Thursday, December 22, 2011

The case for Thin Clients

The case against thin clients is that fat clients are so inexpensive that for little or no extra money, why not get a fat client instead of a thin one? Nowadays, it costs more to deploy thin clients and a fat server than it does to put fat clients on every desktop and a central file server (Network Attached Storage device).

The prices of some manufacturers' thin clients are higher than many of their fat clients. For example, the Dell OptiPlex FX170 thin client device with Windows Embedded Standard 2009 sells for $550 (Intel Atom N270, 1 GB RAM, 1 GB Flash storage, no hard disk, no monitor). Dell sells a Vostro 15" laptop running Windows 7 Pro for $100 less money (Intel i3, 2GB RAM, 250GB HDD)!?

It is hard to argue that there is greater value in a thin client than a fat client, so most of our clients continue to replace their old PCs with new machines running Microsoft Windows and Office. But the case is not always black and white.

Service calls on broken PCs can cost hundreds of dollars.  Properly factored into the decision, this can tip the value proposition in favor of thin clients.  One of the virtues of thin clients is that they are rock solid. No moving parts. No viruses. Very little that users can do to break them (particularly if the thin clients are not running embedded Windows).

Some may argue that there are things one can do to reduce the maintenance and repair costs on fat clients, but these things are not "user friendly."  

  • Restrict what users can do that might cause problems, such as (sharply) limiting users' rights or forcing them to use "mandatory profiles".  Setting up user restrictions can be quite time consuming and costly.  
  • When problems occur, restore or replace the PC with a standard, working image or PC.  In other words, do little or no troubleshooting and problem-solving.  This is a policy that is hard to hew to in the real world.

The case for thin clients hinges on the following:

  • Using low-cost thin clients, and avoiding embedded MS Windows.  We are deploying $200 HP t5335z devices at one client location.
  • Utilizing the total cost of ownership over the life cycle of the competing devices to decide which to deploy.
  • Ignoring the preferences of users if they would rather have fat clients (most would).