Affordable computing technology options are being applied across organizations including schools. The technology that has gained prominence in the search for affordability is Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). VDI is a virtual computer technology, terms like ‘Thin client’ and ‘Zero clients’ are synonymous with virtual computing. In a VDI computing setting, administrators can minimize the number of real PCs or blades and operate several virtual PCs on server class hardware deploying Thin Clients or Zero Clients.
Thin clients and zero clients are the devices that enable several users to share a computer simultaneously. Modern computers are powerful enough to cater to more than one user at a time. VDI helps a set of end users utilize the unused computing power through thin clients or zero clients. These devices enable the organization to migrate to the virtual computing environment. With the use of VDI, that is actually centralization of computing, the IT ownership cost of the school becomes very economical as it does not involve buying several new PCs but opting for single VDI server for thin or zero clients instead.
The technology with the use of Zero Client and Thin Client desktops puts into effect desktop virtualization infrastructure. Desktop virtualization happens when the software is separated from the thin client or zero client instrument. This helps in remote accessing of the data over several different devices by N number of users and curtails the vulnerability to the malware. This provides a considerable flexibility in the work culture. All the software and data are not fed into a single device, disaster recovery is considerably easy in VDI.
Desktop virtualization has many implications including the reduction in the cost of computerization firstly by doing away with the need of installing individual desktops, or Fat Clients, and then by cutting the cost of maintenance and decentralized software up gradation. Functional benefits of desktop virtualization include the enablement of remote access to the data by the user. Virtual computing environment would include N computing device, thin or zero clients and the virtualization software for installation on the server.
With the aid of VDI, N number of users equipped nothing, but a keyboard and mouse and monitor can log in to a centralized operating system. Thus, it follows that in a virtual computing environment only a server needs to be maintained instead of several different PCs for reliable backup and storage. The anti-virus protection is also centralized in case of such computing applications.
Desktop Virtualization capacitates the enterprise to replace the Desktop PC with a device with fewer components to fail and that have lower power consumption liability. It must be stated that the virtual desktops including thin clients and zero clients are no less efficient than computing system built on array of several PCs.
Virtual computing devices come in ultra-small size or form factor like Ncomputing L300 with the virtualization software. Thin client and Zero Client vendors include Thinvent, ICTS, Ncomputing, Digi International, Pano Logic Inc., Teradici, Via Labs and Wyse Technology.
Thin Client and Ultra-Thin Client (Zero Client) devices are basically small sized computers that are made to be used in remote server-based setting. Major portion of the work is centralized in the server. It includes processing software programs and storing data. Thin client function is opposed to the Fat Client or a conventional computer in that in the latter’s case the functions are performed locally. Thin Clients compose VDI which several end users can work on using the same server. This puts in place a centralized computing scenario with greater security in lesser cost.
It must be noted that before making a transition from a desktop PC based computing environment to a Thin Client or Zero Client- Server based centralized computing environment, there are certain considerations. If these are not observed the benefits of Thin Clients and Zero Clients may not be fully actualized.
Multimedia delivering capability
It is seen that the Thin Clients and Ultra-Thin Clients do not fare as well as the desktop PCs when it comes to multi-media usage. In a server-based computing environment the audio, video data on a thin client may lack quality. The problem lies with the optimization levels of the real time traffic through display protocols like Independent Computing Architecture and Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol. There is also an issue with the remote display protocols’ support for high definition images in environment built on several monitors.
Fortunately, progress has been made to overcome these limitations. Wyse’s TCX Multimedia software has the capability to improve the multi-media experience of the thin computing architecture. Citrix’s High Definition User Experience Technologies (HDX) has the capability of delivering real-time audio and video as well as higher graphics.
It is important to set a clear criterion for checking adaptability of the thin clients and zero clients to the technology that enables them to access better multi-media experience.
Reliability of the Network
The thin client and zero client computing environment depends on consistent connectivity between the server and the thin client. To ensure the continued access to the server the robust LAN/WAN is indispensable.
Local Device Access
Thin client devices’ support for local device access has been reportedly not comparable to the fat client. It is known that the centralized computing environment does not lend itself generously to the local devices. The local devices consist of USB devices including cameras, scanners, video capture devices, remote drives etc.
There are solutions to satisfactorily resolve these issues too. Citrix HDX makes USB support satisfactory. Wyse’s TCX USB Virtualizer can be used to complement the Thin Clients for better compatibility for USB devices.
Utility for Mobile Users
Given the benefits we have dwelt upon already, it is apparent by now that thin client and zero client devices are ideal replacement for a desktop intensive computing environment. But in case there are number of end user working in silo on a laptop, the thin client replacement becomes something to be reconsidered.
There are technologies in thin clients including thin client mobile devices like Wyse X90 and Wyse X90e mobile thin clients and HP’s 4410t. In spite of the presence and usability of these technologies if there are end users who work off line on lap tops the thin client mobile devices’ deployment is of limited use.
However, if the laptops are being used as replacements for conventional desktops and not much for their mobility it is advisable to opt for thin clients or zero clients as replacements.
The thin clients or zero clients do not reduce cost if applied in isolation. Investments are also to be made on Thin Client Solutions that we have discussed above and virtual desktop infrastructure connection broker solution with Microsoft Licensing. The replacement cannot be wholesale, it must be selective. Then there are solutions to turn existing enterprise desktops into thin devices.
In conclusion, it must be said that thin clients and zero clients reduce significant cost, enhance security besides reduced IT management liabilities.
Founder & Consultant - School Serv
Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.