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VDI thin clients reduce hardware management headaches

The initial hope for VDI thin clients was to reduce costs, but admins now just want convenience. Vendors at Citrix Synergy delivered new options.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The reasons that IT shops deploy thin clients have changed. While it used to be for cost savings, today's enterprises simply want easier endpoint management.

In a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), IT can replace old PCs with thin clients to reduce hardware issues. Some thin client device vendors promise cost reductions, too, but that isn't always possible with the extra back-end storage and network requirements of thin clients.

Attendees at Citrix Synergy 2013 this week said thin clients are all about the management benefits.  Allen Cook, an IT administrator at Utah State University, said the university plans to deploy virtual desktops for about 50 students in the fall. IT wants thin clients because they're easier to support, he said.

"We're always looking for ways to make things easier," Cook said.

However, support for rich applications is not a major use case for thin clients today. They are best suited for companies that want simpler management.

"Thin clients are largely focused on convenience and homogeneity," said Sudhakar Ramakrishna, senior vice president for Desktop and Cloud at Citrix Systems Inc. "They will not be focused on specialized applications."

New thin client devices enhance usability

Several new client devices became available this week that address the need for greater convenience for both IT and virtual desktop users.

On the thin client front, NComputing updated its N-series devices to include Citrix Receiver for Linux, more USB-based peripheral support and Imprivata OneSign authentication, which allows employees to use authenticated smart cards to swipe into instances of Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp.

Dell delivered the Wyse Xenith Pro 2 dual-core zero client this week. While zero clients are usually defined as slimmed down devices that don't have any software on the local endpoint, in reality, there is some software. Dell's clients have software installed, but offer a zero attack surface so IT doesn't need to install antivirus software, a spokesperson said.

In general, zero clients are better for front office employees or other users who are simply using Microsoft Office or Excel and don't require complex application access, according to Ian Geiser, chief technology officer at DevonIT, a thin client hardware and software provider.

DevonIT introduced a new compact Ceptor client -- only slightly larger than a USB stick -- that plugs into any HDMI display and turns it into a zero client.

"We removed a lot of the knobs involved in getting a regular thin client hooked up," Geiser said. "The user isn't involved in anything except logging in with their credentials."

To ensure security, systems administrators can lock the device so users can only connect to the corporate network. No user data is stored locally, and users cannot download anything onto the device.

As users' needs change, VDI clients have become more flexible. Some devices can be extended using management software to allow for advanced capabilities.

Meanwhile, many IT shops are moving away from delivering full virtual desktops and focus on individual applications instead.

Geiser said the thin client market would benefit from doing the same.

"We're taking the 'D' out of VDI and keeping the data and applications virtualized," Gesier said. "A lot of zero clients now are trying to give you a full desktop. With VDI, you don't necessarily want to deliver a full desktop."

More from Citrix Synergy 2013

James Furbush, news writer, contributed to this report.

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