Choosing between ‘Thin vs Zero’ Clients for Virtual Desktop Computing

Virtual Desktop Computing - Server Rack

When It Comes to a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, IT Administrators Have an Abundance of Choices.

When enterprises reach the decision to create a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), there comes the question, “thin clients or zero clients?” Thin Clients and Zero Clients are both small form factor, solid state computing terminal devices, specifically designed for VDI, but they have many different characteristics as well.

When choosing between thin clients and zero clients, it isn’t that one hardware or connection option outweighs the other. Instead it pertains more to the requirements in the environment being deployed as well as the needs and permissions of the desktop users. Understanding the benefits and challenges of your VDI options will help you make the right choice. There are some key differences between thin clients and zero clients that are worth outlining.  While both have similarities, they each boast capabilities that make them unique.

Taking a Look at Thin Clients

With thin clients, virtual desktops are hosted in the data center and the thin client simply serves as a terminal to the back-end server. Thin clients are generally easy to install, make application access simple, improve security and reduce hardware needs.

Thin Client devices for VDI are traditionally end-point devices with their own native operating systems, usually offering a version of Windows Embedded Standard (WES) or a Linux based operating system such as DeTOS.  Thin clients utilize connection protocols such as Citrix ICA or Microsoft RDP in order to remotely access a desktop that is being hosted on a Virtual Machine stored on a server.   They often include a local browser, as well.

Thin clients are mean to be simple devices to create a secure and manageable environment. However different users have different requirements so when choosing devices, consider whether you need capabilities such as 3-D, video conferencing and multi-monitor support. You should also take into account your remote display protocol and how much display processing your back end can supply.

Zeroing in on Zero Clients

Zero clients are gaining ground in the VDI market. These are client devices that require no configuration and have nothing stored on them. Zero clients often require less setup than a thin client. The deployment time can be lower provided those carrying out the deployment have properly set their environment up.  However, zero clients are not as flexible and often require that the administrators choose one protocol or another for the device to utilize.  While a user may only need to enter their credentials to access their desktop sessions, the options for what they can do is more limited.

Instead of an operating system, Zero Clients have a highly tuned onboard processor specifically designed for one possibly three VDI protocols (PCoIP, HDX, or RemoteFX). Most of the decoding and display processes take place in dedicated hardware and therefore are more efficient than using a software client and a standard CPU and GPU setup as with a Thin Client. Zero Clients have boot up speeds of just a few seconds and are immune to viruses, decreasing the overall downtime of the device and increasing the productivity to the end-user. The Zero Client device requires very little maintenance and rarely needs an update unless there is a significant change/enhancement to the VDI protocol or the occasional BIOS related update.

Alternative Client Solutions:

There are also thin clients such as the Acer Veriton N2010G, that offer a feature through the client operating system that enables fast, efficient deployments of new zero client terminals. Another option is choosing a thin client model that provides an OS ZeTOS allowing it to perform as a zero client terminal that runs in a stateless condition. Users then are unable to execute software or initiate remote sessions that the administrators have not authorized. A user enters their username and password and is immediately up and running in their remote session.

Configuration is carried out through an external DNS environment: management software becomes optional, as connectivity is established passively through standard DNS records. Once the DNS environment has been established the management process is essentially complete. Choosing this alternative, zero client computing can convert back to thin client computing with this OS capability on these terminals.

‘Thin vs Zero’ Clients: Wrap Up

Thin clients and other slimmed-down devices rely on a network connection to a central server for full computing and don’t do much processing on the hardware itself. Best thin and zero client product choices for your VDI environment really rests within the software embedded on the clients. As I stated before in my previous blog entry Evaluating Software to Reap the Full Benefits of Desktop Virtualization,   “Your thin client management software should be a powerful software product that combines thin client management capabilities with connection management features”.

Again, to host virtual desktops, you have a lot of choices: thin clients, zero clients and not to mention tablets and mobile devices as we continue to advance in today’s mobile and BYOD era. The first step on deciding between thin and zero clients really rests within the requirements of your network and the connection you prefer with your end uses.

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  1. […] References   VDI client: VDI hardware comparison: Thin vs. thick vs. zero clients | VDI client: Simplified VDI: IGEL presents the UD6 with quad processor | VDI client: Project Fargo aka VMFork – What is it? | VDI client: Thin client | VDI client: Choosing between ‘Thin vs Zero’ Clients for Virtual Desktop Computing | […]

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