One of the terms we often have to explain is a Thin Client (and its opposite, a Thick or Fat Client). Originally coined in 1993 by Tim Negris of Oracle, is has entered IT vernacular as a useful descriptor of end-point devices (or in some cases software) that deliver a User interface whilst the bulk of computing work is done by another computer. They are commonly used in client-server or virtual desktop environments (hence they are also sometimes named Cloud PCs).
Why use them? Due to their simpler set-up (no disk, cut-down OS, minimal compute required) they can be both more robust and lower cost. Thin clients can be a major part of the cost savings in desktop virtualisation because they cost less to buy and run, last longer and get stolen less than laptops or desktops.
When are they used? If a User is generally connected to the enterprise network, has a virtual desktop or uses applications that are or can be run centralised, then that user is probably a good candidate for a thin client. But one size doesn’t fit all, , so typical installations are a blend of thin clients and standard PCs.
Considerations in getting Thin Client deployments right:
1. Fit to applications – some specialist apps can require Fat Clients such as the Adobe Creative Suite
2. Fit to user locations – many corporate apps won’t work anyway if not connected, but users with a genuine offline need will need local PC power
3. Consider integration needs – what physical devices near the user do you need to connect to or replace – e.g. VOIP telephony
4. The remoting protocols able to work with the device i.e. RDP, HDX, PCoIP vary and affect End User experience
5. Management – although thin clients are simple, they still need a little management (e.g. what if you need to change the URL they connect to at startup?) so look at the management software that comes with the devices
6. Licencing – what is the impact of sharing or using VDI on your licencing agreements?
Thin clients have a mixed reputation and much of the bad press results from getting these points above wrong – highlighting the need to focus on these areas and prove the solution in a pilot before rolling out. .
Who supplies them? There is increasing competition in this area, however the progression of cloud computing is driving not just proliferation but fast evolution in this area. A good starting point is the list found on the Wikipedia page here.
What’s the latest in thin clients? Apart from the massive growth predicted in demand for thin Client devices, including by Gartner, the latest developments are around size, form and compatibility. Chip PC’s Plug PC and Jack PC have been impressing customers and industry alike. Also recently announced is a form of tablet thin client from HP called the Digital Sketch. There is also increased prevalence of ‘enhanced’ thin clients with the addition of various additional software, systems and protocols to improve the performance or capabilities of the client or to fast-track implementation, effectively pre-packaging the thin clients as needed for client install. An example of this is the Cisco Cius which bundles thin client functionality into a desktop phone device. The reverse trend is also occurring with less ‘enhancements’ resulting in so-called Zero and Web Thin Clients placing more emphasis on centralised management and control.
Our challenge to you: Can you suggest a better, more intuitive name for thin clients that will encapsulate not just the difference from the current PC model and take it to the future of cloud-based access? For example End Point Device, Access Point, Access, Node, ‘The device’, Cloud PC, box, Faux PC, Channeler…?