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Thin Client, Or Fat Client? That Is the Question

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the you've-got-vdi dept.

Networking 450

theodp writes "If virtual desktops are so great, asks Jonathan Eunice, then why isn't everyone using them? However encouraged folks are by the progress virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has made, and however enthused they may be about extending the wins of server virtualization over into the desktop realm, you don't see analysts and developers eating the virtual desktop dog food. And even the folks you meet from Citrix, Microsoft, Quest, VMware, and Wyse — the people selling VDI — use traditional 'fat' notebooks. So, are you using virtual desktops? Why, or why not?" I wonder how long the abbreviation VDI will stick around.

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I had the same issue as a psychologist. (4, Funny)

santax (1541065) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693022)

So I moved to Europe. Now all my clients are thin and as a side-effect my sex-life improved greatly.

Re:I had the same issue as a psychologist. (1, Funny)

demonbug (309515) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693080)

So I moved to Europe. Now all my clients are thin and as a side-effect my sex-life improved greatly.

You're doing it wrong.

Re:I had the same issue as a psychologist. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693084)

Did you find the red light district or did you find a couple European pot heads who believe a psychologist is some kind of real doctor?

Re:I had the same issue as a psychologist. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693124)

Did you find the red light district or did you find a couple European pot heads?

Usually located in the same area.

Re:I had the same issue as a psychologist. (1)

Anonymous Crowbar (692255) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693362)

All your thin clients are belong to us

Re:I had the same issue as a psychologist. (1)

irregehen (1967014) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693392)

That's the power of programming in Euro, all countries conquered at once, with some in need of bailout.

Re:I had the same issue as a psychologist. (1)

ZDRuX (1010435) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693700)

By "some" he mean "all, in due time."

Re:I had the same issue as a psychologist. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693654)

You shouldn't have sex with your thin clients. You might get VDI.

second (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693032)

post

Performance (2)

Chukcha (787065) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693088)

Videographic performance is one sticking point.

Re:Performance (4, Insightful)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693144)

Having used some actual thin clients, it's not bad, though I wouldn't want to game on it.

I think the core point would be that because of the way licensing works - you have to buy the client, pay for a license for the client, a license for all software used on the client(if you're going to be legal), it ends up actually being more expensive than a bottom line, but still capable full PC.

The HD adds, what, $20-40? The licenses for our thin clients was more like $100.

Re:Performance (5, Informative)

cratermoon (765155) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693294)

The licensing costs end up being the key issue in companies of any size. By the time they set up and license all their people with client machines and all the applications, a company will spend about as much as just buying PCs in bulk from Dell or whoever and site licensing the corporate-standard MS Office suite. Pile on top of that the various fiddly things about virtual desktops that just don't work like having a real desktop PC raising the support costs and it's not competitive.

The central server with dumb terminals era ended long ago, except in niche applications. Desktops and laptops that a capable enough are just too cheap and standardized desktop support contracts from third-party support operations pretty much rule the budget considerations. For virtual and really thin clients to take off, the licensing would have to be notably cheaper and support for the edge cases like traveling remote access would have to be much better.

Re:Performance (2)

elsJake (1129889) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693468)

Hardware: Sunray , 20$ a pop. + beefy server
http://www.surpluscomputers.com/350480/sun-microsystems-sun-ray-thin.html

Software: Ubuntu + LTSP
(took a whole 5 minutes to set up on my lan)
https://help.ubuntu.com/community/UbuntuLTSP/LTSPQuickInstall

Now go have a picnic.

Re:Performance (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693522)

My enterprise Windows software would like to talk to you. But, oh, wait.

It can't....

Re:Performance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693716)

Get over your oxymoronic* self [virtualbox.org]

* - "enterprise" Windows

Re:Performance (5, Interesting)

geobeck (924637) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693796)

I studied this issue in the early 00's. The company I worked for had delayed buying any new client hardware to the point where we had administrative users on nine-year-old Dells and AutoCAD users on five-year-old machines. So of course we needed to buy new machines for everyone, and we wanted to find the cheapest solution. Well, management wanted the cheapest solution; users wanted to get some work done, rather than waiting until lunch time for their computer to log in.

In our case, including licensing and server upgrades (which were minor, because we had excess server capacity due to a shrinking company), it would have been cheaper to use a thin client system--but only for the administrative users. AutoCAD was not supported in a thin client environment (is it, even today?), and our service technicians absolutely hated using Citrix to access the ERP system. (Logging into the west coast from China, Germany, or even the midwest was ridiculous, waiting half a minute for your cursor to move across the screen.)

I finally managed to convince my boss, who loved the thin client concept, that because of remote users and AutoCAD users, it was best for us to kill off our Citrix system altogether. The power users got fast new workstations, the administrative users got shiny new PCs, our server room was leaned out and less prone to overheating, and everyone lived happily ever after--until the company folded 18 months later due to incompetent management.

Re:Performance (3, Informative)

Mordok-DestroyerOfWo (1000167) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693326)

Another problem is buying the thin clients themselves. I can't remember off the top of my head, but the price difference between a client and a new workstation is barely enough to offset the difference in licensing, not to mention user complaints on performance. We toyed with the idea of retrofitting older workstations but supposedly we'd miss out on VMWare's/Teradici's proprietary PCoIP protocol. When it comes down to it, it's cheaper for us to buy more RAM and replace parts as needed on our existing workstations than purchase the needed infrastructure and thin clients to even begin replacing our workstations. I have begun giving some of our secretaries (or whatever the PC term is this week) older workstations with Debian with few complaints and more than one compliment on performance, however our GIS and admins will always need Windows and a beefy graphics card.

Developers (4, Insightful)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693090)

Developers won't generally use them ... as with so may computer related things these days, VDI is not about usefulness, it's about control. It makes it easy to lock employees down to a standard desktop, and provision or restore them with minimal effort. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's not really aimed at developers.

Re:Developers (1)

profplump (309017) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693138)

Though it does make it a lot easier to give your developers access to high-speed disks and a 16-core machine, so long as they don't all want those 16 cores at the same time.

Re:Developers (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693216)

I'd rather use a distributed compiler like distcc.

Re:Developers (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693512)

Though it does make it a lot easier to give your developers access to high-speed disks and a 16-core machine, so long as they don't all want those 16 cores at the same time.

I have yet to meet a developer who doesn't think that 16 cores and 2.3 TB on the server means that he can use 16 cores and 2.3 TB at any time.

As for distributed compiling, that works to a small degree. Again, developers are selfish, and will share out one core out of four, grab as much from the cloud as they can, and then complain that it's slow because everybody else are just as selfish as they are.

Re:Developers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693428)

VDI is not about usefulness, it's about control

This is exactly the reason.

Re:Developers (1)

Enderandrew (866215) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693712)

Bingo.

If you want to push a program or policy out to 1,000+ desktops, there are a variety of tools out there. And if you want to clone an image, there are a variety of tools out there. VDI is just one of those ways to easily manage a multitude of desktops and keep them consistent.

Security (4, Insightful)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693092)

Employers love thin clients because they give more control over the information moved in and out of the organisation. You don't have to worry about blocking Lady Gaga CD-RW disks if the user only gets a picture of the data anyway.

But then the same limitations create a constant demand for new solutions to work around problems which should be simple. How can the PHB work on the plane? What is a switch dies and takes out sixteen users?

I have seen thin clients used successfully in a doctors office, where the integration requirements are simple. I can't see it satisfying every requirement in the engineering environment where I work.

Re:Security (1)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693128)

What is a switch dies and takes out sixteen users?

Replace switch with spare. Back online in an hour or so.

Re:Security (1)

earls (1367951) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693386)

Queue... argument about how expensive an extra switch is and if you have to have an extra switch then you have to have an extra so and so to prevent this other possible centralized failure and if you're buying two of everything then all of the money and time you were saving centralizing your computers is beyond pointless and shouldn't be considered... ever. Just buy a throw and desktop computer that comes with a Windows license for every user, and be happy about it. Stop thinking, stop trying to change things, just to do and buy as you're told and you won't have to look foolish.

Re:Security (5, Funny)

Cid Highwind (9258) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693852)

Furthermore, queue... dick-measuring about how an hour of downtime for 16 users is totally unacceptable in "the enterprise" and how my users need five nines uptime, (even though all they do is play minesweeper and write reports). Insinuate anyone who would tolerate more than a minute a decade of switch downtime is a homeless, shoeless, neckbearded GNU/hippie. Quote federal regulations about reliability for nuclear reactor primary safety systems, vaguely hint that the stuff my users are working on is just as important/dangerous (it isn't; it's reports and minesweeper, but this is slashdot and appearances must be maintained). Cast aspersions upon the qualifications of anyone who thinks thin clients are reliable despite the crippling switch failure issue.

Re:Security (5, Funny)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693408)

What is a switch dies and takes out sixteen users?

Replace switch with spare. Back online in an hour or so.

Attempt to fill in IT service request to replace switch. Realise need computer to do that. Pick up phone, but forgotten how to use. Wander hallways seeking IT support monkey. Monkeys elusive, cunning, always escape behind cubicle. Finally corner one, demand support. Monkey needs key to server room but IT manager must authorise taking key off hook. IT manager away doing Six Sigma Course. Monkey suggest fill in IT service request. Escape into air duct.

Reality of corporate environment not always match SLA. Rogerborg sad, but must speak truth, even if delivered in cursive.

Re:Security (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693738)

Pick up phone, but that's plugged in to the same switch and doesn't work either.

FTFY

Re:Security (1)

irregehen (1967014) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693478)

That's where thin is dubbed dumb, powered by dumbness

Re:Security (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693554)

For me, the main problem with thin clients is that the latency and bandwidth isn't always predictable and stable. Especially not if you travel, but even for stationary machines, it can be unpredictable. And you notice a variable latency much more than a constant latency.

And when it's not network latency but server overload, you don't even have any indication as to why things are slowing down. You don't see a blinking drive light and can't look at the process table.

Re:Security (1)

martas (1439879) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693666)

I've often heard the availability/data safety argument against thin clients, but I can't imagine that it'd be that hard to implement proper data and application "caching" on the thin client to ensure a user can work for brief periods of time offline, and sync correctly when connection is reestablished. There's already a lot of theory on similar problems in distributed databases, it seems like it should be possible to transfer some of the knowledge to this new realm...

They use 'fat' laptops because they travel (2)

fotbr (855184) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693094)

I've yet to meet a salesman who will claim with a straight face that the thin-client solution works well when one is traveling and working out of hotel rooms and client sites on a regular basis.

Re:They use 'fat' laptops because they travel (0)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693166)

This was true up until the iPad was released. VNC is the iPad's killer app, if there ever was one.

Re:They use 'fat' laptops because they travel (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693412)

VNC is the iPad's killer app, if there ever was one.

Maybe iSSH. VNC without SSH or some other encryption layer is just asking for trouble.

For those vaguely interested, there's a review on four iPad VNC apps here [tuaw.com] .

Re:They use 'fat' laptops because they travel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693448)

This was true up until the iPad was released. VNC is the iPad's killer app, if there ever was one.

I like that .... I don't know if it's true, nor do I care. The real question is will the PHBs believe it?

Re:They use 'fat' laptops because they travel (3, Insightful)

ShawnDoc (572959) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693472)

How does the iPad get around the problem of over saturated hotel networks or poor 3G connectivity? What does it bring to the table that isn't the same as a thin client on a laptop? That's right, it doesn't and nothing.

Re:They use 'fat' laptops because they travel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693768)

Try it, then post.

A touchscreen VNC client changes pretty much everything. I don't need to keep a PC at my lab bench anymore, for instance.

Re:They use 'fat' laptops because they travel (1)

mother_reincarnated (1099781) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693670)

If we're going here then I'd say Citrix Receiver is far more the 'killer app' since road warriors are not using VNC, sorry...

(BTW

Re:They use 'fat' laptops because they travel (1)

C_amiga_fan (1960858) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693190)

Precisely.

The fat laptop works even if the hotel has no connection, or has a slow 50k connection. The thin client will not.

Re:They use 'fat' laptops because they travel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693374)

Who the hell stays in a hotel with no Internet connection?

Re:They use 'fat' laptops because they travel (1)

geminidomino (614729) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693598)

Many people who were in the northeast US for Xmas this year, for starters...

Re:They use 'fat' laptops because they travel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693576)

Not everywhere Im at do I have an internet connection and if I do, Its usually just about fast enough to run a chat client. Im not a true road warrior, but I have spent my time in airports and third world country hotels.

Re:They use 'fat' laptops because they travel (2)

SunFireSpaz (1326671) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693782)

Sun..err..Oracle via General Dynamics has a Sun Ray thin-client laptop with 3G called a Tadpole [tadpole.com] .

Loving it, need more of it (4, Interesting)

pablodiazgutierrez (756813) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693096)

At work we all have latest generation laptops that end up working as dumb terminals through VNC. A bunch of servers and a load balance connection hub to always route you to the least used one make sure no work is lost if the laptop drops or is stolen, and with current network speeds, it's pretty much like working locally, with the added benefit of an 8-core beast compiling for you, and little to no maintenance on my side. If anything, I'd love for things to go thinner. I lug my laptop, which is heavy enough, from home to work and back every day. Then at work I dock it to use the 25" screen and full keyboard on my desk. If I could just have a small device that acts as a real dumb terminal with some processing power and minimal storage, I'd be happy.

Re:Loving it, need more of it (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693300)

You could have the same with a distributed compiler (distcc) and online backup system (lsyncd?), with the advantage that you could use it even without Internet access.

Re:Loving it, need more of it (1)

irregehen (1967014) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693342)

Do you implement serializable?

Re:Loving it, need more of it (1)

cr_nucleus (518205) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693640)

Use a macbook air.
It's not gonna be dumb but should be light enough.

Re:Loving it, need more of it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693764)

Or a Penguin Air.

Too Slow (1)

crazedmaniac (647278) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693106)

Virtual desktops may be "almost" as fast as the real thing, but native performance is still native performance...

Re:Too Slow (3, Insightful)

bernywork (57298) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693236)

I'm not sure what you worked on and when, but with native virtualization instructions in modern processors, there is no noticable speed difference, the biggest place where people see issues is with disk contention with a badly designed storage platform behind the virtualization solution.

Re:Too Slow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693816)

Local virtualization is nearly as fast (there is in fact a noticeable difference though) but that isn't true over a network. Local virtulization is not a thin client.

Re:Too Slow (1)

irregehen (1967014) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693284)

Native performance will always be. When is better going to be irrelevant?

Re:Too Slow (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693430)

Depending upon what you're doing, we either reached that point several years ago or never will.

No, he's not (5, Informative)

zn0k (1082797) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693122)

> If VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) is so great, then why aren't you using it?

Eunice isn't saying that, he's quoting Brian Madden as saying so and then gives his opinion on why he thinks they sooner or later will.

You can tell because of the sentence directly before the one quoted above:

>Virtualization analyst Brian Madden asks an excellent question:

But hey, fuck accurate summaries, right?

Re:No, he's not (1)

Gofyerself (1709970) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693318)

But hey, fuck accurate summaries, right?

You must be new here.

depends on your POV (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693156)

If you're a CIO and have to worry about installing, patching, upgrading, and supporting hundreds or thousands of desktops, you want thin clients so you can manage this kind of thing at the server.

If you're a user, you want a fat client because they are more responsive with more task-specific UI design, and often have more features. You are less likely to land in twenty-open-tab-page hell with a fat client. And you don't have to worry about web popups, Flash cookies, JavaScript malware, browser history, browser security warnings, and all that other nonsense associated with the web while you're using your enterprise application.

hmm (1)

nomadic (141991) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693158)

Does anyone know of any reputable services that actually sell virtual desktops? I'd really like some sort of centralized place I can log on and have things set up like I like them, be able to store files, etc. but haven't been able to find a place that just offers that, just whole servers.

This is the year (3, Interesting)

timeOday (582209) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693182)

of VDI on the desktop!

Actually, if it happens it will be fairly gradual, the result of ever-improving infrastucture and improved technology at many levels. Just as the Pocket Computer / Smartphone has evolved gradually. For example, the Apple Newton failed, whereas the iPhone was later a blockbuster. Why? Lots and lots of reasons. Some of them, such as faster/cheaper/smaller processors and networking, apply directly to virtualization as well.

Some are... (1)

jaymzter (452402) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693186)

From my understanding, Citi is almost exclusively virtual desktop oriented, whether you work in the office or remotely. In fact, you have to get executive approval to get a laptop issued to you. Personally, I am not a fan of virtual desktops, especially if your work requires unique tools (cygwin, wireshark, customized troubleshooting apps, etc.) like mine does. In addition, if you work remotely that means that YOU provide the machine the desktop will run on, which pushes the cost down to the user. I don't agree with that either.

It is a win for companies however, if they're interested in getting rid of real estate while keeping headcount.

Re:Some are... (4, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693456)

For banks, I think that probably ought to be required. Industries like that and places that need to tighten control of the data love VDI, as it makes it a lot harder for somebody to gain access or more worryingly leave secure data on an insecure machine.

Anyone who asks this question should not be in IT (1, Informative)

RobertM1968 (951074) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693214)

Really, this is so simple. There aren't suitable thin client options for most businesses. And Microsoft is to blame. No, this isn't an anti-Microsoft rant - there's no reason for them to support (or more accurately, PUSH) such a model. It boils down to this: Windows is hardly "thin client" status anymore. Computers are dirt cheap. Buying a thin client machine costs about as much as buying the cheapo level desktop most businesses need (the ones that need more powerful hardware aren't suited for thin clients, eg: CGI and video editing). Microsoft used to (still may?) charge the same license fee for the thin client as they would if it was a full fledged desktop and full OS.

Thus, what's the purpose of spending the same amount of money for a thin client machine that one would for a full fledged desktop and full OS?

It doesn't matter how wonderful the technology behind thin clients is, or how wonderful it gets... it's a waste of money for most scenarios.

And of course, Microsoft's business model is in better shape without thin clients... more support people, more certifications, more money generated. Smarter business approach for them.

Re:Anyone who asks this question should not be in (4, Insightful)

caitriona81 (1032126) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693470)

I'm going to call BS partly on this. Most of the business world is using basic productivity software, probably Microsoft Office, with some users needing access to an accounting package or CRM. Thin clients aren't so much about up front cost as they are about reducing long term support costs. Using thin clients in an enterprise or small to medium business environment gives you a lot of benefits to the long term bottom line. From a security perspective, you cut the "attack surface" of your network very sharply - from dozens if not hundreds or even thousands of desktops that each need antivirus, security updates, administration, and security monitoring, down to a handful of servers that you can lock down pretty tightly. From a support perspective, you are no longer managing all those desktops, you are now managing a handful of servers. You have all the data for your organization where you can make sure backups are happening, and where you can keep tabs on what data is being stored and where it's stored, so you no longer have to worry about that file with a million customer social security numbers or credit card numbers sitting on someone's desktop, where you won't find out about it until after it walks out the door. Also, with a good setup, you ease the pain of patch days a fair bit, since you don't have to chase breakage across all those desktops, just across the app servers. You remove the expectation of user control because a thin client is clearly not a desktop (the "but I can do it at home, why can't I do it here" syndrome). These are damn good reasons to go to thin clients on the desktop, even if the up front costs are the same or even slightly more, and they apply to most desktop users. Only "high-performance" application demands, like CAD, and software development need fat desktops. Now, on the laptop side of things, internet connections in the field aren't something you can count on, even with mobile broadband and wifi penetration, it's not always there, and it's not always good enough. so thin clients aren't going to make much headway there for a long, long time.

Re:Anyone who asks this question should not be in (1)

bernywork (57298) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693476)

It doesn't matter how wonderful the technology behind thin clients is, or how wonderful it gets... it's a waste of money for most scenarios.

Thank you. You hit it. Thin client is great in hospitals for hot desking, it works great for some trading organisations who want to centralise certain aspects of their business, lawyers who don't want information leakage and all sorts of other things. I have seen (and designed / implemented) these solutions. It's just another tool in the tool box. You use it where it makes sense, in a lot of organisation the requirement to properly administer these solutions costs too much more than running their environment half assed which still satisfies the user requirement.

The whole virtual desktop solution is massively expensive and works only in a small subset of situations. The cost of bringing everything back to the rack, the requirement to have everything on SAN as opposed to local disk, the IO requirements of it means you need a decently sized SAN (And that's not cheap).

Thus, what's the purpose of spending the same amount of money for a thin client machine that one would for a full fledged desktop and full OS?

Well, I don't know how you did your math, but you sorta screwed up some numbers somewhere along the lines.... Thin clients are cheaper, you need to look at patching, and managing all those machines, warranties, and everything else. Thin clients mean that there is no local profiles, no local domain requirements, a stripped down windows means no patching and if you do you netboot the machine and serve it out over TFTP on a saturday when nobody is around (Including you!) and just do another run later to deal with the exceptions. Your down time on a properly implemented thin client solution is a LOT lower than what your going to end up with using standard desktops, as a CTO though, your going to have to realise that your going to pay higher wages to get the right guys who understand the technologies and can properly administer it.

Re:Anyone who asks this question should not be in (5, Insightful)

jkmartin (816458) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693616)

The promise of thin clients has never been on upfront costs. The advantages have to do with maintaining the clients once they have been deployed. Think patches, service packs, O/S upgrades, memory upgrades, HD replacements, etc. With traditional desktops many of these changes can only be done by going to each machine individually. Additionally, thin clients make backup/restore trivial whereas trying to enforce data retention standards on desktops is always a battle. While these issues may not present themselves in a small to medium sized company, trust me when I say that with thousands of installed desktops there are hundreds of people dedicated to maintaining the hardware and managing the environment.

I'm not sure what you mean by "there aren't suitable thin client options for most businesses." Most of the actual business of say a bank, or an insurance company, or a web vendor, or just about any company that isn't a full fledged software developer comes down to a few apps that rarely require huge amounts of memory, the latest video card, or even a hard drive since most of those apps just run as a client and save data on the server anyway. In fact I can think of few businesses where thin clients shouldn't represent the majority or installed systems.

Thin clients work great (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693220)

Until you need multimedia. Most can do audio decently, and small silent videos or animations work OK too. But if you need high-quality video with audio that's actually synced to the video...no, not there yet (if you can restrict video entirely to Windows Media Player, newer Windows-based thin clients may be able to do the trick via some RDP trickery, but WMP isn't exactly known for its wide codec support, and the "thin" clients have to be beefy enough to do decode the streams they are passed, which isn't very common at the moment)

Companies will add it, users will hate it (1)

cenobyte40k (831687) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693226)

The control it adds is great but the end users will hate it to the end of the world. If you have any network issue at all you no longer can do anything at all. At least now with thick clients you might have slow or no access to network served apps (email, web, etc) but your local stuff is still there. You can write an email even if you can't send it, you can finish up a powerpoint, or at least play games until the network comes back. Thin client + network down = pissed off and useless employees.

Re:Companies will add it, users will hate it (1)

bernywork (57298) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693292)

Thin client + network down = pissed off and useless employees.

True, but at the same time, there should be NO local content, whatever you have on your machine and not on the network (Namely for backup purposes or whatever else) is a mistake, so your only option would be to save local because the network isn't there.

Having been in the situation you talk about, you just send the staff out for lunch or tell them to go shopping or whatever else. NOBODY can get away from unforseen outages, this comes as part of the job. Not to flame, contructive criticism, if you can't manage the staff and their expectations, you need to learn how to do your job better.

You still need a device on user's desk (1)

alexmin (938677) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693242)

'Fat client' setup: client workstation + coprorate file/print/app servers.
'Thin client' setup: client workstation + VM servers + corporate file/print/app servers.

Given that cost to buy and maintain client workstations are very similar, 'thin client' setup means throwing money into maintaining VM servers to achieve worse workstation performance due to CPU and network contention.

So why bother?

Re:You still need a device on user's desk (1)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693394)

I think the main reason is so you don't have to go round all the desktops changing or updating things.

I've also seen it used in schools where you can have lots of different desktops set up with the appropriate software and documents for each lesson, and you can easily reset it at the end of the lesson.

Re:You still need a device on user's desk (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693424)

Given that cost to buy and maintain client workstations are very similar...

The initial purchase price is about the same, but the ongoing maintenance cost for a good thin client is $0, whereas a workstation needs regular patching and (for Windows) occasional tune-ups.

Medium weight client. (3, Interesting)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693246)

My development environment is a Xen VM or two.

My client is not thin though. I run the window manager, browser, mail client, IM application, SQL application, and a few other programs on the desktop, and use ssh -X and sshfs to do my development work on the VM.

I have tried running everything on the VM via XDMCP, VNC, and NX, but it is just too slow anywhere but on the LAN. Until I have a 100Mb connection to my house (instead of the 2Mb/384Kb connection with 50ms ping times to google.com I currently shell out $55/mo for) the thin client does not work.

Have been using Thin Clients World wide (1)

iccaros (811041) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693248)

I have a customer who has 1,500 desktop all have been using thin clients for five years now. Now these are Trusted Solaris using Sun Rays, giving them access to multiple classified systems from a single thin client and we replaced five physical desktop under each desk. So we reduced cost, and given the customer more flexibility. Plus now they have 2 24" monitors on each desk with multiple "Desktops" open. Another customer likes the ideal of not having to replace workstations every 2 -3 years. It all matters on the Goal.

The real question is ... (1)

Super Dave Osbourne (688888) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693254)

should there be no client? The desire of big business is to centralize everything. The liberation and free user period of the 80s and 90s is over and now its all about the borg. So get over the argument and silly questions of 'to be or not to be' and realize that regardless the motion of the ocean is a big bone in your IT ass dicktated by Apple, M$haft and the wannabees or hazbeanz.

It's the connectivity (3, Informative)

Todd Knarr (15451) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693268)

It's all a matter of connectivity. If you're using a traditional "fat" desktop (or notebook), you're self-contained. All your software's there, you aren't dependent on any connectivity to the outside world to get your work done. A "thin" virtual desktop client, by comparison, is completely dependent on having a network connection to it's host server to operate. Without that connectivity, it's a doorstop (and a light-weight one at that, so it doesn't even do very good at blocking a door open). And in a world of corporate firewalls and filters there may not be any connectivity that the VDI client can use. Anything other than HTTP/HTTPS may be blocked completely, and HTTP/HTTPS traffic will usually be forced through a proxy server that, even if it allows the kind of streaming connection a VDI client needs, introduces so much delay that the desktop becomes useless. And that's when the network's working correctly. Add in random network outages and traffic congestion at the wrong times and corporate systems that require non-corporate machines to VPN to the corporate network (and to have specific anti-virus and management software installed before the VPN's allowed to connect) and it makes a VDI client distinctly unreliable and hard to deal with. Meanwhile, the guy with the "fat" notebook may have more system management headaches and software synchronization issues than the VDI system, but he's still getting his work done while the VDI guy's sitting twiddling his thumbs while the techs try to sort out all the problems.

Re:It's the connectivity (2)

scdeimos (632778) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693552)

If your company wants to deploy VDI they'll figure out the connectivity requirements soon enough.

You're right, though - any kind of network or server outage has people twiddling their thumbs while you're still paying them. Not ideal.

The main complaints I see about VDI, aside from connectivity issues, is that it "isn't fast enough" to play video and games. Big deal. The majority of corporates are supposed to be working in Office-like apps typing documents, editing spreadsheets or pulling together slideshows - no video requirement there. Big bosses don't want you to access YouTube or whatever other time-wasting video sites you like to inhabit.

The minority of people actually needing physical desktops (for things such as network sniffers and maintenance) won't be on VDI.

Eating the dog food (3, Interesting)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693290)

I have to differ, i do as i preach and have been using VDI in some form or another since i started 'pushing' virtual machines at the office.

If *I* cant run it, how can i tell others to?

The unspoken issue with VDI (1)

spasebo (1470939) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693322)

I think VDI is great and would jump on it in an instant as an IT Operations Manager. However, as long as Microsoft is raping everyone over licensing small / medium companies will never adopt. You have to have software assurance or an Enterprise license in order to be within Microsoft compliance for VDI. So if you're the typical SMB who buys a laptop with OEM windows and simply keeps that part of your refresh cycle, you have to pony up as much as 6 figures to rebuy all of those licenses on top of any new thin client hardware. In the end, the costs of licensing, man hours, and end-user training just don't add up to keeping the status quo. Sure there are other benefits like decreased support costs, but convincing a CFO to repurchase windows licensing (that's how they see it) would be a fight not worth having. Of course, if you're part of those fortunate companies that are active in an EA contract, this is all moot and I say make the change.

Broadband Infrastructure Bottleneck (1)

earls (1367951) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693332)

It's simple; at least from my perspective in the US. The US simply does not have the ubiquitous broadband infrastructure to make "cloud" / "vdi" computing practical. Your elite users most likely have laptops - so even if that have access to great broadband at their home and office, what do you do any where else? You're either at the mercy of the hosts' wifi you're leeching or you're tethering - meaning you have a 5GB/mo allowance. Sure, a lot of computer have 3G modems built in, but then you still need a pseudo-thick client to boot into so that you can connect to the 3G network - which may vary in quality quite drastically, not mentioning that even at full berth, it's still probably not a very pleasant experience. By the time you figure out all of the bullshit work-arounds to give a mobile user a halfway bearable and consistent experience, you might have just installed Windows and been done with it. And yeah, you're probably going to use Windows because the users just have to have MS Office - both because they know it, "everyone uses it", and "it looks pretty"... whereas, you know, Gmail is ugly. Internally, Active Directory pretty much gives you all the control and manageability you need for a Windows environment without the need to buy and build completely new "virtual" infrastructure - and not just hardware; there's endless licensing bullshit to consider. Microsoft has spent years carefully crafting their lock-in strategy to secure the market. Unless you're moving to their cloud, you've got a lot of retraining and compatibility issues to consider. And why even start thinking about possible problems when we still don't have the necessary internetwork to support such a paradigm in the first place. Cloud computing and virtualization may very well be the future of computing, but we're still in the alpha phase, and unless you have the money to afford the best of the worst cloud/vdi resources available, why does it even matter? And considering the economy, it should be no surprise little to no one is scrambling to adopt.

VM On laptops (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693336)

True, they use 'fat' laptops to travel, as no net = no workie = pissed off client .. But all the ones i know use vm's ON the laptop.

Why am I not using VDI? I have my own cloud. (2)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693350)

Really, I'm not interested in controlling a remote desktop. What I really wanted was my own private cloud to store and sync all my data to/from my various "clients".

I looked around and didn't find a solution that let me stream my media, control all of my home systems, have encrypted backups of my data distributed among the PCs of my friends and family, along with a native app & a web interface to rule it all.

Just s/friends and family/other offices/ to apply these needs to business.

VDI is not the solution I was looking for. A turn-key "local cloud" where I control all of the data is what I want. I've glued several FOSS solutions to achieve this, and am testing a new cross platform system of my own... Remote Desktop can kiss my ass, all I need is the data (processor speed & RAM are cheap; The "thin client" of today is a behemoth in yesterday's standards).

People just want to use all their data on all of their hardware. Ultimately we must either run our own servers or trust a 3rd party to "host" it for us. I opted for the former because the latter gives me the willies.

The right tool for the right job (1)

Tony Isaac (1301187) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693352)

Thin clients are great for situations where lots of users need identical environments. These days, people who do data entry need little more than a Web browser to do their work. It makes sense to use thin clients for that kind of work.

Developers, on the other hand, have to have a set of power tools for their work. These power tools don't perform well on thin clients, and can sometimes destabilize the entire server. Rebooting the machine, an task that can be frequent for developers, would disrupt work for everyone else working on that server.

We developers aren't pigs, it's just the nature of our work.

Fuck you (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693388)

Who are you calling fat you cunt of a Phasmatodea?

Depends (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693410)

What you must run? If everything is web, a pendrive with a live distro could qualify. Other alternatives could be LTSP [ltsp.org] or even Chrome OS. Now, if this is for running windows you lose anyway in costs, security and probably even administration

thin client, fat operator (1)

russlar (1122455) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693432)

problem solved.

In hell, they use Thin Clients. (4, Interesting)

w0mprat (1317953) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693440)

I've seen thin client networks done badly, and I think if you factor in the cost of having a large part of your business unable to work due to a single router flaking out, or your citrix server farm doing something wierd and eating everyones work, you might have eaten up any savings from purchasing and servicing traditional fat clients on desks.

An occasional one-time saving on cost is eaten up by [sometimes massively] amplified on-going cost in any downtime you inevitably face.

Suggested addendum to the powerpoint presentations I know that drive these bussiness decisions: Your network infrastructure better be damn good. You also better not think it's a great cost saving strategy deploy your thin client infrastructure to remote sites with dodgy WAN links.

Laptops as hybrid thin clients make a lot more sense - your business could get up and move. Now, I've seen that done well.

Um... "Virtual Desktops"? (3, Informative)

Admiral Burrito (11807) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693446)

I've been using vitual desktops [wikipedia.org] since FVWM in the mid 90s, and it has nothing to do with what this guy is talking about. I'd think Slashdot would know better, but of course times have changed. Am I going to have to start calling it Spaces [wikipedia.org] now?

Not quite as snappy (1)

thermal_7 (929308) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693482)

I have been forced to do my development on a virtual machine at work. I can compare the performance well because my home and work machine are almost identical spec except for the virtualized bit. Note they both have an SSD and quad core.

Performance is pretty good, but not good enough to make the switch worth it IMO. At home I never wait for trivial action to complete, like opening an application. At work however, sometimes the machine will lock up for a few seconds, which is enough to distract me. The feeling of, hmm its stuck, when is it going to complete, will usually drive me to check my mail/rss which makes focusing harder.

Control (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693518)

Business wants control and has the money.
IT wants control and needs the money.

Business hates IT. Why would they allow their end users to get stuck with very low CPU-powered devices with lots and lots of limitations rather than run a full PC that costs 5x more annually to run but **can** let them watch youtube? They wouldn't.

That's why VDI doesn't work outside IT.

Also, most networks that I've seen are using 10+ yr old switches and probably can't handle the strain that VDI would put on the overall networking between different buildings.

VDI is really simple provided you stay away from Windows on the desktops/end nodes and avoid Windows servers.

Client workstations = Linux something (512MB RAM + 1 $30 CPU + 1 5GB or smaller disk)
- rdesktop
- NX-client
- Web browser (Firefox)
- NFS mount user HOME directories so any workstation can be used by any user.

How it works?
Use NX-Client to remote into Linux servers for thick applications.
Use rdesktop to remote into Windows servers for thick applications.
Use as many browser-based apps as possible - like Zimbra for the communications server.

Since you aren't running Windows, end users won't be able to load non-approved apps unless they become technical enough to load packages into their HOMEs. Most people will not even bother. You can setup the HOME with a quota that simply doesn't have room for programs to be loaded and you can mount with the 'noexec' switch to make it just a little harder.

End users will hate it at first, then they'll learn to love it since any computer issue will always be hardware or networking and solved by a workstation swap. No local data is stored. It is all on the server.

AV isn't really needed on Linux machines and the servers that do need it can all be professionally managed.

Best of all, you will be able to slowly through Microsoft out of your network and get off their never ending upgrades and mandatory hardware upgrades.

Running both fat and thin (3, Interesting)

digitalhermit (113459) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693596)

I keep a few Linux instances running on some VMWare and KVM based servers on my home network. The desktop systems run vncserver and I can access the sessions remotely from any system in the house. Though I run some of the same apps locally, there are enough reasons to run them on the central server.

1) The types of apps I need are not available easily on the client. For example, I use some photography related apps under Ubuntu. These are free and easily available via the Software Manager. The same quality of apps are not available under Win7. For example, there are some HDR utilities I use in Ubuntu that work quite well. Similar software under Win7 or MacOSX costs $40 or so.

2) The netbooks I've started to use don't have the power needed to run some of the larger apps. Though my main laptop (CentOS 5.5) can handle it, I have some Atom based systems that have issues running a JDE or full blown dev environment.

3) I have *many* client devices. At last count I have 10 laptops in the house. These run CentOS, Ubuntu, MacOSX, Win7, WinXP and Fedora. This is unusual for most households, but reflects the type of environment I'm seeing in smaller businesses. No matter what client I use I can run my set of apps.

A step back (2)

xhrit (915936) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693604)

Using a modern thin client is pretty much like using 50s era time-sharing systems, with the exception that the modern variation slaves inferrior microprocessors to a more powerful cluster of devices, instead of slaving pure IO devices to said systems. The question then becomes if you are carrying a device that is in itself more powerful then the systems in use even 5 or 10 years ago, what advantage does connecting to 'the cloud' holds over the advancements in computing technology that originally allowed us to move away from this computing model?

Fundamentally the issue is data security and usage control. There is no advantage to the end user, only the content providers who maintain the system.

Horrible performance and high cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693622)

I work for a large US bank that is currently trying to force VDI on everyone including those for whom it is a poor fit (developers and engineering staff, etc.). The cost of the servers plus the cost of the thin client hardware is _FAR_ more than what we can buy PCs and laptops for, even after they cheaped out on the servers by using compute nodes with inexpensive and poor performing raid controllers. The performance is dreadful as we're running a bloated Windows 7 desktop with Office 2007. User profiles are constantly becoming corrupted requiring recreation. People in my area are spending large chunks of their time with the Help Desk and support teams. Many of the apps themselves are even virtualized further using Microsoft's App-V, formerly Softricity. When you need an app that doesn't run well (or at all) on the VDI client they tell you to access it via a Citrix session which is also very expensive to run. I'm waiting for the CIO to finally have someone clue him in to the costs and watch the entire thing unravel.

thinner (1)

MikeURL (890801) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693652)

I don't think this is all that complicated. There are two things going on at once. One, more things are moving into "the cloud" which only requires a browser to access. At the same time as this is happening the hardware continues to get more powerful and cheaper at the same time.

So there is not a compelling reason to switch to a thin client when the savings would be small and the loss of functionality would greatly outweigh the savings. If, on the other hand, laptops or netbooks were getting more expensive every year then there would already be great pressure to switch to thin clients.

Lastly we also live in a world where people are accustomed to the internet routinely going down for no apparent reason. In that type of environment people don't want to surrender all their functionality to the cloud so there is ongoing resistance to a complete surrender even as more and more gets done in a browser.

Why I think they may not use thin clients (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693658)

Asking why tech companies don't use thin clients I think is bringing up a poor point.

I think they're pushing them as a way to have cheaper consumer machines. I'm not entirely sure they'd expect people to run eclipse on them.

However a clueless consumer who never bothers to back up or update is actually better off using things like Google docs and gmail if they primarily surf the net and use email and Word.

Likewise I'm sure Google view Chrome OS as something more for your grandmother / mother than your next development environment. That said you do find companies using the cloud and things like Google Apps more often. So they are moving that way too but they're going to be more selective about it.

Price (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693678)

google shopping "thin client" nets me a 1.6ghz 1gb HP model at the top of the list for 342$

in 2008 around that same cost I got a 2.6ghz X2 with 4gb 500gb DVD burner and a frikin geforce 9600GT

so for me screw thin clients, maybe if a decent spec-ed one was less than 100$ I might look into it

but then again I just put together a 1.6ghz dual core atom with 2gb 160gb and a dvd rom for less than 100$ that is not that much bigger than a thin client, so whats my incentive other than having a case that is only a couple inches smaller, no storage, and no media for 242$ more?

Re:Price (1)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693720)

it's cheaper to manage and back up a more centralized installation. You can also build a thin client about the size of a book that is pretty much silent. Stick a shared monster box on the back end and maybe you'll think differently.

Linux and SSH (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34693766)

We just need widespread adoption of Linux as the primary business desktop OS and rampant use of ssh -X.

thin client is an app not computer (1)

kentsin (225902) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693780)

I think that saying about Chrome is also validate about thin clients

thin = think - k (1)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | more than 3 years ago | (#34693786)

There are a lot of positions out there where workers only have to hit a dedicated system on an internal web server, and occasionally hit other web pages. For this, thin clients are low maintenance, secure, awesome.

For any job that needs more flexibility, this breaks down badly.

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