What's a Thin Client?

Thursday Feb 18th 2010 by Laurie McCabe
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A thin client is a low cost computer connected to a network, allowing it to tap into greater processing and data storage capability. Thin clients have a variety of cost and efficiency advantages.

Thin Client: What is It?

A thin client is a computing device that’s connected to a network. Unlike a typical PC or “fat client,” that has the memory, storage and computing power to run applications and perform computing tasks on its own, a thin client functions as a virtual desktop, using the computing power residing on networked servers.

They typically have just enough processing power, information and parts to access and use the computing resources of a server. The thin client can’t run applications or store data or documents on its own; it functions as an interface to convey your keystrokes and connect to the applications, documents, data and storage on networked servers, where the actual work is done.

Most thin clients run Web browsers and/or remote desktop software, such as Microsoft Terminal Services or Citrix XenApp, so you see the familiar browser or desktop environment that you’re used to.  

With thin clients, you run the desktop environment on the server, and remotely display the desktop screens on the thin clients. You need to manage this on the server side with what’s called a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) — software that creates the desktop images, stores them on servers and sends them over the network to the thin clients.

Both desktop and mobile thin clients are available from a wide range of manufacturers. Some such as Wyse, specialize in thin clients, while others, such as Dell and HP provide thin clients as part of a larger client device portfolio.

Because they lack hard drives, CD-ROM drives, fans and other moving parts, thin clients are smaller, cheaper and simpler for manufacturers to build than traditional PCs or notebooks—and cheaper for you to buy.

Thin clients decrease client maintenance costs and hassles.

Read more about thin clients at Small Business Computing.

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