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Is Centralized Computing Making a Comeback

May 1, 1997
Related Topics: Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS/HRIS), Featured Article
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Just when it seemed safe to assume that the PC-based client/server system would rule the world forever, the idea of centralized computing has suddenly shown new life. However, this time nobody's talking mainframes—they're now eyeing Java-based network computers (NCs) or NetPCs running stripped down versions of Windows on Intel chips.

Both types of devices, available for approximately $1,000, require a powerful server to transfer applications and data to the NC or NetPC as needed—files and applications don't reside on these stripped-down clients. Already, HR and information professionals are leaning toward a thin client model, in which the PCs at employees' desks remain PCs but depend on a server for at least some of their functionality. Net-centric computing, therefore, seems like a logical next step.

According to a recent report issued by Bloor Research, a British technology consulting firm, network computer devices will outnumber PCs 2-to-1 in corporate offices within five years. In fact, most large users plan to adopt a net-centric architecture over the next three years.

"The distributed model of computing has proven to be a very poor and expensive foundation for the corporate computer network," the Bloor report says. "The technology constraints that have inhibited the centralized model have largely disappeared or are disappearing." The report also predicts that the wave of Java programming now beginning to appear will be unstoppable.

Reflecting this trend, shipments of network computers and of NetPCs are expected to mushroom from 1.7 million this year to 35.4 million in the year 2000, Bloor estimates. "The idea that the centralization of computing will 'disempower' the user is complete nonsense," the report stated. "It will have the opposite effect—it will further empower the user by removing from him or her the onerous and unproductive task of having to manage a computer."

There are still many who believe the PC model is here to stay. But if Bloor and proponents of the network-computing model are right, the HRMS paradigm is likely to be tilted in yet another direction.

Workforce, June 1997, Vol. 76, No. 6, p. 30.

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