Thin Clients Still Get No Respect. Pity.

I found an article on the web about technologies that will not fly. One of the technologies listed was thin clients:
“7. Thin Clients. The three-wheeled cars of computing. Thin clients consume far less power than standard computers: some, like N Computing, have released desktop units that only consume 1 watt of power. The performance has also improved to the point where few corporate employees would notice the difference between a thin client and a desktop.

Utilities have begun to offer rebates to companies that swap out desktops for thin clients. And some companies have reported an uptick in thin client sales with the spike in power prices.

Unfortunately, most employees are about as enthusiastic about thin clients as they are about adult diapers. Culturally, they seem to be a step down.

To top it off, the opportunity for thin clients that has arisen in the past few years with spiking energy costs is being eclipsed by smart phones and tablets. Look how many companies are making iPhone apps or tablets. IT departments will spend the next few years concentrating on this rather than a conversion to thin clients.

Thin clients have merit, but their timing is awful.”

The authour seems not to realize that thin clients come in many formats: desktops, all-in-ones, notebooks, tablets, and tiny embedded thingies including smartphones. People tend not to run much more than a web browser on a smartphone exactly the way they run a local browsers sometimes on a thin client. Chrome OS is an example of an OS designed to run a thin client. Then there are VDI technologies where some kind of OS and apps are downloaded from a server to RAM and the old-fashioned X terminal still works.

Production of thin clients is still increasing although not as fast as some of the other new technologies but thin clients certainly have a role in IT where large numbers of users with modest needs abound. Think schools, offices, libraries, banks, etc. None of these need a supercomputers on each seat. The savings in capital, energy and maintenance on hundreds of millions of PCs is much too great to ignore and many are now reaping the benefits. The only thing thin clients do not do well is full-screen video because of the networking bottleneck but apart from home gamers, home entertainment, and those generating video content very few working with PCs need that capability. Thin clients can do video quite well but the savings are shot with many fewer clients per network or server.

If you want proof that thin clients are flying, take a look at M$’s list of products. They have versions of their OS and licences for thin clients. M$ has gone way beyond “terminal services” in their line-up because the world has as well. Fortunately many appreciate the fact that FLOSS does not need a licensing fee per seat and per connection. So, if you want the minimal cost per seat for computing, go with GNU/Linux and thin clients. I have used that in schools for many years with great success. Maintenance of clients is very little and one server can handle dozens to hundreds of seats so it scales well for small and medium business including schools.

Further than cost savings thin clients boot faster and load apps faster than thick clients because most of the stuff needed is in RAM on the server at the start of the operation on the client. That saves all that thrashing that folks find so tedious on thick clients.

Wyse, who is not the biggest mover of thin clients (~30%) states, “Wyse has shipped more than 20 million units and has over 200 million people interacting with their products each day, enabling the leading private, public, hybrid and government cloud implementations worldwide.”. Clearly, thin clients have a major role to play in IT. They just work.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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2 Responses to Thin Clients Still Get No Respect. Pity.

  1. If the server/network failure is an issue, redundancy can work. You can set up servers so that within a couple of seconds service is restored. Copper networks can be very reliable too. I have worked in places where there were two cables/jacks to every site to take care of the rare failure. Typically cable systems are expected to last decades. Switches are another matter but many of them go years before failure. A trivial redundant server cluster can be made by arranging two LTSP servers to give similar service. Which ever one is least busy/not dead supplies sessions. Does load balancing of a sort as well. The slowest one gives DHCP too late… 😉

    So, in most cases, this is a red herring.

  2. oe says:

    It seems that a favorite argument against the thin clients is the single point of failure of the server or the LAN cables/switches/hardware. This is disingenuous as most modern thin clients support SSD cards which can come in 2/4/8GB sizes (or bigger). For any common Linux distro this can provide plenty of local drive for a local kernel/apps/user space. The thin client can default to seeking a server and booting over the LAN, much like LTSP. Should the sever not be available a local SSD can provide plenty of space to continue with transaction work while the LAN is down. Upon next boot and connection with the server the local SSD can get synced back to the server. This would be a bash programming exercise. Windows thick clients with all the apps being network licensed is actually more susceptible to LAN breakage, despite being thick clients.

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