What Is A Thin Client? (4 Amazing Must Know Things)

Finding out what a thin client is and what it does, is an important step people need to take to see whether thin client devices can be a good substitute for traditional desktop computers and laptops.

What is a thin client? A thin client is a small computer providing remote access virtual desktops and applications by offloading processing to remote servers. It sends keystrokes and mouse movements to the remote server, which visualizes changes, sending them back as images for the thin client to refresh on screen. All the processing involved in using applications and desktops is done by the remote server, whilst the thin client is only involved in presenting information and capturing user inputs.

In the following part of this article, a detailed look into the characteristics of thin client devices will be discussed.

1. Virtual Desktops and applications

Thin client devices don’t have the ability to create their own desktop capable of running the applications and software typical users require, like word processors, spreadsheets to customer relationship management (CRM) suites. Instead thin client devices use the desktops and applications running on powerful computers known as servers, accessing these remotely and presenting these desktops as virtual desktops and virtual applications on the display connected to the thin client.

To all intents and purposes the virtual desktops and applications appear as though they are on the thin client device but these virtual desktops and virtual applications are just remote insights into the real desktops and applications running on the servers.

2. Offloads processing

A thin client runs from the resources that are stored on a single central server. It does this by offloading the processing involved in using a desktop or application to the server, so all applications and desktops actually run on the server as virtual desktops and virtual applications and not on the thin client device.

This allows thin client devices to have lower hardware requirements as they’re processing needs are lowered substantially, so lower specification processors (CPUs), less memory and no requirement for storing any virtual application or virtual desktop data.

3. Relays users’ inputs

The thin client device captures the user’s keystrokes and mouse movements then relays these to the remote server. Where they are applied to the virtual desktops and the virtual applications, resulting in changes to these.

4. Visualises remote changes

Thin client devices display any changes to virtual desktops and virtual applications from the remote servers to the users display, giving the user the same look and feel as if they were using a traditional desktop PC or laptop.

What are the characteristics of thin clients?

Thin client devices usually operate by connecting to servers to carry out specific functions and to remotely run the display protocols that are required to access the specified hard drives in a given secure data center. The execution of this role usually delivers virtual desktops as well as virtual applications to all the end-users of the thin clients.

Thin clients usually exist as elements or parts of broader computing infrastructures, in which several clients are sharing their calculations or computations within a single server, or a server farm. In this setting, the server-side infrastructure usually relies on data centers as well as various cloud computing software including:

  • Application virtualization
  • Hosted shared desktop (HSD)
  • Desktop virtualization (VDI)

The resulting combination forms a single system in which all desktop resources are all centralized in a single or several data centers. Most people and organizations usually choose to go with centralization owing to the various benefits it presents.

Including the optimization of hardware resources, the reduction of software maintenance costs, and the improvement of security.

Thin client hardware will in most cases accommodate a keyboard, mouse, a monitor, various jacks (headsets, headphones and microphones), as well as open ports for the connection of USB devices such as printers, flash drives to webcams.

In some cases, thin clients usually support parallel ports that are meant to support some of the older devices, including time clocks, scales and receipt printers.

Are thin clients worth it?

Thin clients are definitely worth it, with several outstanding benefits. Some of the main ones include:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Graphics
  3. Architecture

1. Simplicity

Thin client computing serves a very important role in the simplification of desktop endpoints, through the reduction of the client-side software footprint. Since the setup relies on a relatively lightweight read-only OS, the client-side administration ends up being significantly reduced.

With the cloud access offered by thin clients, the need for local apps, data storage devices, and other utilities is usually eliminated. The software execution burden is usually shifted from the endpoint’s desktops to the data center. In this type of setting, it is very easy to go about data recovery and the repurposing of desktops.

2. Graphics

Most modern thin clients are well-placed to meet the current-day graphical computing needs. The presence of low energy chipsets that work hand-in-hand with the CPUs usually makes it possible for the thin clients to score very well in as far as graphical capabilities are concerned.

Most thin client users prefer using host software stacks that rely on User Datagram Protocol (UDP) in a bid to speed up the fast-changing pixel updates that are needed by the modern video content. This is the reason most thin clients are designed to support local software agents that can accept and decode User Datagram Protocol.

3. Architecture

Thin clients are designed to be used with cloud architecture, in which the critical Information Technology assets are all centralized for the better usage of the resources. The unused memory or bussing lanes in an individual user session can, for instance, be leveraged to give other active users in the sessions a better experience.

A major result of the simplicity of the thin client architecture is that it usually leads to a significantly lower cost of ownership. This is, however, preceded by some major expenses that are incurred in the purchase of robust cloud infrastructure.

Some organizations are forced to work with desktop as service subscription models, which are less expensive since the cloud infrastructure can be outsourced.

When would you use a thin client?

In the current-day world, an organization can rely on thin clients in any of the following ways:

1. Remote working

Thin clients use less networking resources than traditional desktops and laptops, so offices like branch offices with poor network connections, can be ideal for thin client use.

Not only would they work effectively with minimal networking connectivity like broadband, LTE (4G/5G) but they will require less support compared to having desktop computers at remote locations.

Along with security being vastly improved, as no corporate data ever leaves the corporate data centre, so branch offices with lax security aren’t as much of a headache with thin client devices as there is nothing to steal.

2. Shared computing

In environments like hospitals to call centres to retail outlets where a single computer can be used by many different people throughout the working day, thin clients make a lot of sense.

3. Space restrictions

Where space is at a premium to put in a bulky desktop computer or a laptop, the thin client can be used as its smaller size makes it less obtrusive to workers.

4. End of Life replacement

When cost saving is the name of the game, thin clients can bring substantial cost benefits, so when a desktop replacement programme gears up for the end of life replacement of desktop computers or laptops.

Replacing these with thin client devices will bring substantial savings from procurement, support and maintenance costs. Along with a better return on the overall investment (ROI) through lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

What are the advantages of thin client?

By choosing to rely on thin clients, an organization can reap the following benefits:

  1. The reduction of costs
  2. Better security
  3. Efficient Management

1.The reduction of costs

The deployment of thin clients is more cost-effective in comparison to the deployment of regular personal computers. With so much centralization occurring on the server-side, an organization can benefit from the reduced IT support costs, as well as lower licensing costs.

2. Better security

It is easy to improve security in a thin client system since the thin clients are usually restricted by the security measures set on the server. Thin client users do not usually have the liberty to run any unauthorized software on their desktops and cannot copy or save data on any unauthorized medium. It is easier to monitor and manage systems when they are based on a centralized server.

3. Efficient manageability

It is easier for an organization to manage thin clients since all upgrades and necessary security policies can be applied from a data center. With such efficiency come the reduction of downtime and an increase in the productivity of IT staff. Organizations that do not have a thin client system are usually forced to do all the updates on the endpoint machines individually or require expensive software to do this remotely.

Final Thoughts

Thin client devices are amazing pieces of technology requiring very little processing power, memory or storage to be able to remotely provide access to desktops and applications running on remote servers. Where all the processing is done, whilst the thin client is merely responsible for representing any changes to the desktop or application and taking any user inputs from mouse movements and keystrokes.

Bal Kang

Bal Kang is a technology expert based in the UK, with experience across a number of technology areas from phones, tablets, computers to gaming.

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