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One of the technology lessons learned from Sept. 11, 2001, is that traditional disaster recovery strategies — that focus only on the data center — are flawed. A recovery strategy is incomplete if it does not include a user’s desktop. After the attack, Manhattan was effectively quarantined for almost one week. Many firms were able to preserve strategic data and applications, thanks to sophisticated data center mirroring and backup, but were handicapped because employees could not access their desktop workstations. Providing a backup corporate desktop — in users’ homes or at a remote site — can be done in three ways: 1) a personal computer, 2) a laptop computer or 3) a low-cost thin-client desktop device. The PC/laptop options would generally be used in a client-server architecture (such as Outlook/Exchange); the thin client for server-based architecture (such as Citrix Metaframe). Managing corporate PCs remotely in employees’ homes or at remote sites over low bandwidth connections is extremely difficult and costly. Data backup, software upgrades, support, user tampering — the list of difficulties faced by IT departments is huge. Even family tampering with a home PC, while innocent, can have disastrous consequences. Laptops can be used in the office or at home. However the fundamental problems of PCs remain, with additional issues. Laptops offer the least data security, they are the most expensive to buy and are the most prone to theft. And if an office is evacuated quickly, the laptop may be left behind. That leaves the thin-client desktop device, possibly the best option. Thin-clients have no hard disks, so users cannot add their own applications or lose corporate data. They are more virus resistant than computers, and access to the corporate network via the Internet is secure through the use of virtual private networks or Citrix SecureICA. Desktop management, even via dial-up networking, is centralized — an IT person can access that thin-client no matter where the user is. Because remote thin-clients are bandwidth-friendly terminals and not network-hungry client-server PCs, good performance over dial-up and the Internet is achievable with even 28.8K modems. And they don’t pinch the budget. For less than $400 each, firms can provide employees with a thin-client terminal, management software and a modem for Internet access. Desktop disaster recovery is hence very affordable. The move is easy for I.T. organizations already operating in a server-based environment using Citrix or Microsoft software. Traditional client/server firms will face a transition cost, although the cost is likely more than recovered within a year. The transition project can be justified as providing a business lifeline in the event of a disaster. With such clear advantages and such low entry costs, every firm should considering thin-client technology. Dave Rand is director of corporate marketing at San Jose, Calif.’s Wyse Technology Inc.

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