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Thursday, October 23, 2003

Welcome to Rajesh Jain

I'm sure Rajesh needs no introduction to most readers at IEW. Rajesh is a busy man, and most of you probably already follow his informative and interesting posts over at Emergic (if you don't you should, at least if you want to keep abreast of what's going on). It's my big bet that Indian IT will really let the world know it has finally arrived when we see some 'point of view changing' software or some platform revolutionising hardware having its origin there. If I was to try watching the future to see whether it was going to work, then it would be in the direction of people like Rajesh that I'd be looking. High on the list of interesting ideas he is propagating: the 50 dollar thin client computer.

The reference hardware architecture for small -and medium--ized enterprises (SMEs) needs to ensure that even as the total cost of ownership is kept low, there is no compromise in performance. By making computers affordable, it will become possible for SMEs to provide one to every employee in the organisation. This ubiquitous presence of the computer will create the platform for the software applications to revamp existing business processes and make the enterprise as a whole more productive.

The two fundamental components for the hardware architecture are thin clients and thick servers. The thin clients are low-cost, low-configuration computers. It should be possible to create these for about USD 50 (Rs 2,250). Add to that a refurbished monitor for USD 40, and keyboard and mouse for USD 10, and one has a USD 100 desktop solution.

How will the USD 50 base unit become possible? This "virtual computer" needs to be only able to work as a "dumb terminal", though fully capable of displaying the graphics that one sees as part of existing desktops (in Windows and Linux). It needs to have a processor of about 100 Mhz, 2 MB RAM, a couple of USB ports for the keyboard and mouse, LAN support (either for 100 Mbps Ethernet or WiFi) and should be capable of driving a monitor/display unit.

Traditionally, thin clients have been used in companies for reducing cost of administration, rather than the cost of the actual solution itself (if one takes into account the software costs of solutions like Citrix). This is what is different about the approach being presented here: we want to create architectures which can bring down costs across the board - of hardware, software and management. In other words, we do want the best of all worlds!

There are many options to build such a thin client: a 486-class motherboards, existing PDA or cellphone architectures, set-top box designs or even game console units. The point is that there is a need for a solution which does the bare bones processing only, shifting the entire load on the server. The key is the cost for such a unit - only at these low price points will it be possible to achieve a 1:1 employee:computer ratio in the SMEs.

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