Many people ask me about thin clients being used as alternatives to desktop computers and laptops. They want to understand the benefits in switching to thin clients from desktop computers, as this can be a big step.
SO, why would you use a thin client? The main reasons for using thin clients is the cost and better security. The long term cost savings make thin clients cheaper than using PCs. Thin clients don't store any data making them more secure and they use centralized management, making it easier to administer and manage thin client devices..
More and more businesses are using thin client devices as they provide many of the benefits below:
Switching to using thin client technology is on the increase and in the rest of the article a deeper dive into why this is happening will be discussed.
There are a number of advantages in security when using thin clients from data security, access controls to virus immunity and encryption.
Thin clients don't have the ability to store any user related data, that is the data from the applications used. All this user data resides centrally on powerful computers known as servers. The thin client device connects to these servers remotely and the user interacts with the server, so any data remains on the server.
Without any worthwhile data worth stealing residing on the thin client device, the thin clients provide a better security posture. A thief stealing a thin client device for meaningful data will be in for a surprise, when they find out there's nothing of any value stored.
Thin client devices make great choices for remote workers, as they reduce the worry of any corporate data being stolen, as this never resides on the thin client devices.
Thin client devices are able to integrate with access control services like Microsoft's Active Directory, allowing user access to be centrally controlled and managed.
Some thin clients can also provide additional methods of authentication, to make the authentication process more robust and easier for users, through smartcards and biometrics.
Biometric authentication using fingerprint scanning has been incorporated into some of the thin client models. Users can do away with having to remember a password and enter this along with their username every time they want to use the thin client.
Smartcards like biometrics, allow the users to log in without having to remember passwords. Smartcards are particularly popular in environments where users are on the move, such as in hospitals.
With doctors and nurses moving from wards, and where users need to log in many times a day, like in the retail environments, where point of sale requires authentication on every sale made.
Thin clients provide better protection against viruses and malware compared to desktop computers and laptops. This is due to their being limited options for users to download software that could be contaminated by viruses or malware onto the thin client devices.
Any downloads the users to make whilst using a thin client, happen remotely to the servers they are connected to. So, any virus infection will infect those servers, if they do not have adequate anti-virus measures in place.
The thin client device is a closed system to normal users and only those with privileged access rights such as administrators are able to access the inner workings where configuration settings are made.
All traffic sent from and to the thin client device is encrypted by default using the specialised transport communications (Citrix ICA, Microsoft RDP, VMWare PCOIP).
If any of these communications are intercepted through the use of man in the middle (MiTM) attacks, there is nothing to glean from any captures as these will be encrypted using strong encryption standards.
Thin client devices can cost less than traditional desktop computers as well as laptops too from the initial hardware costs, the running costs to the total return on investment (ROI). The total cost of ownership (TCO) for thin clients is far less than desktop computers and laptops.
Thin clients are a lot simpler than desktop computers; they have a stripped-down operating system, lower power microprocessors (CPUs), less memory and less storage. They also tend to not have any moving parts like fans to cool the CPU as the CPU they use isn't as powerful as those in desktop computers and isn't used intensively either.
There are no hard disks with spinning parts like the traditional hard disk drives. Instead there is limited storage like flash memory storage, which is static, that is, has no moving parts.
As there's less chance of things going wrong with thin client devices, there's less people required to support them, lowering the overall support costs for organisations adopting thin clients.
All applications and user configurations are managed centrally using less people than would be the case with large desktop computer estates.
As simple thin clients are in their design and hardware, equates to less energy required to power these devices. Less powerful CPUs require less energy, likewise with no moving parts, energy consumption falls.
Very little maintenance is required with thin client devices, as components don't need to be upgraded to keep pace with the complexity and intensiveness of newer and better applications.
Any of the changes required to deal with newer applications would need to happen on the remote servers. The thin client device by only dealing with the presentation of the information sent to it, would be spared of any upgrades.
Thin client devices can out stay their welcome longer than desktop computers and laptops. I've worked in organisations where the thin client devices have been in place for ten years or more, in which time the desktop computers and laptops have been replaced.
By having a longer lifespan of usefulness, the thin client provides a lower total cost of ownership and a better return on the investment made in adopting thin client technology.
Thin clients can save in the connection costs (network costs) due to sending less data compared to desktop computers. This results in more thin client devices being able to use the same network connection without causing contention or becoming unusable.
As thin clients have less parts and all of these tend to be static, that is there are no moving parts involved in any of the components used. The reliability of thin client devices is greatly increased.
As mentioned earlier thin client devices have lower running costs in comparison to desktop computers and laptops, they also can reduce the office energy costs too.
Instead of spewing out loads of heat from powerful processors like desktop computers can do, the thin clients don't emit as much heat. This means office environments don't need additional energy to cool them down from the limited heat produced from thin client devices.
Thin client devices are ideally placed to work with the cloud, providing the cost benefits of being able to use subscription-based access to virtual desktops. Amazon Web Services (AWS) with their virtual desktop offering of Workspaces, provides a Desktop as a Service (DaaS) solution.
Thin client devices can connect to these virtual desktops and provide the functionality of a desktop computer at far less cost.
Other DaaS providers like Citrix (Managed Desktops), Microsoft Azure (Windows Virtual Desktops) and VMware (Horizon Cloud DaaS) are all compatible with thin client connectivity options.
The management and control of thin clients can be done centrally with less people, eliminating the need for local backups, as there is no data to backup at each thin client. The only backup required is on the remote servers used to present information to the thin client devices.
In work environments where space is at a premium it makes sense to use thin client devices with their small form factor instead of using a bulky desktop computer or laptop. This is especially true in hospitals, retail outlets and other environments where desk space is limited.
Branch and remote offices are ideal candidates for thin client devices where network connectivity could be limited and having a full-time support person there would be cost prohibitive.
Thin clients are a good option for home workers, allowing them to use these devices to connect to corporate systems. They also provide true segregation of personal and company workloads, as the restrictions in place on the thin client will make it difficult to use the device for personal use (subject to corporate policies).
With some thin client models available as laptops (but with thin client components), these mobile thin clients as they are known. Allow mobile workers to work on corporate systems without any data leaving the corporate data centres.
These mobile thin clients can connect using Wi-Fi with some models able to use LTE (3G/4G/5G) to provide true on the go productivity.
Many organisations are using thin clients as the benefits they provide from better security, lower costs to being ideal for environments where desktop computers are unsuited, like retail and hospitals, makes thin client popular choices.
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