Lusting for the dumb terminal: lessons for the virtualization market

February 25, 2008

Lusting for the dumb terminal: lessons for the virtualization market

In the old days when mainframes roamed the world, there were things called dumb terminals that enabled users to connect to server based applications. These dumb terminals were — as their name suggests — dumb. They had almost no intelligence other than displaying code from an application. Fast forward to today. As we moved from traditional mainframe computing, the personal computer became the interface of choice for most users. Client/Server technologies provided the capability of having a graphical front end that could communicate with backend databases and logic. Now we are faced with an interesting and interesting twist of fate. It has become apparent that in many situations, computer users actually don’t need much intelligence on the front end. They need the logic and data that sits on the server (the customer service application, the call center application, the classroom application used to teach skills to students).

Ironically, we can’t go back to the good old days of the dumb terminal. Instead we have moved to the thin client, the locked down PC, and the virtual display interface. These approaches are part of the hot new area — virtualization. Now don’t get me wrong. I think that virtualization is quite important and will become an important way that customers will find ways to utilize existing resources in a much more pragmatic way. It will provide better protection for data and resources that might be compromised if too many users have free access to too much.

But I think it is important to keep in mind that this is not a new issue. The computer industry has a way of thinking that the old ways are always wrong and backwards. Yet unintended consequences are a fact of life — even in an industry that loves the future and is skeptical of the past. Now, with virtualization on the rise, we are reinventing what the industry had taken for granted in the mainframe days.

About Judith Hurwitz

Judith Hurwitz is an author, speaker and business technology consultant with decades of experience.

One Comment
  1. Why could you not take a monitor and embed in it a small motherboard that handles a network connection, the video card, keyboard and mouse and have this connect to a small virtualized server running several instances of windows XP? At work, we are in the process of setting up a Dell Vostro with a hacked bios and 4 hard drives as our disaster recovery solution. If our main site goes down, people will just remote into their repsective virtual desktop. Given that you can get a nice 19″ monitor for $170 from Dell and I have to think an older generator motherboard with processor would be less than $100, isn’t this the future of the dumb terminal? I imagine at some point Google or Amazon could rent vitual workstations to people with fast internet connections. With a flash drive of 16GB rapidly expanding in size, you can access your computer anywhere. Keep information you want to transfer on your USB drive and the rest on Google and Amazons servers. You can get powerful desktops and monitors for under $500 now. It’s only a matter of time for the dumb terminal. If you dropped the cost of a monitor/motherboard to $150, you could have many in a household and not have to worry about routine computer maintenance, upgrading, hard drive failures, etc. All handled offsite at the server farms. I’m rambling a bit here but I think I am making my point. I think the future of the desktop computer is in peril once bandwidth is essentially a free commodity. Docsis 3.0 will provide 100MB speeds so you are essentially there.

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