Shopping for thin client devices? Focus on manageability

Learn about four options for thin client devices from a variety of vendors -- and make sure you take management into account.

One of the key features to look for when choosing thin clients is the ability to manage a large group of them with ease.

Many organizations adopting data-center-based computing need to equip their desks with a fleet of thin client devices. A thin client is a compact PC with limited upgrade options and few local applications but great connectivity to remote applications -- along with powerful central management.

All of the vendors on this list have a lot more products than the ones discussed here; in fact, most vendors have products comparable to each of the ones below. Some also have laptop thin clients or thin clients based on ARM CPUs for maximum power savings. Again, easily managing a fleet of thin clients is a critical part of the equation. Make sure you evaluate the management platform from your thin client vendor along with the features and performance of the thin client devices.

Let's go through a few options for thin client hardware; remember, this is certainly not all of the choices out there.

Dell Wyse C series

Since thin clients are essentially tiny PCs, it makes sense that the biggest PC vendors would have thin clients. Wyse, acquired by Dell, has been in the thin client business for a long time, even before we had to deal with the Y2K bug (if you're too young to remember that, ask someone in IT with gray hair). Wyse has a huge range of thin client devices, and the C series is one of the most basic types.

The C series of thin clients all use the same tiny chassis -- small enough that I can hold a couple in one hand -- and come in a variety of different operating systems. There are versions with Wyse's ThinOS, Linux and Windows, all with built-in wireless, wired Ethernet and a single DVI port for a monitor. These are the lower-cost thin clients, but they still have a 1GHz CPU and a GPU for zippy display.

Wyse Device Manager is the central console for these thin client devices. Wyse also has its own special sauce in the form of the TCX extensions that add to the standard feature set of most remote display protocols -- including multimedia redirection, full duplex audio for softphones and better USB support.

Unfortunately, the small chassis size means that these thin clients don't have a lot of ports for connection, no serial and only one monitor. So they may not cover every requirement but are a great choice if your thin client needs are simple.

Hewlett-Packard t510

HP has a variety of thin clients, including the t510, which they call a Flexible Thin Client. This is an ultra-small form factor PC, larger than the Wyse C range but still small enough to easily mount to the back of a monitor. It has lots of operating system options and dual DVI output for dual screen use as well as wireless and wired Ethernet.

Last time I used HP's terminal management software, it was a branded version of the Altiris Deployment solution, with some very useful prebuilt scripting. You can use the same tool to deploy the HP servers in the data center.

If you want a single vendor for both the server hardware and the device on the users' desktop, both HP and Dell are good options.

Chip PC Jack PC

One innovative thin client is from Chip PC Technologies. Plus, Chip PC has been in business since 2001, so it has a mature management product that works across all of its thin clients.

More on thin client services

Comparing thin, zero and thick clients

Thin client technology FAQ

Complete guide to choosing and managing thin clients

Its Jack PC thin client is built into a wall plate. It replaces the network outlet in the wall next to the desk with a full-featured thin client. Power is supplied by the Ethernet cable in the wall using a power over Ethernet (PoE) switch, further reducing the infrastructure required, although the screen will need its own power cable.

Local operating system options are a little limited as this thin client uses a MIPS CPU, more commonly found in TV set top boxes, but this doesn't limit the support for VDI products or the operating system of the user's virtual desktop.

IGEL UD5

The IGEL UD5 is an even larger thin client with more advanced options, including a PCI-Express slot for your expansion card requirements. This is the only thin client on this list with serial ports, which can be very useful in point-of-sale applications. This thin client also offers a smart card for two-factor authentication, which tends to be popular in the health care industry to address patient data privacy concerns. Like the other vendors, IGEL has its own management tool that handles all of its thin client devices.

This was first published in August 2013

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