.com.

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