Welcome to #Praim4Beginners, a series of articles which returns to some of the fundamentals of Thin Client computing and that are created specifically for users who have recently entered the world of Thin Clients. The intention is to revisit the basics while introducing contemporary methods and technologies.
If you are reading this article there are two possibilities: either you came across the term “thin client” and you don’t know what it is, or you have known this technological solution for some time (and maybe you also use one), you perceive some distinctive element, but you don’t know what its determining characteristics are and how it actually differs from other devices (such as PCs, or the so-called “mini-PCs”).
Let’s start by answering the question “What is a thin client?” and what characteristics allow to define a device as such.
First of all, a thin client is a full-fledged computer, but created with the aim of being as simple and “light” as possible.
A first distinctive element of thin client devices, therefore, is that they are (from a hardware point of view) more “simple” than a traditional PC and in particular are characterized by:
- An essential number and dimensions of the hardware components.
- The exclusive use of solid-state components, i.e. without moving mechanical parts (such as fans, magnetic hard-disks, internal power supplies, etc).
Thin clients, therefore, use less RAM, less disk space (solid-state) and are equipped with low power consumption processors, cooled by heatsinks. These characteristics allow them to stand out for their very low power consumption (on average within 10W) ??and reduced heat production, being also designed to dissipate it in the best possible way. All this makes the device “thin…”, which is often visible in terms of compactness.
And now we come to the “… client” part. Why can a thin client afford to be so “lightweight”? Because, and here we are at its second distinctive element, it’s a device designed to operate in a Client/Server mode by acting as a client. A thin client is designed to run a limited number of local applications and, in particular, to run resources that are located in a remote central server and that don’t necessarily have to reside on the local disk of the device. A thin client works by connecting to a remote server (environment) that hosts the organization’s applications and data and offers large capacities (execution and storage); the server also takes care of the main computational loads and thus allows to lighten the numerous clients.
Even from a software point of view, therefore, the thin client is more essential than normal PCs and, having less power and absolute performance, it uses lighter solutions (such as operating systems, for example based on Linux such as ThinOX or specific versions of Windows such as the IoT one), focused only on the relevant applications and on the components necessary to create the client/server scheme (i.e. client applications for specific protocols). Nowadays the thin client is designed to operate in environments:
- based on Desktop Virtualization (VDI), where the applications and graphics processing of the desktop are performed on the server while the thin client only takes care of the on-screen display and management of user interaction.
- Browser-based, where the thin client must allow the user to connect to Cloud environments or to specific applications, but these are performed on the server, while the browser (and the thin client) only has to manage and display the user interface.
Thin clients must still have all the features of a normal workstation and, in addition to the network components needed to connect to the server, they offer the user the same (and often indistinguishable) user experience. They connect one or even more monitors and other necessary peripherals, however in many cases they also have sufficient computational capabilities to run demanding local applications (such as the browser) without requiring the intervention of the server.
Finally, a third (often overlooked, but basically essential) distinctive element of thin clients: their purpose and use cases. Thin clients are devices designed to optimize business operations, in all respects, especially for large installations with hundreds or thousands of devices. In this context, uniformity and efficiency become fundamental. The hardware features already entail a reduction in ownership costs and energy savings, but also (given the absence of mechanical parts, heat reduction, essential sizing) greater longevity and specific compliance with industrial environments. Furthermore, the specificity and essentiality of the software and the peculiar use method confer higher levels of IT security.
In addition, thin client manufacturers usually favor “long-term” hardware platforms (chipsets) that allow them to produce, maintain (offer support) and provide end users with devices that are perfectly uniform, even in the long term, from a technical point of view, unlike what usually happens with PCs (usually created with consumer components, highly variable over time). Furthermore, from a software point of view, in support of their use case, thin clients are further enriched with tools that allow centralized and automated management, which grants the configuration and maintenance of devices to be scalable and efficient even on thousands of units.
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