6 major factors to be considered before buying a thin client

6 major Factors to be considered before buying a thin client endpoint

If you are in the midst of a new virtual app or desktop (VDI) project, converting your PC into thin clients, or refreshing the endpoints in your IT estate, selecting the best Thin Client endpoint is a crucial decision for your business. This guide serves as a series of questions for making sure that the most important Thin Client endpoint attributes are assessed. This is an important decision with an important potential impact on your OPEX, as well as the security and performance of your End User Computing environment.

1. Think long term when choosing a Thin Client endpoint

Think whether the thin client would serve all your needs in the coming years and also calculate the ROI.

One of the key advantages of Thin client infrastructures is that they have been known to last for many years. In many cases they can be used for 8 years or more, twice the lifetime of Fat Clients/traditional PCs. This is why it is important to think long term when assessing the impact of a Thin Client infrastructure.

EXPECTED CHANGES IN USAGE

The use case you purchase your Thin Client for today may be different in several years.  Remember that technology is moving at a very rapid pace and when this is combined with devices that are capable of a shelf life of 8-10 years, there is reason for reflection.  It is advised to choose a device that can address changing needs.  A slightly higher budget on Thin Client can add more years and avoid frustration in performance and varying use cases down the line.

  • Are there expected changes in usage of Thin Clients in the next 5 years?
  • Could the devices be used for other purposes down the line?

ROI CALCULATION

Contrary to PCs which usually have  a life of 3 to 5 years, Thin Client endpoints can live up to 10 years.  One should not compare a purchase of a Thin Client to that of a PC because the shelf life is drastically different. Since most scenarios will rely on remote data  (virtual application or desktop), the demand is not as high on the device itself.  One can think of Thin Clients as “dumb terminals” similar to how the mouse and keyboard will serve for many years without needing much attention.  Many companies find that the cost of Thin Clients is sometimes very close to PCs but they fail to consider the advantages Thin Clients bring in terms of security, ease, simplicity of management, network parameters, and other costs associated with maintaining traditional Windows desktops.

Most Thin Clients come with a 3 year warranty which can usually be extended up to 5.  However if nothing happens to the device in the first year, the likelihood is that the device will be fine for many years to come. It is also a good idea to have some spare devices as receiving replacements from vendors can take time and you don’t want to find yourself with an unproductive user.

  • How long do you intend to keep the Thin Clients and what will be the cost?
  • Are you OK with devices outside of warranty since most vendors give 5 years max?
  • Will the life of the Thin Clients exceed that of traditional PCs?
  • What management effort will Thin Clients avoid and what will be the cost savings?

2. CHOOSING THE RIGHT HARDWARE OPTION

Before buying a thin client you should always check the physical peripheral support, multi monitor support & portability.

Clarifying the implications of the hardware options is key for ensuring a good user experience and a smooth integration of Thin Clients in the workspace.

THIN CLIENT HARDWARE

In addition to looking at processors and the capability of the graphics card, one should also consider the components and if they can be changed.  Many devices now come with certain elements such as memory or flash disc soldered into the motherboard meaning that upgrades are not possible. There are also vendors which lock the BIOS meaning there cannot be changes in the operating system in the future.

Another aspect to look at is the robustness of the device. Some devices are made of plastic materials and others of a stronger metal material.  Some devices are more adept to rougher conditions or heat than others.

  • Are the hardware components solid and can they cover my needs for the 5-8 years to come?
  • Is the processor a newer or older generation?
  • Can changes be made such as adding RAM or changing flash disc?
  • Can the devices be converted to a different OS in the future?
  • Where will you place the devices (i.e. air-conditioned room, factory, etc…)

PHYSICAL PERIPHERAL SUPPORT

When selecting the optimum Thin Client or Zero Client endpoint requirements, keep in mind the peripherals which will be connected to the endpoint.  This can be a variety of devices including printers, scanners, card readers, headphones, signature pads, etc…  Try to keep your options open as these can change with time.

  • What devices will you be connecting to your Thin Clients?
  • How many devices will be connected?
  • Do all devices provide Linux drivers?
  • Are the devices supported by the desktop or application solution you will be using?
  • Will the users or the applications change over time and could the devices be reassigned to other users?

MONITOR SUPPORT

Multi Monitor support and configuration options are greatly dependent on the device processor as well as the graphics card.  Different Thin Clients come with differing input options such as HDMI, DisplayPort, VGA, and DVI.  Some have 1, 2, or 3 display options. Display converters are very common and may be used to go from a display input to another so it’s not the end of the world if the device in question doesn’t have the display input for your preferred monitors or the monitors you have in place.

  • How many monitors do I need to support?
  • What display input is preferred / needed?

PORTABILITY

Most Thin Client endpoints come in a relatively small form factor so they can easily be carried around and set up with the addition of a monitor, keyboard, and mouse.  There are also software options available to convert any PC to a Thin Client. So for users that travel and require laptops they can be converted easily to secure Thin Clients.  There is also the option to run a Thin Client OS from a USB.

  • What are users’ requirements in in terms of mobility?
  • Do users have their own devices that can be used for access?

REPURPOSING DEVICES VS. THIN CLIENT HARDWARE

A great part of the value of the Thin Client is in the Operating System and the management tools provided. Hardware is important but comes later in order of importance. Prior to purchasing new hardware endpoints, it is wise to assess the hardware that is currently in place and determine if it would be suitable to repurpose it into Thin Client devices using the OS provided by the thin client vendor. If they are not out of date, it would be ideal to simply convert them into Thin Clients. Many Thin Client vendors offer this service today.

Repurposing hardware can also make sense for new hardware requirements as well.  One must remember that hardware is a numbers game and vendors that manufacture huge volumes will have an edge. Therefore, it may be more cost effective to buy Thin Client Computer hardware from a reputable hardware vendor and then work with the Thin Client vendor on the software part.  Most Thin Client vendors will never be able to compete with the selection of devices and cost that major desktop manufacturers provide, especially when it comes to laptops and all in one devices.

  • Are there devices that can be repurposed as opposed to buying new hardware?
  • Am I satisfied with the hardware provided by the Thin Client computer vendor or should I look outside?
  • Will the hardware warranty continue to be effective if the Thin Client OS is procured elsewhere?

3. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SOFTWARE

Modifying a thin client configuration locally makes it unsecure.

Software should be the main factor in your Thin Client decision and a look at security, manageability, and user experience is highly warranted.

SECURITY

Security is one of the key reasons to move to Non- Windows Thin Client endpoints.  These are read only and are nearly impossible to hack.  There are some differences in the way that Thin Client vendors approach security.  For many organizations, a right of passage is an assessment by the security team on the vulnerability of the Thin Client device.  One must choose a device that instills confidence from a security perspective.

  • What kind of security measures does the Thin Client in question take?
  • Can the local device be breached? Can the network be breached?
  • How secure is the communication between the thin client and the tool from which it is being managed?

REMOTE MANAGEMENT

The beauty of moving to hardened Linux based Thin Client endpoints is that the management will be simplified.  Many Thin Client vendors offer remote management consoles  which vary in depth and complexity.  Most of the vendors will allow you to access any device present anywhere in the world and make changes securely without requiring a VPN. Also many provide reporting and visibility into multiple aspects of the endpoints as well as the end user experience. It is important to see each of the management tools to determine how intuitive they are and if they provide the level of control and visibility that you seek.

The remote management tool is one of the most important items when looking at the overall thin client solution so a thorough assessment is ideal.  Most vendors allow a free test of the management tool.  While the majority of thin client vendors provide the management tool as a complementary piece of software. Some charge for it or may charge for certain more advanced features.

  • Is the Management application available for free or at a cost?
  • Is the Management application comprehensive for your needs?
  • Is the Management application simple/intuitive?

OPERATING SYSTEM

The majority of Thin Client vendors offer their proprietary Linux based operating systems.  There are some who offer Windows thin clients running operating systems such as Windows 10 IOT.  However, the Linux approach is the most ideal from a security and maintenance perspective and your Thin Client vendor should have a valid reason for suggesting otherwise.

One must be aware of the costs associated with maintaining the Thin Client OS such as support and version updates.  It is important to check the vendor’s policy for major updates/releases.  Many vendors do charge for such updates in addition to the regular maintenance. Keep in mind that you may be on the chosen Thin Client Operating System for the next 8 years so it’s important to plan ahead.

One aspect to be aware of is that not all Thin Client hardware vendors produce their own Operating System and software.  As such, one must be aware if they will be able to support complicated requests or support issues.

  • Do they charge for the operating system?
  • How much is the ongoing maintenance?
  • What is the cost of major software updates or is it included in the maintenance?
  • Does your Thin Client vendor make their own Operating System/ Software or do they leverage someone else’s? How would this affect support?

4. DEFINE ACCESS CONDITIONS TO YOUR DATA AND APPLICATIONS

Check if WIFI & bluetooth are supported on the thin client and if high graphic applications are supported.

How your thin client will access your remote data and applications is a crucial point when considering moving from a PC to a thin client infrastructure.

APPLICATION TO SUPPORT

Assessing the applications that will be used by your users is key to ensuring a smooth user experience.  Not all applications are created equal and some users are more demanding than others. Also when multiple applications are used, they will start to compete for resources. It is important to segment your users into different categories (i.e. light workload user, moderate workload user, heavy workload user). Based on the segmentation, a better determination of the Thin Client resources can be determined.

  • What apps are in use?
  • How many applications will users be using at the same time?
  • How resource hungry are the applications?
  • Are the applications graphic intensive?

WIFI AND BLUETOOTH

Typically Wifi is an option in Thin or Zero Client devices.  This is due to the fact that historically they have been placed within the LAN, however with more and more remote work taking place, Wifi may become the norm.  Most Thin Client operating systems support Wifi and if PCs are converted to Thin Clients, Wifi should work without any issues.  If Wifi is not required today it is wise to still check if the device can be upgraded or it may make sense to opt for Wifi from the beginning just in case. The same case can be made for bluetooth requirements.

  • Are Wifi or Bluetooth currently a requirement?
  • Can Wifi or Bluetooth become a requirement?

LOCAL VS. VIRTUAL APPS

When moving to Thin Clients it makes sense to go to a Linux based platform which provides big security benefits and also the ability to run some apps locally.  As such, to use applications locally, they must support Linux.  With the large advancements in Linux, most Windows applications do have an equivalent in Linux.  As a way to keep the operating system light, Thin Client vendors usually keep the number of applications restricted and new applications need to be requested.  Some Thin Client vendors are more accepting than others in terms of supporting local apps.  Depending on the virtual architecture, when it comes to virtual apps, as long as the Thin Client vendor supports the communication protocol (i.e. HDX, ICA, RDP, PCOIP, Blast), there will be no compatibility issues. If the use case is simply to access a remote desktop or remote application from a browser then it makes sense to offer a more simple “Kiosk” or “Zero Client” experience to the users where they are taken directly to the login screen.

  • Is the use of the Thin Client only for virtual apps and desktops or is there a requirement for local apps?
  • What are the local Apps to be used?
  • Are the local apps compatible with Linux?
  • What resources do the local apps require?

5. GRAPHICAL AND MULTIMEDIA OPTIONS

Is the audio/video conferencing tools of choice provided by your thin client vendor?

Graphical & multimedia tools, especially videos, were the Achilles heel of VDI projects for a long time. Fortunately, tremendous technical progress has been made in this area & Thin Clients can play an important role.

GRAPHIC SUPPORT

Thin Clients come in a variety of processor, memory, and graphic card and drivers options.  When using graphic intensive applications, one must make sure that the endpoint can support the graphics.  While part of the graphics experience is handled by the server (and likely GPU), some of the work is actually done on the endpoint itself and thus the endpoint needs to be able to handle this.  That is why if you have graphic intensive or high refresh rate applications, you may want to consider a more powerful Thin Client device.  Not all Thin Clients come with 4K graphics or 2 to 3 monitor support so this needs to be assessed.  Certain vendors like Citrix have certifications for different Thin Clients to indicate to what degree they can handle graphics. For Citrix, one might note that Thin Clients are categorized as HDX, HDX premium, and HDX Pro 3D.   Another aspect to assess is the refresh rate of a Thin Client device.  Most hover around 30 and 60 hertz and this can differ depending on the resolution.  At higher resolutions the refresh rate may drop.

  • Do the applications in use require high graphics (i.e. Autocad, Photoshop, Premiere pro, etc)?
  • Do the applications in use require a high refresh rate (i.e. map apps)?

AUDIO/CONFERENCING

Apps like Teams, Zoom, and other video conferencing tools have become a staple in the day to day business operation of companies and need to be considered in Thin Client selection. The Thin Client in addition to the virtual app or desktop (Fat Client) vendors must make optimizations allowing for optimal performance for audio conferencing solutions. Certain thin clients allow for much of the processes required in a call to be treated on the local device itself instead of using up session resources.  Many non-Windows Thin Client operating systems also allow for the application to be used locally and can handle the performance requirements.

  • What is your Audio/Conferencing tool(s) of choice?
  • Do you use streaming applications?
  • Is the audio/conferencing tool supported by your Thin Client OS?
  • Will the audio/conferencing tool be used outside of a virtual app/desktop scenario locally on the device?

6. LAST BUT NOT LEAST: SERVICES AND SUPPORT

Beyond the product, the real difference separating thin client vendors will be the services and support provided. Do not underestimate the benefits that a close bond with your vendor can bring you.

OTHER VENDOR BENEFITS

Some Thin Client vendors have things to offer beyond the endpoint. It is a good idea to see what else these vendors can assist with as they may have other offerings that can bring great benefits to your overall virtual app of desktop solution. This may be a good way to obtain multiple products from one vendor minimizing the procurement and support points and likely saving cost via bundling.

  • Does the vendor offer other solutions?
  • Can the solutions offered by the vendor be of value?
  • Can cost be reduced by bundling products from a single vendor?

VENDOR SUPPORT

Thin Client vendors vary in size and ability.  While the major traditional computer hardware vendors may be very interesting from a cost perspective on their thin client lines, they may not be as flexible as their EUC niche focused challengers. Usually these niche vendors whose businesses revolve solely around Thin Client endpoints tend to be more open to specialized requirements and may have better responsiveness.  It is very important to test the support prior to selecting a vendor.  This will give you an idea of how the support process is and what to expect when facing a real life problem.  Some vendors may have you call into a call center simply to log a ticket while others may have you speaking with a highly qualified support person who may resolve the issue right away. One also needs to be aware that certain vendors charge more for 24×7 or faster response support agreements.

  • What is the level of support my company requires?
  • Do I feel that this vendor will be supportive in the long run?
  • Have I assessed the costs of support many years down the line?
  • What is the cost of the support?
  • What if I miss a support renewal?
  • What is included in the support contract and what is out of scope?

CONCLUSION: TEST BEFORE YOU BUY!

The ultimate rule of thumb when purchasing a new Thin Client device or ThinClient Software is to do thorough testing.  Do so with varying use cases and a long-term future in mind.

If you wish to get more guidance on making the right selection, arrange a call with a ZeeTim expert.  Although ZeeTim produces its own Thin Client software, we will be happy to provide some unfiltered general advice.