alphaspirit - Fotolia

IT 'cautiously optimistic' about mobile thin clients

IGEL has a new mobile thin client that gives IT control over users' Citrix, VMware or Microsoft virtual desktops and lets them make better use of existing hardware.

Mobile thin clients are easy to use and extend PC life spans, but their low processing power and short shelf lives hinder adoption.

Mobile thin clients are smaller, more portable form factors -- such as HDMI dongles and USB drives -- than traditional thin client devices. The latest option in the market is the IGEL UD Pocket, a Linux-based USB thumb drive that allows users to access their virtual desktops and apps from any PC or laptop.

"Something like this has an appeal for IT shops because it feels simple and easy," said David Johnson, an analyst at Forrester Research. "I just have to send out a USB key, and I've got people with access. It doesn't matter if [users] have a Surface device or a Dell laptop or whatever else."

IGEL's Universal Management Suite comes built into the UD Pocket. It allows admins to set user profiles to keep track of their activity and restrict access. IT can implement policies based on groups and disable lost devices.

Bend Memorial Clinic in Bend, Ore., uses traditional IGEL thin clients to deliver X-ray images, patient records and more on Citrix virtual desktops to more than 700 employees and 280 patient rooms and offices. It is interested in, but has not yet adopted the UD Pocket, said Randy Berteau, a Citrix systems administrator at the clinic.  

Part of the appeal of this type of mobile thin client is it allows users to access virtual desktops on older hardware, Berteau said. As a result, IT doesn't have to spend as much time maintaining PCs and doesn't have to replace that hardware as often.

Power, productivity on the line

The UD Pocket uses the processing power of the PC it plugs into. The top concern with mobile thin clients is performance, especially compared with that of traditional thin client devices.

After someone gets used to a certain speed, it's really hard to move away from that.
Randy Berteaua Citrix systems administrator at Bend Memorial Clinic

"After someone gets used to a certain speed, it's really hard to move away from that," Berteau said.

There are also concerns about the durability and shelf life of mobile thin clients because users are more likely to lose or break them, said Mehran Basiratmand, CTO of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla.

Florida Atlantic, a VMware Horizon shop, does not use mobile thin clients, but they could be useful in VDI environments such as theirs, Basiratmand said.

"We are cautiously optimistic that [mobile thin clients] will be a good value proposition," he added.

Lastly, mobile thin clients may take away from users' ability to easily access their personal apps and accounts, Johnson said. When users are on the UD Pocket's virtual desktop, they can't access their PC's native desktop until they are done with the session. In contrast, when connecting to VDI through a traditional PC, users can access both the virtual desktop and the native desktop interchangeably.

The IGEL UD Pocket supports VMware, Citrix and Microsoft virtual desktops. IGEL did not disclose the price of the device.

Next Steps

Mobile thin clients fit in well with cloud services

How Dell Technologies looks to advance mobile thin clients

How the top VDI thin clients stack up for enterprise use

Dig Deeper on Virtual desktop management