Legend has it that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid once hid out in a cabin on Highway 789 in Baggs, Wyoming, a claim to fame that one of the town's 349 residents has proudly noted on the town's Web site. With the state capital of Cheyenne located "152 miles as the crow flies," this distant outpost was no doubt an ideal place for the famous bandits to hunker down and avoid trouble.

But the very thing that attracted Cassidy and the Kid has Michael Pate throwing up his hands. The IT director of Houston-based Complete Energy Services has to support a two-person office in Baggs. "It's a minimum two-hour drive from anywhere," he says. "If a PC breaks out there, we're in trouble."

Providing field support for some 20 different locations around the country is Pate's single most compelling reason for corralling thin clients into the IT architecture of this $290 million firm, which provides a range of oil well site services. The ratio of fully-loaded "fat" desktop PCs to thin-client Windows terminals is about 90/10 at Complete Energy Services now, but that's about to change. Pate plans to expand that skinny piece from 10% to at least 60% of his network of 250-300 PC users later this year.

That kind of robust growth in thin-client computing -- also called server-based or network-centric computing because the bulk of the data and application logic resides on the server -- is surging across the midmarket today.

"All of our new applications are being built on a server-based architecture," says Michael Sylvester, IT chief for the $600 million Department of Public Social Services in Riverside County, Calif. "I think the pendulum is swinging back from distributed to centralized computing."

Gartner Inc. estimates that 70% of today's business desktops are the so-called thick client PCs, while the remaining 30% fall into either the thin-client or "hybrid" category. There are as many ways to count the thin-client market as there are analyst firms doing the counting, but they all agree on this: It's growing faster now than ever before.

This was first published in May 2005

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