by November 29, 2000 0 comments

Loosely organized teams and workgroups are replacing the traditional rigid
management-worker hierarchy in corporates. Decision-making is being more widely
distributed, with teams gaining greater authority to react quickly to conditions
in local markets. Helping the decentralization of corporations are advancements
in technology such as mobile computing (offered by Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs)
and lightweight notebook computers) that enable remote and mobile users to
access critical data and applications with ever greater ease. However, just as
the corporate management structure has evolved, the computing infrastructure
must adapt to accommodate the unique needs of mobile workers.

Traditional application architectures and deployment tools
for mobile computing are based on the model established by distributed
client-server computing. Such an approach gives rise to issues of cost, MIS
management (training and support outside the office), access to mission-critical
applications from the field, performance over restricted bandwidth, and
security. These demand a new approach to ensure that mobile users have the tools
they need to be as efficient and productive as their counterparts at
headquarters.

This article discusses the challenges of the traditional
approach. It also introduces a new approach of server-based computing, which
overcomes these challenges and also offers additional benefits.

Challenges of the traditional approach

The traditional approach raises the big concern of
bottom-line cost, which includes the expense associated with hardware, software,
and personnel involved with the application’s rollout and its on-going
maintenance. According to the Gartner Group, the cost of ownership for a mobile
computer is 58 percent higher than a comparable desktop, primarily due to the
greater capital investment (including replacement when the all-too-common thefts
occur) and administrative expense.

Let’s look at some costs involved. Notebook computers and
other devices must often be upgraded with larger hard disk drives or more memory
to run an organization’s latest program. If the application requires a
processor or operating system upgrade, the roll-out costs can grow to include
completely new hardware. Finally, the MIS manager will incur expenses when
traveling for hardware installation, upgrades, or loading and configuring the
application.

Another issue is of MIS management. While hardware and
software costs can most often be readily identified, those associated with
on-going MIS management–client-side maintenance, roll-out support, training–are
less clear. The management of mobile computers can be significantly higher than
desktop devices due to the costs of locating and tracking the computer and
safeguarding remote data. Technical support and training, too, can be costly for
the company and a source of frustration for the employee. In simple terms, it is
difficult to deliver adequate support over long distances and different time
zones to mobile workers.

Another issue is that of access to mission-critical
applications from the road. This arises, in part, from the portable nature of
mobile devices, which lack the substantial RAM and processing power required to
adequately handle robust applications.

Bandwidth issues give rise to concerns of performance. While
application performance is usually not a problem on the local area network
(LAN), with connections between clients and servers averaging 10 Mbps and 100
Mbps, wide area network (WAN) connections available for users between networks
average only 28.8 kbps or less. Dial-up or WAN connections are designed and
optimized to run over multi-Mbps local links and not remote links.

Mobile computing also increases the need for security.
Safeguards for mobile devices and the confidential corporate information they
hold become critical as traveling employees face the risk of hardware theft and
loss of confidential corporate data.

Server-based computing

Emerging server-based technologies, such as those offered by Citrix Systems,
Inc., challenge the assumption made by traditional client-server architectures
that client workstations must execute application business logic. They aim to
establish a more effective application deployment model for mobile users.

Server-based computing is an evolutionary, not revolutionary,
solution for mobile computing that reduces costs and improves application
management, access, performance, and security. Rather than costly replacement of
a prior architecture, server-based computing technology takes the existing
infrastructure–hardware, operating systems, software, and networks–to a
higher level of performance and efficiency.

With a server-based architecture, 100 percent of application
logic executes on the server. As a result, only the user interface executes on
the client, and all application business logic and data reside on the server.
Because only keystrokes, mouse clicks, and screen updates travel across the
network, users require a small fraction of the normal bandwidth. The end result
is that any client, fat or thin, is transformed into an ultra-thin machine and
users receive access to virtually any business-critical application across any
type of network. This capability provides true location independence and
increases the flexibility and cost-effectiveness of mobile computing.

Benefits of a server-based architecture

Server-based architecture effectively addresses the needs of enterprise-wide
application deployment. Server-based technology reduces the total cost of
ownership and streamlines management through centralized administration of
applications. Because applications reside totally on the server, IS managers
gain single-point control over deployment, maintenance, and upgrades. This is a
significant advantage over traditional architectures that require physical
distribution of software and upgrades to every client, including mobile clients.

In addition, this separation of logic from GUI allows even
very simple or thin devices to access complex applications. This is especially
important for wireless devices and PDAs that, out of necessity, lack the
substantial RAM, processing power, and communications bandwidth to handle
mission-critical or data-heavy applications. Server-based computing technology
allows mobile devices to access the latest 32-bit applications.

Server-based computing offers other important benefits, such
as improved application performance and security. Although mobile computing will
never be quite as fast as a corporate-based LAN, with the server-based scenario,
latency is reduced because fewer packets are transferred between client and
server. This enables applications to run at near-LAN speeds over phone lines and
WAN connections. The use of this type of architecture also strengthens security
because all data and applications reside on the server, which can be protected
by a firewall, and nothing is ever downloaded to the mobile device.

Conclusion

As companies grow increasingly decentralized, remote access
to the full range of computing capabilities has become imperative. Server-based
computing provides a new way to leverage current application architectures, such
as two-tier client-server, while offering a host of additional benefits.
Server-based computing not only answers the demand for fast, high-performance
access to mission-critical applications, but also speaks to the perennial
business issues of cost control and performance. It is a practical, evolutionary
approach that nonetheless is creating a quiet revolution in the way people
connect across the enterprise.

Nabeel Youakim
is MD Asia Pacific, Citrix Systems

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