Virtual Desktops and Thin Clients: The Complete Guide

July 8, 2024

Thin clients are end user devices designed to deliver secure access to virtualized applications and desktops hosted in the datacenter or the cloud. They’re playing a key role in the rise of remote work, which analysts expect to grow by 90 million jobs as soon as 2030.

Companies embrace thin clients because they help improve security, simplify IT infrastructure management and reduce costs. The first step in deciding whether thin clients are right for your organization is to familiarize yourself with the technology.

Is a Thin Client a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure?

Thin clients and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) are related, but they're not the same thing. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) technology enables the creation of virtual desktops on a central server. This not only helps protect sensitive company data but also simplifies IT management and provides employees with secure and convenient remote access. VDI, along with other services like Desktop as a Service (DaaS) and Cloud PCs, has gained popularity due to its numerous benefits. These include improved security, enhanced performance, centralization, reduced hardware requirements, cost savings, and the ability to work from anywhere.

VDI allows access from a wide variety of devices, including PCs, Chromebooks, tablets, smartphones, and more. This can be achieved either through the local browser or by installing a dedicated software client on the user’s device. Thin clients, which are specifically designed for VDI access, come with the necessary lightweight software components. As they are not intended to run local applications or store local data, they have lower hardware requirements in terms of CPU performance and local storage compared to standard commercial PCs. Leaders often provide employees with thin clients as part of a push for workplace virtualization.

It’s also easier to maintain the security of your virtual desktop infrastructure when you can control things like updates and firewall settings from a central location. Thin clients, which are centrally managed and easier to secure, help to minimize risk and provide enhanced protection. They prevent sensitive data or personal information from being exposed on the user’s device.

How Do Thin Clients Work?

To understand how thin clients work, it’s useful to compare them with the more traditional devices we use daily, such as laptops, PCs, and mobile devices. These traditional devices, often referred to as ‘thick’ clients, have the power to run complex applications on their own. In simple terms, ‘thick’ machines have all the necessary technical capabilities to operate powerful programs locally.

Thin clients offer a unique approach that can provide significant business advantages. They are a type of computer that connects to a network to access applications and resources, which are run in a secure VDI environment rather than on the device itself. This simple, lightweight design is why they’re called ‘thin’.

Thin clients deliver access to virtual applications and desktops to end users instantly. All programs, applications, memory, and sensitive information are stored securely in a data center, not on the device. This enhances security and simplifies IT management. Software upgrades and changes can be made easily in the data center, increasing workplace productivity as IT teams don’t need to resolve issues at the end user’s location. Users can’t copy information to a disk or save it anywhere other than the server, and they can’t install unauthorized software on their devices. This helps to protect companies from malware attacks and data breaches.

Both types of machines give users access to the same applications and information. They only differ in how they provide that access. "Thick" clients handle everything internally, while thin clients connect to a server that performs the bulk of the computing on its end.

The question for business owners and decision-makers is whether thin or thick clients are a better fit for their unique computing and budgetary concerns. That answer will vary based on factors like how prevalent remote work is in your organization and how you prefer to manage your IT infrastructure. You can read more about the benefits of remote desktops from Dell Technologies here.

What Are the Types of Thin Clients?

Thin clients can be either hardware- or software-based. Hardware options are standalone devices, whereas software can be installed on any supported device to turn it into a thin client. Beyond that, thin clients vary in how powerful they are, how they connect to the VDI environment and the user experience they deliver.

For example, if you want employees to have access to internal systems anywhere they go, tablets are more portable than PCs. But while a touchscreen can work fine for some tasks, it's not the best option for word processing or computing. Laptops could be a better fit if you want on-the-go access from a more traditional computer interface.

Software-based solutions allow to repurpose existing user PCs and extend the use of these devices. However, it is important to evaluate the tools available to deploy and manage the thin client software at scale.

Consider your company's goals when choosing which type of thin client to use. All options can provide similar forms of access, which means what's best for your business could come down to security requirements and IT management capabilities.

Key Takeaways

Thanks to remote work and flexible office environments, desktop virtualization is becoming more popular, and thin clients help to make it easier. They connect employees to powerful business applications from simple machines, which makes working outside of the traditional office much easier.

Thin clients also give companies a more secure and simple way to meet their computing needs. Whether hardware or software-based, they let users perform tasks with powerful applications without actually needing powerful hardware to do it.

You can learn more about how thin clients and virtualized desktop environments impact your industry. Or, take the next step toward completing your thin client setup by reviewing Dell Technologies’ solutions.

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