Why thin clients?
Using thin clients has several advantages:
- No data is stored locally at the end user, which means no data is lost when the computer breaks. No network backup of local data is needed. Company sensitive data is always safely located on the server.
- The office PCs become interchangeable. When Mary's computer breaks she can just use another one. All she has to do is log in on another one. No reinstallation, recovery or downtime.
- The office PCs become easily replaceable. Since the PCs now require no setup or configuration, replacement of a broken computer takes only a few minutes. IT Support can have several office PCs configured as soft thin clients on standby. They're all interchangeable.
- The office PCs can be used longer, breaking free of the dreaded 18 month upgrade cycle. All computing-intensive work happens on the server, which means upgrading the server makes everyones workplace instantly faster. Many corporations reuse older computers as soft thin clients, since a thin client has much less hardware requirements than an ordinary office PC with a local operating system, and all modern office PCs fulfill it.
- The computers will feel faster for the end users. The user gets to use a fast server instead of a slow PC.
- Users can access their desktop from any computer in any office. Sales staff can be set up to access their office desktops from anywhere on the road, as if they where in the office.
- Home offices can easily be set up that is completely equivalent to being at the office. An end user can turn off his PC at work, go home, log on to the company network and access his desktop from home. He will have documents on screen just like he left them at work, cursor still blinking mid-sentence in the same location as when he turned the computer off at work.
- IT Support can remotely access and "join" a user's desktop without having to physically visit the user. Except for exchanging broken hardware, 100% of IT support can be phone based. With a few spare keyboard and mice that end users can exchange themselves, nearly all support can happen at regular scheduled intervals instead of fire-fighting emergencies.
- Lead times for support drops to nearly zero, giving a healthy productivity boost from staff not needing to wait for support.
- As IT support becomes more centralized and becomes preventive, the IT staff can serve more end users with less effort. Since IT staff doesn't have to be present on site, IT staff can handle a greater geographical end user spread and can even be outsourced.
- For small companies, less IT support need and less requirement to have IT support staff on site means IT support can be completely outsourced, saving on staff cost and keeps the company staff focused on the core business.
Thin clients not for every use
Most Fortune 500 companies already are using thin clients. But many smaller companies have been put off by the excessive investment cost of the dedicated thin clients, and specialized server software needed. But now most companies can now afford using the Microsoft Terminal Server software, and by repurposing office PCs as soft thin clients with AnywhereTS there is no upfront dedicated thin client investment anymore.
However, there are some things that anyone contemplating a migration to thin clients should be aware of:
- Thin clients are useless without a server. Companies with no centralized server must invest in one. Getting the benefits of centralized storage and increased IT reliability likely outweigh this investment.
- Thin clients makes the IT network infrastructure business critical. If the network goes down, the thin clients no longer work. This is hardly an issue for most companies today, since their computer network is already business critical.
- IT staff responsible for the thin client environment needs to be trained in setting up and maintaining a Microsoft Terminal Server or Citrix Metaframe environment. The IT staff likely need to receive and maintain qualified training for Terminal Servers. Alternatively, the IT support can be outsourced to a vendor that already has the required competent staff.
- Some software application workloads do not run sufficiently well with thin clients. This includes heavy graphical design work like prepress or 3D modeling or similar high-end graphics. Those applications put extra load on both server and network, and will be perceived by the end user as slow. Such users are generally better off with applications running locally on their PC with the data located on the server, known as "roaming profiles". However, users with light need of Photoshop or Dreamweaver can still use thin clients.
- PCs with exotic accessories (card readers, printers, scanners, webcams or similar) often cannot be converted to a thin client. Local printers should be migrated to network printers. Some accessory hardware can be made to work with AnywhereTS soft thin clients; contact us for more information.
There is no problem in mixing thin clients with non thin-client office PCs in the same office environment. IT support often have to cater for laptop users this way.
PCs as thin clients
A dedicated thin client is a small box that costs about the price of an office PC. Dedicated thin clients don't have any moving parts (hard disks, fans) and are thus generally more reliable than PCs.
However, in the transitioning phase from regular office PCs to dedicated thin clients, the purchase of thin clients become a massive upfront investment. As many corporations today own a large set of obsolete PCs, re-purposing them as soft thin clients saves this dedicated thin client upfront investment. Converting office PCs to soft thin clients can be done in place, one after another incrementally. To the converted end user the PC looks, acts and feels just like it always has. There is no end user retraining needed.
The soft thin client is booted over the network or from a bootable CD. No information is taken from the local hard disk, and we recommend local hard disks be unplugged or removed. Even when not accessed, the hard disk has a limited lifespan and will eventually fail. Hard disks are often the component in an office PC that fails first.
The hard disk also often contains sensitive information, and removing it completely from the PC means less chance of losing information if the PC is lost or stolen. Thin clients store nothing locally - a lost or stolen thin client reveals no sensitive information, and no data is lost.
How to repurpose office PCs as thin clients
Migrating the end user to a thin client setup takes two steps:
- Migrate all the local data and applications the user has on the local PC to the server
- Convert the local PC to a soft thin client using AnywhereTS
These steps can be performed in an incremental fashion, putting more and more end users on the server(s) using soft thin clients. This will have minimal impact on the end users' regular work.
AnywhereTS is an application that will generate a soft thin client boot image configured for your environment. The boot image is a small piece of software that loads instead of the local PC operating system, either from network or from a CD. All this software does is connect to the server, and from that moment all the user sees is happening on the server. The boot-up process takes about thirty seconds on current PC hardware, and most end users cannot tell the difference between a PC with a local operating system and a PC as a soft thin client.