How to use thin clients in your business
5th Nov 2012 | 11:36
Using thin clients to reduce your business utility and IT maintenance costs
Take a look at your business' current PC set up. It's likely your company has a number of standard desktop computers connected to your network. But what if could dispense with these computers and use small centrally managed PCs that offer lower costs and fewer upgrades?
Moving to thin clients that are sometimes called 'dumb terminals' can offer your business a number of advantages:
- Increased security
- Easier upgrades
- Lower cost of ownership
- Reduced energy consumption
In essence a thin client is a desktop PC reduced to just the essential components. Many thin clients do away with a have a hard drive, as they are connected to centralised storage on a network and boot to a copy of the operating system stored on the network or from a small SSD storage device.
Moving the data that is typically stored on a desktop PC to a server reduces the risk of virus and malware infection. You and your employees can also access that data anytime via mobile data devices that can also connect to the servers via VPN (Virtual Private Network) over the Internet.
Additionally you don't need a high-spec device on every desk, as all the computing power is on the server. So your staff are free to use any desktop in the office, and they always have access to their favourite applications no matter where they are, or what the device, and that includes home PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Moving to thin clients
Moving to a thin client environment within your company isn't a highly technical exercise. The key is to initially look closely at how your business currently uses its desktop PCs, and how you and your employees access, exchange and store the data that your business uses on a daily basis.
With more collaborative working increasingly becoming the norm across all businesses, thin clients that access data over a network offer even more collaborative opportunities. What's more, businesses are also moving away from desktop installed office applications instead using hosted services such as Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps for business.
Another clear advantage with adopting thin clients is that your business can abandon the need to constantly upgrade the hardware of desktop PCs to ensure they can run the latest version of Windows. Often, when a new version of Windows is released it will need a minimum hardware set up to run. The cost of hardware upgrades can be substantial. With thin clients, upgrades to operating systems are all managed centrally, and can in some cases be completed with just a few mouse clicks, which means no downtime within your business.
Note, the move to Windows 8 with its touch interface means that to get the most out of the OS you will need to upgrade at least the monitor on the thin-screen device. But once that's upgraded you should have no problems with ongoing upgrades to Windows 9, 10 etc
Energy usage reductions of up to 90%
Every business wants to show that they are paying attention to how their activities impact the environment. Legislation also compels businesses to become more environmentally aware.
Adopting thin clients in your business can help your company attain a more environmentally friendly platform. Thin clients offer an 80-90 per cent reduction in the energy usage of a typical desktop PC. The average PC will use 60-100 watts compared to 8-15 watts for a thin client. Obviously there are power costs associated with the servers, but they work out at around 7 watts per thin-client.
Additionally there are interest free grants of up to £100,000 available to small and medium sized businesses from the Carbon Trust to fund the purchase of more energy efficient technologies. See the Eligibility Checklist and Loan Calculator on the Carbon Trust Website for more details.
Security is often a concern when businesses look at thin clients for the first time. Attaching a number of terminals that are office based and perhaps also mobile to their network and servers can seem like a security nightmare.
The reality is that each thin client can be made highly secure. Users can simply use passwords to access their terminals, but more secure systems can be used including smart cards, which can either be inserted into the thin client before a password is entered or give a unique one-off code that needs to be typed in to access the device. This two-factor authentication gives an extra layer of security ensures that only authorised users can access a thin client and your servers.
Of course the performance of your business' PCs is of paramount importance. The technology used in your company should be efficient and allow your employees to carry out their day-to-day duties with ease. Thin clients will connect to what are called 'virtual desktops' which are really just a space reserved for them on your business' servers.
The user of the thin client sees their own particular desktop environment just as if this was stored on a hard drive in their computer. The beauty of virtualisation is that the user can use any thin client at your business' premises, or even via a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet (which could even be their own device making Bring Your Own Device BYOD possible rather than a pipedream), and regardless of the device they will always see their personal desktop. Additionally they have access to the full power of their applications, no matter what the screen size or the processing power of the device they're working on.
One of the fundamental components of a good thin client installation is to ensure that the network these PCs will connect to is fast enough, and the servers that will power the desktops can handle the load. Consider your business' existing set up and if this will need upgrading to ensure that the thin clients you move to perform efficiently.
A thin client set up for your business is ideal if:
- You use standard office applications on your existing desktops.
- Your business already has a high-speed network.
- Employees are highly mobile and often work outside of your offices.
- Your business is approaching the time to replace existing desktop PCs.
- Your business wants to reduce costs by moving to cloud-based services.
The need for expensive traditional desktop PCs has been reducing rapidly over the last few years. As more business is conducted on the move, workers are spending less time at their desks. And when they are at their desks, they want to use more cloud and network based applications with colleagues, as collaboration is now a watchword in today's successful businesses. Thin clients can remove much of the cost associated with traditional desktops – something that's highly attractive to any business.