written by: Bruce Tyson•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 5/22/2011
Thin client notebooks are powerful alternatives to traditional computers that can improve the effectiveness of a mobile workforce, enhance corporate security, and improve the utilization of IT dollars as part of a thin computing infrastructure.
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What is a Thin Client?
In ways resembling dumb terminals from decades gone by, thin clients have no inherent processing power: they primarily receive inputs and display outputs from applications running on server computers. They are sometimes referred to as PC over IP technology since the traditional computer functions are performed remotely. The client display presents the operating system and application interface and its keyboard and mouse send inputs to the system.
A simple way to characterize a thin client is by their lack of physical storage. They are stateless “dumb" devices that rely on host servers for administration, configuration, storage, and infrastructure. Thin client computers uses Remote Desktop Protocols (RDP) to access network services and configuration information so their capabilities are determined by user credentials.
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Modern thin clients can be used to perform routine computing operations with speeds that make them difficult to distinguish from “fat" clients. Thin clients engage host servers through client software such as VMware View, Microsoft Windows Terminal Server, Citrix XenApp and XenServer, and Unix/Linux and run applications on the host using inputs transmitted from the client.
Thin computing can fill virtually any role as traditional computing, provided network access is available. Call centers, accounting roles, CRM, and CAD are just a few roles that thin computing can support.
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Thin Client Laptops
Thin client laptops take advantage of the thin computing model, only in a portable configuration. With high speed wireless LANs in place and high speed 3G and 4G wireless data connections through cellular networks, a thin client laptop is something that only in recent years has become feasible.
Most commonly available thin client laptops come equipped with a ROM-based embedded operating system such as Windows Embedded. This operating system provides essential services to the thin client, enabling it to set up connections to a server host. Once connected, the capabilities of the thin client reflect those configured for it on the host.
An example of a thin client notebook computer is the Dell E5400X Safebook. Like most thin client laptops, this model comes with an embedded operating system and is equipped with end point security and built in wireless networking.
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Applications for Thin Client Laptops
Because thin client notebooks are very lightweight and have very long battery life, they are ideal for mobile employees working inside and outside the corporate environment. Since applications and data are hosted on the corporate host, problems such as insufficient disk space are eliminated. When mobile employees need access to a new software package installed, the installation is performed at the corporate office rather than mailing CDs to a remote location. Centralized control of software resources also facilitates corporate compliance with licensing requirements.
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Thin Client Notebooks and Security
Proprietary information and access to corporate networks is routinely compromised by the mobile workforce. Laptops left in taxi cabs, airports, buses, hotel rooms, and rental cars often fall into the hands of people looking for information to sell, not to mention the laptop computers that are stolen for their resale value alone. Thin client laptops can solve the majority of the security problems associated with hardware, network, and data vulnerability.
Since the thin client laptop relies on network storage, important product, customer, and vendor information is not lost when the computer is lost or stolen. Without appropriate credentials, the thin client notebook cannot access any information within the enterprise, nor can it be used to access corporate network services. Basically, when a thin client falls out of the control of the corporation, corporate information remains secure.
Corporate espionage involves more than stealing resources from a competing company: it means that people within the organization can retrieve corporate information for personal or competing use. Thin clients help keep corporate information secure because there is no convenient way to transfer corporate data to a storage device. Since all data transactions are managed through centralized servers, an audit trail exists that can detect unauthorized data access and transmission, giving management the opportunity to react quickly to internal abuses.
Finally, with computing processes hosted by the corporate network, security policies for all thin clients can be implemented at the host. This means that antivirus, malware, and other threats encountered online will always be met by appropriate response. In other words, companies implementing thin client notebooks don’t have to worry about a user disabling virus scanners or allowing virus signatures to expire.
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Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
Thin computing is a green technology because of its low energy demand. By powering only essential hardware, the savings in electrical costs for a company with one hundred computers can exceed $6,000 annually. Thin client laptops have the additional benefit of extended battery life that can power devices for an entire work day on a single charge.
A study published by IDC revealed that switching to thin computing can reduce hardware and software costs by as much as 40%. Additionally, overall IT operating costs can be reduced by nearly a third. The study also found that outlays for computer hardware and support can also be reduced by significant margins by implementing thin computing. .
Thin computing brings with it increased productivity that helps make it even more profitable to business. Studies have shown that fewer support, maintenance, and repair issues help make IT staffers more than 50% more productive than those in traditionally equipped departments. Meanwhile, the increased uptime and reduced support issues combine to make mobile users more productive with thin client laptops, adding even more to the corporate bottom line.
Thin clients have a lower acquisition cost, a lower maintenance cost, and a lower incidental cost. Because the devices have fewer parts, there is less to break. Also, thin clients save money by combating obsolescence. Since the processing power is hosted on remote servers, whenever those servers are updated with new software, every thin client is automatically up to date. This saves hardware costs because thin clients won’t have to be replaced with every advent of new technology. No more tossing laptops every year or two only to replace them with new ones that too will become obsolete. Direct and indirect cost savings resulting from the use of thin client notebooks make the technology a “must" for consideration.