Thin client devices are best understood in contrast to conventional desktop personal computers (PC). These devices are optimized for, and often limited to, server-based or cloud computing.

PCs vs. thin client devices

PCs contain a local hard drive with applications and data files. Thin clients, by contrast, contain no local hard drive. Rather, these devices access applications from a server.

True thin clients implemented through shared terminal services or desktop virtualization don’t even include an operating system. These devices either share a server-based operating system or access a server partition that provides each device with a separate operating system.

Pros of thin client devices

Many of the benefits of these devices arise from the fact that they’re less complex than PCs. As a result, they:

  • Are less expensive. Thin clients lack a hard drive and often use less powerful processors than PCs. Therefore, the cost of each device is lower.
  • Are more easily scaled. Expanding a server-based system simply requires adding a thin client and connecting it to an account on the server.
  • Require less power. Thin clients have a smaller carbon footprint than PCs because they have fewer moving parts. Hard drives are notoriously complex mechanical devices. With smaller processors and less memory, thin clients also generate less waste heat.

Thin clients are centrally controlled by a server. This means they are:

  • More secure. Since users can’t install programs or store files on their terminal, thin client devices are less vulnerable to malware.
  • Easily managed. Installing new software, patching applications or operating systems, or upgrading the network requires work only on the server rather than on each terminal. Moreover, since user files are stored centrally, files can be found by searching a single location.
  • Less vulnerable to data loss. Enterprises can control access to, and use of, the centrally stored files. Specifically, a system of thin clients can be configured so that the devices can access files without copying or deleting them.

Cons of thin clients

While thin clients are versatile, in some situations, PCs provide more optimal features. The greatest drawback of thin clients compared to PCs is the lack of power. Certain types of applications, such as computer-aided design programs, require more processing power and memory than a thin client can provide.

Since thin clients run software and use files stored on a server, an enterprise must invest in a powerful server and high-bandwidth network infrastructure or the system may bog down.

Worse yet, a single point of failure can take an entire enterprise down. For example, poor server maintenance or a bad network switch can stop productivity altogether.

Making a decision

Technologies such as fast broadband networks, powerful servers and cheap storage have facilitated the widespread adoption of thin clients. As these technologies continue to develop, thin clients will eventually replace many, if not most, PCs. For most businesses, the decision to migrate to thin clients will be driven by financial considerations and the applications their users require.

Think Tech Advisor’s experts are here to help your business succeed. For more information about thin clients and the pros and cons of using them, contact us.