If there is one thing that every organization buys in bulk and keeps buying again and again, it should be Computers! The only alternative to buying computers (in a networked set-up) is to go for Thin-clients & Desktop Virtualization (DV). And the best time to decide whether to go for Computers or Thin-Clients is during the greenfield implementation (ie, a new set-up). Let us look at some Pros and Cons of buying Thin Clients over Computers, in this article.
Let’s admit two things – This debate has been going on for a couple of decades now & thin-clients are also computers but without certain functionalities. Of late, the increasing popularity of Desktop Virtualization and the speed at which computers are becoming obsolete might encourage more companies to consider buying thin-clients instead of computers especially during greenfield implementations.
Generally (but not always), thin clients come with the following configuration (in any combination) : 64 Mb to 256 Mb RAM, No HDD, 366 Mhz to 1.2 Ghz light weight processor, Input/Output ports, USB ports, Wi-Fi card, PCI Slots, LAN port(s), Smart Card reader, etc. Their power consumption is around 6.6 W to 13.2 W.
Looking at the main advantages of Thin-Clients,
- No hard-drive and hence no rotating parts generating heat.
- Light-weight processor.
- Low Capacity RAM.
- Lower cost than a full fledged computer.
- Lower power consumption for each thin-client and hence a lot of power savings for multiple thin-clients.
- Longer lifespans than computers.
- Lower maintenance costs.
- Centralized maintenance of all thin clients from the head-office / data center.
- Centralized software/patches deployment, configuration and trouble shooting.
- Better security management as security can be hardened at the server end (at the data center).
- Only key-strokes/ mouse events/ screen images are sent between server and thin-clients.
- Many thin-clients use solid state design and hence there are no fans/ moving parts.
- Thin clients have a better fault tolerance in dust-prone / non-AC conditions.
- Centralized and periodic back-up (of Servers/ NAS, where the thin-client data reside).
- Some thin clients are also available in laptop form factor for mobile computing.
- Can use higher processing power of servers, on demand.
Now looking at some disadvantages of Thin-clients:
- Thin-clients are less expensive than computers, but the price difference is not much.
- Computers are generally manufactured in bulk and hence they may come with a better discounting policy.
- Computers can be serviced by any vendor and parts maybe available in local stores, but thin clients need to be replaced only by its manufacturer.
- Additional servers needed per ‘n’ thin-clients, is an additional investment.
- If a Server fails, all the thin-clients connected to it would stop functioning.
- Even if the network fails, thin clients will not be able to access the servers.
- For using thin clients across the WAN network, the bandwidth needs to be good enough and the latency needs to be low.
- High end graphical applications and video may not be picture-perfect in low-capacity networks.
- Linux is free anyway, but Windows licensing per user work out to be almost the same for both personal computers and thin clients because additional Server CAL’s need to be purchased for thin-clients.
- The cost of Desktop Virtualization licenses would be additional.
So, now you should be having a fair idea about the advantages and disadvantages of deploying thin-clients with Desktop Virtualization (DV). Would you go for a thin-client / desktop virtualization based set up for a greenfield project?
There is a type of thin-client called zero client. Its hardware configuration is even more minimal than the thin-client and it doesn’t even have the simple operating system (un)like the thin client. It might just have a 128 Mb/ 256 Mb RAM and a few Input/Output ports. This is generally specific to the desktop virtualization vendor and it might just have the virtualization display acceleration software inbuilt into it.
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