While the traditional desktop PC or laptop is still used by many businesses, the thin client is another option that's growing in popularity. Essentially, a thin client is a barebones computer that serves to remote into a server, which handles all the computational load that the local computer ("fat client") normally handles.
Thin clients have several pros, but a few cons to consider as well. Here's the information you need to know to help decide if thin clients are right for your business.
Pros of Thin Clients
Let's look at the various ways that thin clients can improve your infrastructure.
Thin clients are, unsurprisingly, physically tiny. This means that in areas where you don't have a lot of space to work with, thin clients can provide a user with access to a machine without taking up much room. In addition, since thin clients hand off the heavy lifting to a server, they don't require as much "breathing room" for the fans to cool the internals of the machine.
If your business has workspaces an industrial environment where dust and debris might hamper the function of a normal computer, a thin client could be the right choice.
In the long run, using thin clients will save you money. Because they have few internal parts, there aren't many ways that the computer could physically break. In addition, they are easy to plug in and set up, which saves you IT costs.
You'll experience longer lifespans with thin clients, too. With no moving internal parts and the operating system/software handled on the server, these take far longer to become outdated than a typical PC.
Users accidentally installing malware or otherwise compromising your systems is always a threat with dedicated PCs. Using thin clients, users only have access to the server (which they need to be connected to in order to use their computer) via a network connection, which you control. Thus, you can define strict rules for security to ensure that malware and other problems are kept out.
Since all activity is centered in one place, it's easy to keep an eye on what's happening and shut down any suspicious activity immediately.
Easier to Manage
When every employee has their own computer, your IT has to deal with the possibilities of every computer running into an issue (whether with hardware or software). Using thin clients, everyone remotely connects to a server (or multiple servers), which makes for less time spent on setup, running Windows Updates, and fixing common issues.
Again, everything being centrally located means your infrastructure runs more efficiently. In addition, when thin clients do need to be replaced, they can be easily swapped for another machine and it only takes a moment to plug in the keyboard, mouse, and monitor into the new one. All of the data is stored on the server, meaning that you don't lose anything if a thin client is destroyed in a disaster or stolen.
Since they're smaller, thin clients consumer far less power than normal PCs. They also produce less heat than a desktop or laptop, and don't need mechanical parts replaced and old components thrown away. This all leads to a more "green" operation for you, which is valued in today's business world!
Our new installation of thin client computing technology across the business is working great plus 97% energy saving #savingtheplanet
— Norish Limited (@NorishLimited) October 22, 2015
Cons of Thin Clients
Of course, it can't all be good news. Here are some drawbacks to think about when considering the implementation of thin clients.
Single Point of Failure (maybe)
While the centralization of clients brings a lot of positives, it also implies a big potential risk: the server that the thin clients connect to is a single point of failure. If the server goes down, all clients that connect to it will be affected.
This means that you must prepare for the worst. By backing up regularly (which you should be doing anyway) and holding redundant hardware that can kick in to replace a downed server, you can downplay most of the potential negatives associated with this con. With some preparation, a server crash can be mitigated and will only have a minor effect on performance.
You can avoid the risk of having a single point of failure by adding a second terminal server. With this extra layer in place, should one server fail, the other will kick in and prevent outages. And you can split the load between multiple servers to improve performance.
You Must Have Powerful Servers
Since the thin clients rely on the server to do their work, you must have high-quality servers or performance will likely be poor. Even if you already have servers, upgrading them to handle thin client loads requires specific hardware -- meaning you'll likely have to upgrade your current equipment, which is a large initial cost.
Subject to Network Issues
On a local machine, a user working in Excel or other desktop software can still work when there is a network slowdown or high usage. Users of a thin client, however, can't work without their connection to the server.
Thus, it's a consideration of how often your users work online vs. offline. If most of your employees' work is done via a Web portal, they would be affected by network lag even on a local computer. But if they have to connect to a server to work in programs that would be offline on a local machine, any network hiccups will affect their work.
They're Not Adequate for Some Users
For users who only need to occasionally check email or access Web content, thin clients won't have any problem handling their needs. But engineers, graphic designers, and others who often work with multimedia content or graphic-intensive software might be limited by a thin client. If software like AutoCAD or Photoshop is commonly used by your employees, a thin client probably won't be the right investment.
Weighing Your Options
You might feel overwhelmed if you're learning about thin clients for the first time, but don't worry! It's simply a matter of knowing your users and what kind of work they need to do that will help you decide if thin clients are right for your company. Remember, you don't need to run thin clients for everyone, just those that would benefit from them.
Thinking about thin clients but not sure how to get started? We can help. Contact us below for a completely free IT assessment and we'll help you decide if thin clients are a smart choice for your business.
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Image Credit: Carl Sack via Wikimedia Commons