Thin Client Technology has been around for many decades now. In fact, the way Computer revolution started, we can say that it began with Thin Client Architecture. With a Central powerful Mainframe computer and dumb terminals which can be called a Thin client. But still, the question What is Thin Client? Is valid, because in recent years the definition of Thin Clients has been very dynamic.
Introduction of Thin Clients
Generally speaking, Thin Client is a device which works on server-based computing concept. But in recent times, all small form factor PCs have also been dubbed as Thin Clients, Which is wrong, we can call them Micro PCs but not Thin Clients.
Small size PC is not a Thin Client. Its just a small size PC, that’s it.
What is Thin Client Architecture
Whereas Zero Thin Clients are SOC (System on Chip) based, Thin Client PCs are little more resourceful; powered by X86 CPUs, Loads of RAM and flash memory.
SOC or System on Chip is a single board which has all the Hardware components and even the software required to make a Thin Client work. That is the reason it is called ZERO Thin Client.
Thin Client software or Thin Client OS is the heart of any Thin clients. While ZERO Thin Clients have a very basic Firmware, which boots up and connects to Thin Client Server. Thin Client PCs have a relatively evolved Thin Client OS with loads of Thin Client Applications.
Intel has almost managed to snatch entire Thin Client market from its competitors like TI, AMD, VIA and others. After dominance, the prices of Thin Clients have increased drastically.
To understand what is Thin Client, we should understand the Thin Client Architecture, Thin Client Hardware, Thin Client software and also Thin Client Server-side components.
How a Thin Client Works
Generally, Thin Clients don’t have local thin Client applications of its own. Thin Client software enables it to boot and then connect it to Thin Client server. In short, we can summarise the working of Thin Client as follows:
- Boot the Thin Client OS (it may be full-fledged Thin Client software or firmware).
- Get IP address and set other system variables.
- Connect to the Thin Client Server (using RDP, ICA, VDI or many other industry standard protocols). The most common protocol used is RDP protocol.
- User logs into the Server using Server side credentials.
- As soon as the user logs into the server, then onwards the user is working on Server OS and not the local OS. Which means the user is using CPU, RAM and HDD of the server.
- Thin Client does not require very high capacity hardware; it needs minimum hardware to boot up the primary Thin Client OS and connect to Thin Client Server.
The Basic working of Thin Client have not changed in last few decades, however now it is more Richer
Thin Client Architecture Evolution
In olden days there used to be dedicated Thin Client terminals (the dumb terminals), which we see in many old Hollywood movies. These are connected to Mainframe Computers.
Then came a revolution, The PC revolution, with the advent of Microsoft and Intel. PC on every Desk and PC in every home changed the ways computing is used.
After PC, networked PC came, and central management suites (similar to Active Directory by Microsoft) were introduced to manage the desktop PCs. This worked for most of the people because the applications also became comprehensive and resource hungry.
However, there are many usage scenarios, where the Thin Client technology is more suitable and economical, such as regular office usage and education etc.
Thin Client Technology
Thin Client Technology comprises of Thin Client Hardware, Thin Client software (the Thin Client OS) and of course Thin Client Server (Thin Client Server Hardware, Thin Client Server Operating System and Thin Client Server Management Suites)
What are different types of Thin Clients
Not all Thin Clients are equal, and not all thin Clients are suitable for every application. As per requirement of the market different thin client models and different thin Client, technologies are available in the market.
- Zero Thin Client.
- These are thin Clients which don’t have regular CPU and RAM; they don’t connect to regular and open protocols. Example NComputing. Zero Clients does not have CPU, RAM and storage. Instead, it has a unique firmware (we can call it extended BIOS), which connects to special server software running on the Server. The Zero Thin Clients are SOC (System on Chip) based, which means they are a single chip with everything built inside it.
- Disadvantage Zero Clients are very limited in functionality, application and device support. Also, the firmware may or may not be upgradable.
- Advantage Low cost and extremely low power consumption are main advantages.
- Thin Client PC
- These are powerful Thin Clients, which have a reasonably powerful CPU, good amount of RAM and storage. These are, generally, powered by Intel CPU and Linux or MS Embedded Thin Client operating system. These Thin Clients run local Thin Client applications also.
- Advantages: Thin Client PCs are incredibly versatile and capable of handling almost any kind of job. Also since the Embedded Thin Client software is configurable and customisable, the same hardware can be put to many applications.
- Disadvantages: Higher costs and little higher maintenance costs are main disadvantages. Also when Windows Embedded OS is used as Thin Client software, it increases the cost of Thin Client setup.
- Thin Client Software
- Convert existing old PCs to Thin Clients with Thin Client cards. These used to be a very prominent Thin Client category before few years, Where you get a Network card with BootROM (or flash memory). You just put the card into your existing PC, and it boots from the Flash and connects to the server. However, now it has changed. Now, you don’t need network Card; you get a Flash memory with preloaded Thin Client software. Plug that flash into your HDD slot, and you are good to go. That is the reason they are now called Enjay PNP Cards.
In India there was a important period in Thin Client evolution called Thin Client Card. Enjay Thin Client card pioneered this market.
What is Thin Client Software
Thin Client software is a Thin Client Operating including few local Thin Client Applications. This OS is hardened and specialised Operating Systems for Thin Client Hardware. Using regular Desktop Operating system is not advisable, although many vendors do that to save costs and efforts, it is wrong. Thin Client OS is a different kind of software specially meant for Thin Client Technology. An example of an embedded Hardened Thin Client Software is Enjay Tornado OS.
What is thin Client usage?
Thin Client Technology or Server-based Technology might not be suitable for all kinds of environments. While Thin Client Technology is perfectly suitable for office and productivity applications like Office Suites and ERP, it is not suitable for CPU intensive applications or Graphics intensive applications like AutoCAD.
Not all Thin Clients are equal and not all thin Clients are suitable for every application. As per requirement of the market different thin client models and different thin Client, technologies are available in the market.
When to use Thin Clients?
Thin Clients are perfect for office Applications where Graphics is not required. That is the reason it is found very commonly in the place like Offices, Call Centers, BPOs, Computer Education, Coaching institutions etc.
When not to use Thin Clients
There are scenarios where Thin Client Technology is not useful. These scenarios typically include heavy usage of 2D and 3D applications. Applications like Photoshop, CorelDraw or Video Editing Software don’t work correctly on Thin Clients. It’s not about the capability; it’s about being best suited for the purpose. The purpose of Thin Client is to provide Low-cost computing for Masses.
Special Purpose Thin Clients
Special purpose Thin Clients, might not fit into the exact definition of Server-Based Computing, however, these are the perfect fit for the application.
Thin Clients are deployed in many areas, where previously it was not possible. Even Linux based Thin Clients are replacing Windows-based devices.
Call Center Thin Clients
Call Center application requires integration of Softphone, latest browser and also some unique Call Center Application to work on it. Also, the downtime has to be very low in case of Call Center. Enjay is one of the pioneers in Call Center Solution, where Thin Clients Technology is deployed.
Thin Clients are also used in Digital Signages. Rather than specialised Digital Signage devices which are very costly. Thin Clients with dedicated Digital Signage Players and dedicated Signage management Suites serve as best Digital Signage Solutions.
Convert Existing PCs to Thin Clients
This is very useful, Especially, in countries like India, where the PC penetration is shallow as compared to other developed Countries. Here old Existing (used) PCs are used as Thin Clients. A unique device called DOM (Disk on Module) is used to install a Thin Client Software (OS) like Enjay Tornado, and then those old used PCs get an extended life of few more years. This is primarily used in Education, offices and tier 2/2 Cities and towns.
Linux Thin Client to run Windows Application
Windows Applications require Windows OS. Many times only one ERP (or some special Windows-based) software is needed to be run by many people. In this scenario, the cost of Windows Embedded increases the Thin Client Cost unnecessarily. There are solutions available in the market, where the Thin Client Software (OS) is customised to run Windows Applications, Thus lowering the Thin Client Price drastically.
Industrial Thin Clients.
Industrial Thin Clients use special hardware, which can resist heat, humidity and corrosion. These thin Clients also many times have Touch Screen based interface for input and output. Many times, Industrial Machinery is connected and controlled by these Thin Client Devices.
Thin Clients as POS (Point of Sale) Devices.
These are again, special Thin Clients with special hardware and unique OS. Here the form factor of Thin Client and even the Thin Client OS are differently configured.