Thin Clients Not Required For Secure Remote Workers

01 Sep 2020 | 11.09 am

Thin Clients Not Required For Secure Remote Workers

Brendan Kiely tells the ThinScale story

01 Sep 2020 | 11.09 am

Brendan Kiely was a tech novice when discussions with his brother-in-law pointed him in a new direction. Now ThinScale is the right place in the Covid time

There wasn’t much in Brendan Kiely’s early work experience that pointed him in the direction of heading up a global tech business. Granted, the former Director of Irish Alliance for Europe, and European Movement Ireland isn’t in charge of Microsoft, but the CEO of ThinScale is in the tech space and customers are worldwide.

Covid has been a godsend for ThinScale, and employers of all types and sizes scramble to establish robust remote working setups. The ThinScale venture, based in the Media Cube tech cluster on Kill Avenue in south Dublin, had been doing very nicely before the coronavirus disruption, thanks to some smart tech that had its origins with Andrew Morgan, Kiely’s brother-in-law.

Morgan is a desktop virtualisation expert who has a senior role in VMware, a global leader in this technology. Vitualisation can be complex, but at its simplest multiple Virtual Machines, also known as thin clients, can be run off and controlled by a single VM host.

Thin client devices are deployed within an organisation to support connectivity to virtual and hosted desktops or published apps, providing protection from user-initiated security risks. Users are prevent from having direct access to the endpoint operating system and the ability to install their own apps, or introduce malicious files or data using the thin client device.

Eight years ago, Morgan was frustrated by the fact that for virtualisation to work the thin clients had to be new, slimmed-down computers that replaced what had been there before. He wrote some software that could convert an existing office PC into a thin client device i.e. no need to dump the existing office machine.

Initially the solution was offered as a free download but then Morgan started receiving requests for more features, more functionality and support. Kiely heard about what was happening and over chats with Morgan the support tool morphed into a business structure.

ThinKiosk

ThinScale Technology Ltd was formally established in November 2012 and its ThinKiosk product shipped in June 2013. “Our software defined thin client provides for a uniform end-user experience across all Windows end-points in the company,” Kiely explains.

“We added features and functionality as we went along, and a cornerstone of how we’ve grown is that we stay very close to our customers, particularly the systems administrators. We’re constantly asking, how can we make it better?”

Morgan is a shareholder and director of ThinScale but the chief technology officer left his day-to-day role in 2015. David Coombes came on board in 2014 as technical director, for the same equity cut as the two founders.

The continual development of ThinKiosk has been under Coombes’ direction, who notes that while a thin client operating system stops end users from being able to do anything bad, they can also can also potentially be counterproductive when it comes to workforce productivity.

“Maybe the device becomes too locked down or restrictive, and being too cut down to the point that it doesn’t support the environments you want to use it in,” says Coombes. “A physical PC-type device is also static and tied to an end users’ desk. ThinKiosk is a software solution that creates a thin client environment that runs on any Windows capable hardware, and delivers all that a hardware thin client delivers, and more.

“Software-defined allows you to repurpose existing devices, and therefore reduce costs,” Coombes adds. “On top of that it adds an enhanced user experience that is familiar to the end users as it is based on the Windows OS, plus a centralised management platform to easily onboard users and devices ensuring they are patched and updated.”

Though Kiely’s (pictured) background wasn’t in technology, he says he owned the P&L in some of the bodies he was involved with before ThinScale. His route from school at CBC Monkstown and St Michael’s College took him to Athlone Institute of Technology, where he studied Marketing & French and was student union president.

His first job after college was repping for American Express, and he was corporate affairs manager for Philip Morris in Ireland before, in his own words, assuming the role of ‘chief bottle washer’ at ThinScale.

Funded with €100 equity, ThinScale paid its way from the start and kept overheads down. The payroll charge for four people on the books through 2015 was €191,000, a year when current assets more than tripled. Net profit was €198,000 in 2017 and €154,000 in 2018 as the headcount expanded to 16. According to Kiely, the current staff complement runs to about 30 people.

ThinScale’s next development was Secure Remote Worker. The idea here is that through a software download any remote computer – not just one on the office network – can become secure as far the host provider is concerned.

“Secure Remote Worker temporarily locks you out of your machine,” Kiely (46) explains. “In a secure environment you have access to the applications the system administrator presents to you, either via local apps, web apps or virtualised apps. You can’t use your USB or and you won’t be able to access websites unless they’re approved.

“You won’t be able to save anything to the C drive that you will be able to access outside of Secure Remote Worker. So it’s a contained, secure environment on your own machine that enables you to access a corporate environment. When you log off, it goes away, and you have your personal machine back again.”

ThinScale’s main customer base is Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) operators who typically have hundreds or thousands of workers. What they like about Secure Remote Worker is that they don’t have to supply contractors with computers, and they don’t have to worry about retrieving the machines when the contractor moves on.

“This was a huge jump for us because when you’re dealing with people’s personal machines every configuration is different,” says Kiely. “It was a big jump technically and also psychologically in terms of technical people taking it seriously that this could be done.”

PCI Compliance

For the BPO operators, two key requirements were that ThinScale’s solution had to make remote computers PCI compliant (credit card security) and HIPAA complaint (US rules relating to protected health information). The carrot for fulfilling these demands was a closer relationship with BPO giants such as French giant Teleperformance, which has c.330,000 people on the payroll.

Such alliances will be assisted by ThinScale’s recent 2020 Global Enabling Technology Leadership Award from Frost & Sullivan.

The pricing model is $15.75 (€14) per seat per month, so the potential upside for ThinScale is substantial. ThinScale Technology Ltd doesn’t disclose annual turnover but in 2018 trade debtors expanded by a third to €490,000 after growth of 130% the year before.

Kiely has forged interesting alliances on the route to expanding his company beyond ThinKiosk and into Secure Remote Worker. Remko Weijnen, who works with Amazon Web Services in the Netherlands, was appointed as a director in February 2017 and speaks for 25% of the equity, the same as Kiely, Morgan and Coombes. Brian Stack, a senior executive with Avnet, joined the board at the same time.

Weijnen’s involvement is obviously important, as Kiely says that the Dutch government is one of ThinScale’s largest clients, with c.20% of Dutch civil servants using the ThinScale technology.

According to Kiely: “Remko and Brian have a great sense of the market because they’re acting with their customers in different ways than we are. I think it’s important to have perspectives that are not necessarily sitting right in your wheelhouse. The tech space is very fast moving space, and you really have to be thinking ahead.”

Photo: ThinScale principals (l-r) David Coombes, Brendan Kiely, Brian Stack, Andrew Morgan and Remko Weijnen 

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