Thin Clients in the Small Business Environment: What is a Thin Client?

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What is a thin client?

Thin clients are a type of server-based computing hardware. The client itself is a device that is used to connect to a mainframe or server where the actual computing takes place. The client is simply the input/output (I/O) device that sends information and displays information respectively. Since the mainframe or server does most of the calculations, the thin client does not need to be very robust. There are basically two types of thin client hardware:

  1. The “dumb terminal” or “dumb tube”
  2. The portable

You will usually find two different styles of dumb terminals in production environments today. The older style is essentially a monitor interface with a network connection, keyboard, and mouse. This style is often used in older configurations using a mainframe system as the processing center. You might hear them referred to as “green screen” terminals as they usually don’t use a Windows-based OS as their GUI (graphic user interface). In recent years these types of systems have been integrated into the Windows OS environment so you can think of this style as the beginnings of the thin client.

The more common, modern day dumb terminal looks almost exactly like a typical PC setup. You have your I/O devices such as the monitor, keyboard, and mouse and then the familiar tower. However, this is where the similarities between a modern day PC and a modern day dumb terminal differ. The architecture of the tower usually includes a processor, a standard amount of RAM (maybe 512MB) and then some type of flash drive or solid state hard drive. A solid state drive is basically a large chunk of SD RAM instead of a conventional drive with moving parts. It runs much faster than conventional drives and has a much better “shelf life” as it has no physical moving parts that can wear out. The storage capacity, by all intents and purposes, is much smaller than a conventional hard drive. Wouldn’t that be an issue? Not really. The reasoning for using this type of drive is that most of the computing takes place on a centralized server. As such, very little data needs to be referenced or stored on the local drive.

Finally, the portable thin client is essentially a bare-bones version of a laptop. Recent models will have the following peripherals:

• Mobile device processor (Intel M is a popular one)

• Solid state hard drive


• Standard peripheral ports (USB, VGA out, Ethernet)

• Wireless networking capability

The portable thin client is becoming increasingly popular with the advances in wireless technology. This prevents users from having to be “chained” to a desk since they can move about the building and stay connected wirelessly. The connection method of the portable thin client is the same as the terminal styles. Through the wireless network connection, the client will connect to a centralized server where most of the computing is done. The major benefit of using thin clients is two-part: low support costs and increased data security. Inherent in the architecture of a thin client environment is improved security. So stay tuned for Part 2 of this series: Security Benefits of Thin Clients in the Small Business Environment.

This post is part of the series: Thin Clients in the Small Business Environment

The use of thin clients (for server-based computing) is the way of the future: the not so distant future. As technology in this field gets better, costs will slowly fall, making it easier for small businesses to adopt the server-based computing model.

  1. Thin Clients in the Small Business Environment: Part 1
  2. Thin Clients in the Small Business Environment: Part 2
  3. Thin Clients in the Small Business Environment: Part 3