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Endpoint devices are a necessity for virtual desktops, but some organizations don't put enough emphasis on selecting them.
The endpoint choice can have major implications for end-user experience and the wrong endpoint could cause issues for certain users. IT staff must determine the best strategies for endpoint devices to support virtual desktops based on what their users need and then choose between thin clients vs. PCs.
End-user requirements for thin clients vs. PC endpoints
Even the best ticket system will result in some delays for users, and these problems can get even worse for remote workers. Remote employees don't have the same access to in-person IT support. Therefore, organizations should put an emphasis on ease of use for the user when they choose an endpoint.
Corporate devices provide more ease of use than personal devices because they are pre-configured for work purposes and centrally maintained -- there is nothing the users need to install and nothing for them to maintain. Thin client devices get some bonus points regarding ease of use because if there's a problem that a reboot won't fix, IT can ship a new unit overnight. With a PC, it's not so easy.
Security is a major concern for any virtual desktop deployment, and this is especially the case when users access corporate resources from personal devices such as PCs. If IT does not apply the appropriate protections against malware to the personal device, the end user device is vulnerable to file transfers, keyloggers and other security threats. IT professionals must lock down the virtual desktop endpoints, and they can accomplish this by disallowing or scanning file transfers, for example.
IT departments that need to choose endpoints for their virtual desktops should factor in the more specific security and ease of use features of each endpoint. However, thin clients and PCs each offer specific strengths and weaknesses that can guide IT's thinking.
Thin clients vs. PCs: evaluating the pros and cons
From a cost perspective, thin client devices are generally priced less than even low-end PCs. However, low-end PCs are designated for budgeting purposes. To reap all the rewards and features associated with a PC, such as improved local compute resources, organizations would have purchase more expensive PCs. IT can centrally manage both thin client devices and PCs, but thin client management presents a slight learning curve for administrators.
When organizations evaluate thin clients vs. PCs, they should know that thin client devices aren't just vanilla endpoints anymore. Numerous vendors offer technology to support virtual desktop endpoints. For example, IGEL offers IGEL OS that can replace the local operating system on a repurposed, low-end PC. IGEL also offers the UD Pocket, which is a USB-based thin client device for PCs. Once an administrator installs the USB device and configures the PC to boot from USB, the PC boots via the USB as an IGEL endpoint. As such, the cost for thin client hardware can be eliminated when IT departments can repurpose old PCs.
When an organization provides a user with a PC to accesses a virtual desktop, it's not unusual for the user to become confused between the local desktop and the virtual desktop. This is especially common when Microsoft Office and other common business applications are installed on both desktops.
This can turn into a help desk call when a user accidentally saves a file on one desktop and they can't access it from the other. With a thin client endpoint, Microsoft Office and other interactive business applications are not housed locally, which eliminates any potential for this confusion.
As with many IT decisions, the verdict is that it depends. From a basic cost and management standpoint, it's six of one or a half-dozen of the other. Some users demand a PC just because they've always had one and it offers familiarity. On the other hand, thin client devices are more suitable for users who prefer or require only simple access to their virtual desktops.