Electronic Design

Flash Memory Helps Application Service Providers Succeed

The expansion of the Internet has given rise to Application Service Providers (ASPs), turning the somewhat anonymous thin-client market into a highly competitive and thriving industry. ASPs give customers access to applications, storage, and other network services. An ASP maintains or leases data centers that house a network of servers loaded with a variety of applications for rent. These networks also provide data storage and backup, desktop management, and other network administration. Customers typically access their applications and other services via a server-based computing protocol, like Citrix ICA or Microsoft RDP. The ASP model is quickly becoming a valuable commodity, particularly among mid-size enterprises that hope to directly compete with larger, better funded IT organizations.

ASPs bundle desktop hardware with application access and network services for a turnkey solution at a flat monthly rate, central to the success of the ASP model. The centralized network management capabilities of any ASP largely depend on the type of hardware deployed at customer sites. For example, if the ASP uses PCs, centralized remote operating system and application management is costly. While PC prices have fallen, they remain the most expensive desktop computing devices to maintain over time. PC software rollouts and updates must be deployed on-site by technicians who have to physically visit each affected workstation. Plus, PC security and virus problems are a potential drawback because when customers outsource their applications, they also outsource the maintenance services needed to keep the network running smoothly.

Thin clients are an alternative hardware type. Traditional thin clients rely on a server for application execution, and they rely on a server-based computing protocol for access to applications and data. Such protocols as Citrix ICA and Microsoft RDP deliver a Windows GUI and a variety of applications to the thin-client desktop. Although these protocols offer many benefits, they have some limitations. Traditional thin clients running server-based computing protocols don't yield a rich PC-like user experience when it comes to Internet content, multimedia, local processing power, scalability, and the functionality of a true desktop operating system.

Transitioning smoothly from local desktop computing or internal LAN and WAN business computing to an ASP model is significant to end users. A thin client could be a problem if they only want all of the PC's functionality and utility. Aside from productivity and functionality, network ad-ministrators want better control over network re-sources and functional control over individual desktops.

Thanks to flash-memory technology, ASPs can offer customers a new kind of thin client. It delivers applications embedded on and executed from flash memory, making them completely manageable via software. Also, embedded applications free server CPU cycles to maximize processing power for mission-critical tasks and improve overall network efficiency. This strikes a perfect balance between PC performance and thin-client efficiency and manageability.

The ideal ASP desktop hardware is a remotely manageable, solid-state device that offers full support for server-based computing protocols as well as a true desktop operating system and full-function embedded applications. This powerful, flexible thin workstation delivers the user experience that's crucial to ASP market acceptance while, at the same time, offering complete centralized management, tight network security, and high quality-of-service.

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