Through Thick and Thin

By Reid A. Paul • Editor in Chief | January 01, 2006

Thin-client solutions have always had difficulty making headway in the restaurant and hotel space. Nervous about depending solely on ASPs (application service providers) or a persistent Internet connection for mission critical applications, hospitality companies have instead relied on robust fat clients at the front desk and the back office. Still, while the fundamental issues may not have changed, many hotels and restaurants are finding useful and innovative applications for thin clients.

The primary arguments for thin-client terminals are the ability to reduce hardware costs, reduce the amount of software on local computers that need updates, and minimize the service and maintenance at the local level. Still, thin-clients have always been dogged by concern for uptime. If the server goes down for any reason, thin-clients do not have an offline version native on the terminal. While many hotels and restaurants are moving toward more browser-based solutions, few operators seem willing to make the final leap toward a pure thin-client.

Single application terminals
According to a number of different sources, companies interested in implementing thin-client solutions tend to have one of four different concerns:
Lower cost devices. This need comes primarily from organizations seeking to upgrade terminals and purchase a sub $500 device.

Lower management costs. Corporate customers are deploying devices more broadly throughout their organizations to users whom would be best served with a lower device cost such as receptionists and order entry workers.

New application requirements. This may include self-service kiosks or in-room systems at hotels. New user requirements. Users no longer need the complete power and flexibility of a PC.

Nearly all thin-client roll outs involve Web browsing, Java-based applications or terminal emulation/line-of-business applications. In hospitality, reservations call centers have long been a ripe place for thin-client, terminal-based applications. In response to concerns, thin-client terminals are becoming more flexible and robust, though still without the most expensive elements.

Thin hospitality
More interesting and unusual, however, has been the expansion of thin-clients into hotel rooms. Last year, the Radisson Hotel in San Jose, California implemented a thin-client system for guest Internet access in some of its rooms. The TeleVideo (televideo.com) is a WinCE.net thin-client designed for Web browsing and e-mail access.

Surprisingly, the San Jose Radisson also chose the thin-client for its operational use. Without an IT department, the Radisson traditionally relied on consultants and technicians to maintain its PCs, but decided to replace the PCs with thin-client terminals. Ã.Ã.•¬Ã…"By choosing thin-client terminals on every employee desk, we lower our IT costs by 50 percent, because all our files and applications are centralized on a Microsoft Windows 2000 Server,Ã.Ã.•¬Ã¯¿½ explains GM Lori Hwang.

Also bucking the trend is Buffalo Grill restaurants, which replaced its PCs with thin-client appliances and software. Buffalo Grill has over 60,000 employees, and operates a franchise of more than 260 Ã.Ã.•¬Ã‹Å"Wild WestÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.•. themed restaurants.

Previously, Buffalo GrillÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.•.s wait staff used multiple PCs in each restaurant to process orders. According to Thierry Chirol, IT manager at Buffalo Grill, hardware failures were a major driver for moving to a Neoware (neoware.com) thin-client terminal. Buffalo Grill was able to keep its current POS even when switching to the thin-client hardware.

Ã.Ã.•¬Ã…"This gives us a more reliable, more manageable system,Ã.Ã.•¬Ã¯¿½ explains Chirol. Ã.Ã.•¬Ã…"We havenÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.•.t had a single significant failure, which is a huge help during rush hours, when we canÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.•.t afford to lose even one minute of precious time.Ã.Ã.•¬Ã¯¿½ Buffalo Grill liked that the thin-client terminal can be Ã.Ã.•¬Ã…"locked down,Ã.Ã.•¬Ã¯¿½ preventing employees from changing settings or using unauthorized software.

In-room meetings
Perhaps the most innovative thin-client implementation comes from the Gaylord Palms in Orlando. According to CIO Richard Garth, the Gaylord Palms first implemented its iConnect system as a tool to help its meetings and conventions business. Each guestroom at the Gaylord Palms has a thin-client terminal with Internet and iConnect access.

Gaylord developed the proprietary iConnect system itself, which Garth notes, makes it easy to add and remove elements quickly and efficiently. When guests arrive in their room, they are greeted by a welcome message that can be custom designed for groups.

In addition, Gaylord has added a number of features for all guests, ranging from housekeeping and maintenance requests to a valet service where guests can specify a specific time they would like to pick up their car. Guests can access maps of the sprawling property with room to destination directions.

According to Garth, ease of maintenance was important. Gaylord is using Wyse (wyse.com) terminals and insisted on pure plug-and-play functionality for all peripherals so that maintenance staff can handle repairs and replacement. So far, he reports, Gaylord has had far fewer hardware problems than anticipated.

And, when guests leave, the iConnect system dumps the entire memory cache so the next guest starts with a clean slate and a brand new welcome.

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