back to article Nothing to lose but your desktop PCs

Interest in desktop virtualisation is driven by frustration with desktop PCs and laptops. Maintenance, security, regulatory compliance – all are managed more easily with desktops that live on the server or in the data centre. Users still need physical devices but if you use either a thin client or a virtual machine synchronised …


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  1. greatbiglizard


    not this old sh1t again, shirley? I have read this article 100 times in the last 10 years. Wake me when you've got some news eh?

  2. Is it me?


    The entry cost into VDI can be a turn off, as it's more than just a few servers and thin clients, especially if you want to project externally.

    You really need to look at the VDI farm architecture carefully to right size, and ensure the performance.

    Oh, and there are always going to be applications you can't sanely virtualize, or would seriously impact other users when run, so you need to have a robust architecture that supports the exceptions. Beware of heavily CPU intensive multi-threading graphics applications, and dongles.

  3. davefb

    I think before i got my first computer

    the zx81, the owners of 'big expensive systems' have been explaining why its much better to use their servers and have thin clients than have your own computer..

    I mean, seriously, do they think we'll ever fall for it?

    1. Oninoshiko

      I have a client on VMWare View

      Initially a license key dongle for one of their packages was an issue, but in the latest release VMWare corrected the problem for us. These thing are getting better.

      You should certainly start with a VARY small, committed group to migrate and slowly expand the system, fixing the new problems that show up as you add people.

      And ignore the hype, your hardware savings isn't where the benefit is, It's in improved maintainability. Nothing like having a user completely MUNG their desktop, punch up "delete" in the admin client, and telling them to just log back in. Although you really have to have a locked down environment to make it work well.

      I can't speak to Citrix's Xen based solutions. I have had enough trouble with their Licensing server randomly destroying itself, and then trying to call their tech support is utter hell. I wouldn't even recommend their logo to piss on.

  4. Colin Millar
    Thumb Down

    No security at all

    When your users bypass your system completely in order to get some work done.

  5. Anton Ivanov

    Thin clients _ARE_ _NOT_ _CHEAPER_

    An average thin client with its supporting licensing train is north of 300£ sans monitor. You can have a low end business PC for that. To add insult to injury all have high latency ethernets, many have stinky graphics cards and a measly CPU. They also eat electricity way more than you expect - north of 20W (measured at wall). I have yet to see one that has suspend-to-RAM or other form of instant-on from a low power mode so that 20W is always-on.

    As a comparison a fully depreciated business PC costs nothing. It can be converted to a diskless boot in 20 minutes and eats around 40-60W as a thin client once you have enabled power management (measured at wall). Most of them have better latency on the network, video, etc as well.

    If we assume UK electricity prices, converting depreciated business PC to a "thin" head is better economically than having a thin client for 10 years. If you keep the disks, image them with a terminal image and figure out how to suspend them to RAM when not in use the numbers are more like "never" as the average daily consumption goes to under 160Wxh which is the same as from a thin client.

    As far as suitability even a P3 at 733GHz with a good video and a decent modern Ethernet or a P3 at 1.2GHz with the original Intel video joke shipped as a part of 815e outperforms any thin client I have seen so far. Typing this on one by the way.

    1. Davidoff

      @Antin Ivanov re thin client performance

      I guess you have last seen a thin client 10 years ago because nothing you said has any resemblance to reality. Modern thin clients like the HP t5550 or t5740 use something in the region of 14W when under load(!) and less than 1W when powered off (yes, also measured at the outlet with a meter that can handle load factors other than 1 just fine). Your average A Coppermine P3 has a TDP somewhere between 25 and 38 Watts - and that is just for the processor! The chipset takes at least another 10 Watts, and then there is RAM, graphics, hard drive, fans, and a 10 year old power supply with an efficiency rating closer to 60-75% depending on Wattage and type. At the end of the day, your ancient P3 PC will easily consume around 60W or more.

      And as to performance: most midrange thin clients use a Via Eden processor which is easily as fast as a P3 at a similar clock rate but only consumes around 4W. The graphics part is usually assumed by a ViaChrome shared memory graphics which thanks to a much more advanced GPU and fast dual DDR2 memory it easily gives the antique i81x graphics with its slow SDRAM memory a run for its money. Highend clients like the HP t5730 and t5740 use fast modern AMD Sempron and intel Atom processors, paired with Radeon X1250 or intel GMA 4500M HD graphics chipsets which are way ahead even of most AGP cards available in the P3 aera. And if that's not enough there are dedicated graphics thin clients like the HP gt series which come with dual core processors and dedicated graphics cards.

      And all this while being absolutely silent, small, and using very little power.

      Re-using old PCs as thin clients can make sense in certain limited cases, but generally it's a waste of money and energy.

    2. Davidoff

      Network latency

      And regarding the networking performance: what makes you think thin clients have higher network latency than desktop PCs? That is utter nonsense. Thin clients use the same NICs that can be found in laptops and office PCs, which btw is valid for most of the other components aside from the DOM (Disk-On-Module) or CF card which is used as mass storage. And no, they don't become slower just because they are now used in a thin client.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Anton Ivanov

    No way a thin client could outperform a P3 at 733GHZ ...

    btw...what kind of cooling are you using? :)

  7. Vector
    Thumb Down

    Server resources are expensive

    The problem I've always had with VDI is that contrary to every forecast I've ever seen for the "pooling" advantages, the fact is that you still need resources for all your desktop users. But now you've moved from cheap desktop resources like memory, disk and CPU to expensive server resources which reside behind a latency wall for which you must compensate.

    I've watched millions of dollars wasted over the years to come to the same conclusion every time.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Server resources are not expensive

      Compared to the cost of supporting desktop systems.

      In my last job, with a workforce of around thirty to forty...

      1992: Unix server and dumb terminals, with just a handful of PCs, supported by two people

      2002: Unix server and PCs on every desk, supported by five people.

      What's more, your servers can be as cheap as the machines on the desktop, because they can use the *same* memory, disc, CPU, etc.

      FUD sir! Microsoft-inspired FUD.

      1. Mickey Finn
        Gates Horns

        Server resources are not expensive... But accountants are!

        In the places that I worked in during that period when PC's were becoming ubiquitous, the argument which was difficult for techies to dismiss, was that PC's were cheaper, well they might have been when in the hands of an accountant who had a modicum of ability to fiddle around with spreadsheets.

        For the average user, the dumb terminal with purpose built screens of information... Just enough for the worker to do his/her job, was a perfect system.

        When I started out as a computer operator in 1974, the amount of work/throughput that we managed to achieve with 3MB of memory and three CPU's was staggering compared to what is achieved today.

        As Thad says...

        Microsoft inspired FUD!

    2. Figgus

      Re: Server resources are expensive

      This, exactly. The faster your hardware is, the more it costs. It's cheaper to buy 10 average desktops than the same amount of resources crammed into a single server...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        It would be IF

        ... your proper multi-tasking operating system actually *used* ten times the resources.

        a) it doesn't.

        b) [I'm way out of date on the hardware front but] with machines built and sold as servers, ten times the cost of a well-specced PC buys you an excellent server.

        Anyway, the cost of supporting desktops (Thanks, Microsoft!) is *so* high that, without it, there is a heap left to spend on servers. As long as they are not MS, of course.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I only get frustrated with work PC

    when it comes to a unexpected grinding halt - two causes the useless anti-virus/malware stuff or when it is accessing a congested network that. I can't see thin clients helping either situation (and would be almost impossible to work away from company network )

  9. Efros
    Thumb Up

    I don't get frustrated with my desktop

    I fix it!

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If I still had those old floppies...

    I could give you WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 running on a Unix server with dumb terminals on the desks. That's all the majority of people need: a word processor and a spreadsheet. The server end will be rock solid anyway: very, very cheap to administer. If you want WYSIWYG and some fancy graphics, I suppose we can talk about X servers on the desktop, but they can still be diskless, so administration and wandering from this problem on that desktop to that problem on this desktop is largely eliminated.

    I'm confidently awaiting the rebirth of the dumb terminal ... under some new, trendy name like emaciated client, maybe!

  11. Robert Pogson

    What's with all the angst about thin clients ?

    I have been using small cheap thin clients for years and the performance is better than most desktop PCs: logins 5s, open big app window < 2s.

    As for cost, what's the cost of 100 hard drives versus a few big ones on a server? Power consumption? Freight, space, whatever the measure, thin clients have better price/performance ratio.

    It must be that you anguished guys are using that other OS. GNU/Linux rocks with thin clients largely because most files users need to click something are already cached in RAM which is a million times faster than hard drives.

    This VDI stuff where the OS and all the data is sloshed over the LAN to get any work done makes the network a bottleneck. If you use good old LTSP and such, the data and the application are together with no latency.

    1. Davidoff

      Thin client fear

      Well, that other OS (I assume you mean Windows) works just fine with thin clients, too. RDP's network footprint is relatively small, and with RDP 7.1 (RemoteFX) and GPU virtualization even many local workstations can be substituted by thin clients.

      I guess many people are negative about thin clients because often enough VDIs are badly implemented. Also, users probably feel a loss of power (instead being trusted with a full capable PC they now get what they consider a 'dumb' terminal). But I agree, ressources are much better implemented in the server where they can be shared than by different users than in indivual PCs where they might sit there unused most of the time.

      However, one thing I agree is that thin clients *are* overpriced, especially since most of the parts they use are cheap mass market components, and for the system builders a single Windows Embedded license costs even less than a license for desktop Windows. There is no reason why a thin client using an Atom processor, intel gfx, 1GB RAM, 2GB flash and WES2009 needs to be more expensive than a Nettop PC using the same components except that it comes with 2GB RAM, a 200+GB hard drive and a full Windows 7 license.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    As an everyday Citrix user..

    Its kinda fine for the IT / HR web policy guys & girls, their web connection / server speed is so damn slow there is no chance for any kind of joy during your day, only office systems & Outlook et al have any real chance of feeling like a real desktop experience & even then, only a very shit one. I thought they had finally decided to do the right thing when we had fiber run into the building but I was mistaken, there it sits lying unconnected. Eng. got the wrong order, 2MB ADSL it is...... the joys.

    Mines the one with the guest wi-fi access key in my pocket.


  13. Anonymous Coward

    Nothing to see here . . .

    Just the same old thin client hype coming around again. It'll be back again, unchanged, in another 5 years or so, for those who can't be bothered watching this episode.

    The cost of the thin desktop hardware, the licensing costs, the server costs, the performance limitations - none of those gottchas have been resolved yet.

    Ask Larry about the NetPC. He'll remember how this one pans out, even if the reg can't.

  14. Magnus_Pym

    One size fits all?

    A lot of the criticism here is based on the 'it isn't better in some cases so it isn't better at all' type reasoning. The days of having a uniform user base are over, if they ever existed at all. The best option is surely a mix of all these technologies. Heavy graphics users need a specific kind of work station but the typist/secretarial have different needs. Why look for a single answer to all these needs. It's like the transport dept saying 'The reps can't have BMW's because the lorry drivers need to able to carry 20 Tonnes at a drop'.

    1. Britt Johnston

      Only accounting that makes it expensive

      The PC billing in our company is around £3000 p/a including support and compatiblity checks. The hardware and the support are a small part, the majority being licence fees and outsourced infrastructure (network&phone, printer,server,....). If we virtualised, we'd get questions about why users have to pay so much when they install a company environment on their own computers. We already pay a BMW price for a Ford solution.

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