Thin Clients and Cloud: the pros and cons

Before we go any further, let’s look at a quick explanation of what a thin client, sometimes known as a lean client, actually is. In basic terms, a thin client replaces a bulky PC workstation and rather than keep all the data on a local machine, it requires a server or data centre to work. Thin clients are often seen in banks and post offices and have been around for quite some time, sometimes being referred to as dumb terminals.

A thin client doesn’t generally have hard drives, fans or memory and is capable of running any OS, depending on what the business requires. They can run Windows, just like a PC, Ubuntu, VMware or Citrix.

For companies who have invested in a virtual infrastructure, thin clients are ideal as they further cut costs and improve workflows. They are also space-saving, a greener alternative to PC workstations and can cut IT support costs considerably as companies who use the cloud are generally supported by their supplier. This applies to any professional cloud computing provider and should apply also to the chosen infrastructure, whether it be Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

Companies that have already deployed to the cloud, especially when it comes to SaaS and desktop virtualization, often find that the outlay required to lease/buy and run thin clients require little in the way of investment when compared to fat clients, or PCs. Add to this that they have no moving parts, consume very little in the way of power and are very hardy and the benefits of investing in a virtualized environment become clear.

Another advantage is that they are more secure, since virtual machines are managed centrally at the data centre and security patches are applied as soon as they become necessary.

So, this all sounds great right? Let’s look at the pros and cons:

Pros

  • Thin clients save space and energy and have a longer lifespan than their ‘fat’ counterparts
  • Efficiency is improved as thin clients can be used to access remote services such as virtual hosted desktops
  • Security is improved as all clients use the same network to access servers and administrators can monitor usage where appropriate. Likewise, there is a reduced chance of malware infection as traffic is monitored at the server, which is behind a firewall
  • Thin clients are simple to maintain as all data is stored on a server (virtual or otherwise).

Cons

  • As thin clients depend on connection to a server, if the server fails then all of the clients on the network will too. Should the server fail, then unless everything is backed up all of the data will be lost; however, virtual data centres and environments tend to have back up servers in the event this should take place.
  • Performance of the client greatly depends on the power of the server. If used in an in house infrastructure, this could present a problem if the server isn’t up to the job.

As you can see, there are many benefits to investing in thin clients, especially in a time when sustainability and the environment are becoming more important to people around the world daily.

Many data centres are built with sustainability in mind these days and many companies are beginning to jump on the green bandwagon and show that they are environmentally responsible. Using thin clients along with a good virtual infrastructure can really put organisations ahead of the game in this area.

In addition to this, the cost saving benefits, especially to SMBs who have found costs sometimes as much as halved by using thin clients and virtual desktops, appear to seriously outweigh the cons.

We have only really touched on the pros here so if your business has not yet considered thin clients and virtualization, perhaps it’s time it did.