How Thin Client Computers Have Improved Over the Years?

Posted on Sep 18 2012 - 6:46am by CONTRIBUTOR

Editor’s Note: Guest Author David Malmborg works with Dell. When he isn’t working enjoys hiking, spending time with his family and writing about new technology. He is currently learning more about virtual desktops and recommends visiting this link for more information. 

A thin client, in essence, is a small computer which relies on a server to perform basic tasks like data processing or storage. In many cases, thin clients can be used to reduce costs and streamline infrastructure management.

Thin clients have continued to improve over the years. Before the introduction of cloud computing, thin clients could not offer the same power and functionality of regular desktops. This made them unattractive to many companies because they couldn’t provide the services required. Now, cloud-based or web-based applications and advancements in technology make thin clients more attractive than originally thought. Business owners can take advantage of the cost savings that thin clients provide and reallocate the savings towards mission-critical applications.

Why The Change of Heart?

Many IT professionals have assessed their organization’s computing usage and have recognized that fat clients actually provide more resources than necessary. Because of this, thin clients make better financial sense in many instances.

In general, thin client computers are “more reliable, secure and energy efficient” than their fat client counterparts. “Security has always been a top selling point. The one sure way to know you’re compliant is to keep data off desktops and laptops.”

Cloud computing makes thin clients more attractive because most of the intensive computing occurs on a remote or in-house server rather than on the end-point device. Powerful computing devices are not required when most applications are hosted in the cloud. Let’s take a look at how thin clients have evolved over the years to demonstrate why IT managers and business owners are making the switch.

Evolution of Thin Clients

Multi-User Systems. Historically, thin clients originated from multi-user systems or mainframes. These mainframes were accessed by terminal computers with limited graphical interface. Over time, the computer graphics improved and the terminals evolved into a full graphic user interface similar to what most people know thin clients to have today.

In 1984, thin clients were known as X terminals. The actual term “thin client” was not actually coined until 1993 by Tim Negris of Oracle Corporation. X terminals were Unix-based and were popular until the 1990s. Later, Unix thin clients evolved into BSD and GNU/Linux.

Thin Clients as Programs. Thin client programs rely on a server to process most of the logic or data. Many businesses have migrated to this approach because data on individual clients cannot be trusted. Not only is security an issue, but compliance is another major issue. When data is hosted on a single server controlled by the company, business owners can be assured that data integrity is preserved, and the company can maintain compliance.

If the programs are hosted on fat clients, business owners must incur the cost of hiring more IT professionals to ensure every fat client is compliant and operating according to specification. The expense is tremendous compared thin client solutions. According to CIO, William Hill in Dayton, Ohio:

“If I had PCs, I’d need another nine to 11 people, and I can’t afford them,” Hill said. “When we originally rolled out the system, we figured we’d save the city $2 million to $3 million, right out of the chute.”

Cheaper Hardware. Lower Costs. As technology advances, thin clients have become much more affordable than fat clients. Thin clients require minimal RAM memory, and many thin clients do not feature a hard drive. With these types of specifications, thin clients have a lower total cost of ownership and lower power consumption. Many companies are turning to thin clients because the devices lower energy costs to keep the total cost of ownership low. Some thin clients use so little power that fans are not required.

Easy to Deploy. Thin clients are also easy to deploy. These systems can be distributed easily in the corporation with minimal investment or risk. The setup can be handled remotely in most instances since the majority of applications are hosted on servers.

Requires Less Bandwidth. Thin clients require less bandwidth than traditional computing systems. Opening large files on a thin client is easier and faster because the application remains on the server. For instance, opening a two megabit file on a traditional computing system may require some time. Thin clients can open the same file faster and require less computing power because the computations are handled by the server. This improvement is desirable to many business owners who cannot afford the robust hardware or IT professionals to support data intensive applications.

Top Thin Client Vendors

Hewlett Packard. Hewlett Packard is a leading thin client provider. Hewlett Packard and Wyse combined holds 70 percent of the world’s thin client market share. Companies who want to find out more about the improvement or evolution of thin clients can look to HP as an authority in the field.

Wyse. Wyse’s iPocketCloud technology propelled the company to a leading position. Users purchase iPocketCloud to manage virtual desktops from endpoint devices such as Apple iPad, iPhone and iTouch. The company has shipped over 10 million thin clients to date.

NComputing. This company has shipped over two million thin clients. This company has mastered the art of providing the lowest cost thin clients on the market. Their solutions require very little maintenance. The solutions also have low energy consumption and no server infrastructure is required. NComputing focuses on the government sector and education.

Pano Logic. Pano Logic produces one of the smallest thin clients available. The product is only two inches tall, 3.5 inches long and 3.5 inches wide. The device has no internal embedded operating system, CPU or internal memory. The device is also affordable, and the company is well-funded.

IGEL Technology. This company’s niche is in Linux-based thin clients. In fact, IGEL is the leader in Linux-based thin clients. The Universal Desktop allows users to select their client protocol type. Companies have the choice of Linux, Windows, Windows CE and Embedded operating systems.

Improvements Have Sparked Interest

Thin client improvements have made the technology more appealing to companies. Many companies are investing in thin client technology and reaping the benefits of the savings. Thin client technology is becoming popular again with the help of cloud computing.

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