Worldwide, thin client use is on the rise while PC sales are slowing down. Part of that reason is the cost of supporting and managing traditional PCs, coupled with the acceptance of mobile devices in the workspace. Another large part of the equation is the rapid rise of cloud computing. So what exactly is a thin client, and why are they replacing the traditional PC or ‘fat client?’
A thin client is basically a small form factor, solid state computer optimised for connecting to a data centre or cloud service provider, and is managed centrally by a manufacturer’s operating software. They operate in a virtual environment, so software, operating systems and data storage is shared and accessed by those that need it at any time. With all data stored in the cloud or local data centre, a thin client can be accessed by any approved staff member
With no user-accessible storage on board, thin clients are naturally cheaper to buy than most PCs. Removing the user-accessible storage from a device means that there are no moving parts, since there is no need for a fan to cool things down. Therefore they run more quietly, use less energy and break down less.
Perhaps the biggest benefit is the central management of a thin client network.
Since data is stored in the cloud rather than on each separate device, IT organisations can save a lot of time, effort and cost by consolidating data security. Instead of a licence to protect every device, data security can be moved to the cloud provider or kept at the server level if the company has their own private cloud. Storing and transporting data on a USB drive remains a security risk, but this can easily be countered by most operating software, which provides administrators with the means to lock out any USB device that is not recognised.
Software exists that allows laptops and notebooks to be converted into a thin client, giving them the same management and security capabilities. This also provides companies with the option of introducing new technology in stages, reducing the burden of purchasing a whole new suite of hardware at once. Some of the more advanced thin client vendors are now adding local capabilities to each device, responding to user needs such as unified communications and wireless mobility.
Space saving is another area where thin clients have it over traditional PCs. A thin client is generally about a quarter the size of a PC, and sits comfortably under a monitor or desk. They also produce less heat than a fat client, making the operating environment more comfortable and producing less wear on the hardware itself since heat causes components to expand and contract.
The total cost of savings to a company can be as much as 70 percent, according to a study by Bloor Research. Power and hardware costs are the obvious areas of improvement, but companies can also save a lot of overhead on administration, since a centrally-managed environment involving thin clients simplifies the role of an IT department and makes the job of maintaining a computer network quicker and less complex. For larger companies, this can even equate to a smaller IT staff or reduced outsourcing costs.
Thin clients also provide organisations with more control over the changes employees can make to their work computer by changing its settings, removing a source of frequent headaches for an IT department.
Finally, thin clients also help to reduce a company’s environmental footprint due to the smaller power consumption. It is true that extra servers are generally required to store the consolidated data, and the subsequent cost of cooling down a server room is quite high. However, adding up factors like individual unit power consumption, reduced heat output and fewer replacement parts, and the green benefits easily come out on top.
Add it all up and it’s easy to see why your next PC may just be a thin client.