back to article Reg readers speak out on Thin Client technology

Managing PC estates is a time-consuming, expensive and thankless task. Better provisioning and management tools can obviously help, but implementing one or more of the various forms of desktop virtualisation available nowadays may also be beneficial. The virtualisation option, and particularly the use of hardware-based thin …

  1. James O'Shea Silver badge

    re the pic

    she's thin, but is she the client?

  2. James O'Shea Silver badge

    re actual thin clients

    Thin clients work quite nicely for some very specific types of users in some very specific environments. People who need to access a database, people who need to write reports, people who need to do (not too complex) spreadsheets, all can use thin clients. Indeed, such people are often easier support if they have thin clients, and can usually get more done more quickly.

    If, however, the user needs serious hardware support (video card, local storage, high-end CPU, etc.) they are NOT good candidates for using a thin client. And the price difference between a low-end thick client and a thin client is often negligible, particularly after the upgrades to the system environment have to be added in.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: re actual thin clients

      From the manager rather than the IT support part of my role thin clients would have made a lot of sense. No more users saving files all over the place. No problems with making sure stuff is backed up properly. No expensive boxes being massively under used. Sadly the IT part of my role told me that the bean counters would scupper the system by ensuring that the workhorse end would be as cheap as they could possibly get away with.

  3. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

    And my pet bugaboo

    Governance and compliance with license agreements. Are you allowed/supported to stuff this application in a virtual machine? What additional licenses are required in the instance? Auditing requirements? Just wading through the various agreements can give you nightmares and that's assuming that the literal interpretation is correct. Seldom have I seen two licensing specialists, even from the firm that issues the license (!), give the same advice.

    Got the hardware, twice over. Got the software and the licenses. RTF ToS, EULA, EA, ... and say "EEK!"

  4. chivo243 Silver badge
    Meh

    Still alive?

    The only thin clients I've seen are in banks, and the nice lady in the desk across from me said " the system is a bit slow, it will just take a minute." Put thumbs in gear, ready, twiddle...

    1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: Still alive?

      Government usage, at least in the US, is on the upswing. In fact, I have helped implement a VDI solution in one agency and am currently using one in another. The points about user and software requirements are pretty obvious, so it should be no surprise that there is little thought toward making this a universal solution. However, in terms of savings, it has always been the support staff that costs the most and scale the least. For a large, physically dispersed organization of mostly desktop users, it is well worth spending the money to migrate to a VDI solution. Any equipment costs should be offset by the improved productivity of the support staff.

      On the other hand, providing under-powered equipment or infrastructure ends up costing more than the cost of upgrading to fit actual needs as the people using it will waste plenty of time waiting for their systems to work... but that holds true for every piece of equipment I have ever dealt with.

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Holmes

    Wow. Editing full screen video on a thin client is difficult and slow

    Seriously.

    No one thought this would be a problem?

    In other shocking new water is wet.

    I don't think that most people should be surprised an awful lot of routine stuff can be done on a thin client and in an ideal world would be.

    Including most of senior managements.

    Getting senior management to accept that is of course another matter.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Wow. Editing full screen video on a thin client is difficult and slow

      "Getting senior management to accept that is of course another matter."

      Put it in a big box, a few LEDs (preferably trendy blue or white) with fancy logos. If manglement bod considers themselves to be techy add a noisy fan for the "working really hard" illusion.

    2. Calum Morrison

      Re: Wow. Editing full screen video on a thin client is difficult and slow

      But then senior management want laptops. Sometimes even so that they can actually work off-site.

  6. batfastad

    Hmm

    From what I've seen of VDI, I'm not sure there's much of a cost saving at all. A team of engineers wrestling with app packaging, registry keys to remove features and customisation, UCS chassis costs, virt host licensing etc. And then Wyse thin client terminals that cost nearly the same as a mid-range PC.

    The whole lot comes crashing down, quickly, if there's even a minor blip in AD, DNS, network, storage etc. More hassle than it's worth?

    1. TonyJ Silver badge

      Re: Hmm

      Agree. WinFrame which eventually morphed to XenApp was ideal at what it did. As the underlying RDP/RDS technology evolved and matured it still had a real use case.

      Still does for a lot of the things people have already mentioned.

      VDI on the other hand just seems to be a solution looking for a problem. Factor in the IO requirements, the additional hardware requirements, the specialist knowledge and the crazy licensing that sometimes goes hand-in-hand (which can be true of RDS environments, to be fair) and you have something over-complex, over-engineered, over-costly and requiring specialist knowledge and hand-holding to keep running.

      You've got all the traditional support headaches of a typical desktop estate combined with all the additional complexity and support headaches of the VDI backend infrastructure.

      And yeah, thin client device manufacturers shot themselves in the foot a decade ago when they stopped making cheap-as-chips Linux embedded / WinCE type embedded devices with low-spec CPU's and only the minimum amount of RAM, CPU etc and started to make what was effectively a full-blow PC, at similar or higher prices.

      Surprisingly, people bought PC's.

  7. jonnycando

    Railroad

    I work on one and we have thousands of thin clients sprinkled over the system. I reckon we and other railroads keep the makers in business.

  8. The Average Joe

    You need the staff and good software...

    Most IT staff are just barely able to handle supporting the Microsoft stack. Any additional complexity and they just tell the users "You will have to just deal with it because that is the way it is" and they walk away. I have seen this.

    VMware VDI with Nvidia video cards are VERY good, you need Gig networking and a peppy thin client, not the junk $99 ones. I am talking about dual screen video and CAD. It can be done and that pool is separate from the general purpose users.

    You have to give users access to multiple pools with different view servers so if one view cluster is down there are alternatives, i.e. another non persistent pool. Yes you need multiple DNS servers, if you have 1 you have no right complaining. DHCP is the same thing.

    You also need documentation on software used on site as well as how to install it. yes some vendors need a kick in the nuts, i.e. the ones that still break rules that require administrator to get the thin to run or things that fail running on terminal server. We should be past junk win95 software that fails to run on terminal server.

    Your mileage may vary if you use the substandard VDI vendors like Citrix or Microsoft. LOL

    1. andy mcandy

      Re: You need the staff and good software...

      Have an upvote from me. I'm doing exactly the same for a NHS trust and I couldn't have said it better myself. :)

    2. TonyJ Silver badge

      Re: You need the staff and good software...

      "...VMware VDI with Nvidia video cards are VERY good, you need Gig networking and a peppy thin client,...

      That. Right there. You are throwing high end equipment in to support generalised desktop users.

      "..Your mileage may vary if you use the substandard VDI vendors like Citrix or Microsoft. LOL.."

      Can't comment on the MS offerings, but Citrix can hardly be called substandard. Dropped the ball in areas perhaps, but still...

      Xendesktop can work. But. Again. You need to throw lots of money and resources at it.You need things like NVidia GRiD cards etc.

      Done properly, VDI can work. Done properly, VDI is complex and expensive.

  9. dorgales

    Diskless not Thin Clients are the answer

    The key to creating a successful "thin" client implementation, which supports graphics and sound, is "diskless" clients, not "thin" clients. Having a decent GPU on the client along with sufficient RAM is essential to making this work. We have been using "diskless" client technology successfully for years. It requires a well architected network, a good image (we use Ubuntu), well designed clients and knowledgeable staff. We have over 2500 clients working in this environment. Our secondary schools support up to 250+ clients with a single server and save significant money on energy not only because we use low watt power supplies but because they are highly managed. The entire site can be updated in under 1 hour because all changes are accomplished on the local server. The proof is in the doing.

    https://www.academia.edu/921655/THE_BENEFITS_OF_MANAGED_DISKLESS_CLIENT_TECHNOLOGIES_IN_AN_EDUCATIONAL_ENVIRONMENT

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You mileage will vary

    I was forced into implementing thin clients a few years ago, using Terminal Services (well, more properly, Remote Desktop Services - Server 2008R2) and it was a nightmare.

    We didn't have many users 15-20 so the scale wasn't there, no particularly standard desktop (small company with everyone doing different tasks), no expertise in server config (for the life of me, I could not get the desktop locked down to - e.g. - limit access to control panel but allow users to change wallpaper - a big thing in small companies with staff at reasonable levels of seniority), we could afford one server so we were always going to be one hardware fail away from bringing down the whole office. The HP thin client devices we had were underpowered so display sizes were poor and screens lagged. Replacing them with half decent clients was (as someone else pointed out) the price of a half decent desktop each. We also had to pay MS for RDP licenses for each user on top of the standard Office, Server and Exchange CALs.

    Over the course of the life of the system, we *may* have saved on power usage and a little less in AC for cooling an office not filled with hefty PCs but it would be minimal. Support was a PITA and and the server came in at around £6k - all that RAM! Users hated it and felt like second class citizens - they all now have Windows 7 desktops which, yes, need a little more care and attention, but some things are worth it.

    Needless to say, the idiot that insisted on the system had for himself, a nice and shiny, thin in build, but very fat in spec, laptop. Some users are more equal than others as we know.

    This has turned into a rant - I apologise. I know that a thin client system can work and is indeed, preferable in a lot of situations, but very definitely not all.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The cost...

    Even if there is an overall cost reduction to the company there's the chance that this isn't spread across the company. My client is pushing for Citrix over laptops (especially for contractors) but they still have to pay the same exorbitant annual fee per machine whether it's desktop/laptop/thin client.

    It's probably down to a "cheap" installation but many weeks we have heard status updates say along the lines of "x devs/testers were unable to log on to Citrix today so we lost x * days productivity".

    At one point I did threaten to leave if they made me use one. I can see why they want them but devs like technology and advancement. I want to be able to code using whatever machine, wherever I am and use the best tools for the job but they want locked down machines that only run white-listed apps on their own network. Like employing an artist and then only allowing him a handful of crayons to complete his landscape. (Ok a little over exaggerated but you get my drift)...

    1. Chris Beattie

      Re: The cost...

      While it's true that "their" desire for locked-down desktops and your desire for using whatever machine wherever are mutually exclusive, that doesn't really have anything to do with whether the desktops are virtual or not. We have pools of stripped-down linked-clone virtual desktops for task workers, but the devs get standalone dedicated virtual desktops with more CPU, memory, and storage, on their own subnet so they can have their own firewall rules.

      When we started virtualizing dev desktops, we worked with the devs to provide them with machines capable of handling the work. They got the specs they asked for. They like that they don't have to keep a physical desktop (with its own keyboard, mouse, and displays) in their cubes and offices. They like that I can take a snapshot before they do anything potentially system-breaking, and one desktop disk failure can't destroy their carefully-arranged IDE. They also like that they can access their virtual desktop over the VPN the exact same way they access it when they're on the LAN.

      It's also true that the back end to do this is NOT cheap, but if you're not getting the paintbrushes you need to work in a virtual environment, that's a policy problem not a virtualization problem.

  12. John Doe 6

    The ONLY scenario where a Thin Client solution is not working is when you are without connection to servers, like a laptop in the middle of Alaska.

    I know about several companies running AutoCad on Thin Clients (and with better performance than on PC's)... now try again and tell me what is so damn special that it can't run via a Thin Client.

    1. RobinCM

      Lync 2013 - does not support Remote Desktop Session Host.

      https://technet.microsoft.com/en-gb/library/jj204982.aspx

      Oops!

      Shame, because in Server 2012, RDSH performance and functioanality is great, and Lync 2013/Skype for Business is also great. But not if you want to use them both together.

      Might be some other relevant stuff in here for some people: https://rcmtech.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/why-im-not-deploying-windows-desktops-using-remote-desktop-services/

  13. dcouch
    Holmes

    Thin clinets work!

    Ok I would be dead without thin clients, here is my environment.

    Five factories, six shipping terminals, several accounting offices, a corporate HQ and misc. outside offices.

    The WAN stretches from north of Billings MT to Rocky Ford CO, about 700 miles end to end covering four states in the US. I am almost done upgrading the WAN to 10mb fiber which is really helping the environment. Ten years ago it was all fractional T1.

    When I started 10 years ago we only had a few laptops/desktops and several hundred thin clients and while performance was not what I wanted the TC's running in a Windows 2003/Citrix environment was for the most part very good.

    I have over 500 clients with the majority of them running Wyse thin clients. My current IT department is two hardware guys including me and a full time programmer.

    Yes thin clients are not for every job we have but for the majority of our users it is a perfect solution. My upper management, engineers and people who whine enough get a laptop. I have around 2 thin clients for every laptop. The 2008r2 Terminal Severs that I put into service last year for the most part rock, really the only objection that I fight are people trying to stream full motion video across the WAN. Usually for web sites that are not business related.

    Would I build the same environment today that I did years ago. Why yes, I could go on and on about the benefits like consistent look/feel regardless of where and what they log in with, from home or office. Data security, integrity, backups, software maintenance etc. but most of you probably already know the benefits. The rest of you probably do not have an environment that would benefit or you are stuck in the mind set that you need 1 computer for every 1 worker.

    As far as costs go I am running the same thin clients that I purchased in 2010, in a manufacturing environment like we have I usually go through a desktop computer every year. Licensing from MS is about as straight forward as can be, plus I have the advantage of using device CAL's which allow several users each on different shifts to use the same hardware without consuming additional user CAL's.

    thanks

    Dave Couch

  14. Walter Bishop Silver badge
    Linux

    The potential of Thin Client technology?

    I've recently had another go a particular thin client solution and quite frankly I am not impressed. An IGEL/UD3 running a virtual windows desktop over Citrix. The remote system running virtual Window desktops under Xen and a Barracuda web filter running on top of the browser. The entire thing running on a hosted service in the 'cloud'. All I can report is SLOW AS MOLASSES ! At five different locations with less than a than a hundred clients in total, 60mbps available to each site. Yet there was a noticeable delay when opening a web page. As the day progressed all the desktops slowed to a crawl necessitating a reboot, which didn't solve the problem.

    I figure the clients are running the cache remotely back to the remote VM, not to mention the web filter and the AV filter. Not to mention the remote monitoring agent, needed in order to pass 'compliance' regulations. The same company has been selling this as a 'cutting-edge, cloud-based technology solution' for six years and quite frankly, I don't see it getting any better. I could achieve better usability running a Linux desktop off a 4GB USB device and sync it to some file hosting service - try again lads!

  15. dcouch

    Ugh... why would anyone chose a cloud solution for anything...

    In brief, I have four terminal servers, Server 2008r2, native no Citrix. My terminal servers are virtualized under VMware, fast SAN etc... With the exception of Web videos my performance is very good from one end of my WAN to the other with about 200 users logged in at any one time.

    I would switch to Server 2012r2 but it uses that stupid Windows Metro interface, my end user base had enough trouble switching from XP to Win7..

    best regards.

    dc

  16. SecurityPiglet

    If you enter into this thinking you will save money, you WILL be disappointed. Do your sums.

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