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Wi-Fi connectivity holds the key in the mobile zero client market

Mobile zero clients are appealing in concept, but they are a challenge because zero clients do not usually include Wi-Fi connectivity. Toshiba is one vendor looking to change that.

The mobile zero client market isn't big, but it has potential to grow because these devices give on-the-go users access to their desktops while simplifying management and protecting corporate data.

Typical zero clients are built to do one thing: connect users to their desktops. They cannot run local applications, so their operating systems are limited. As a result, zero clients are simple and easy to configure. They typically have only a couple dozen settings, whereas thin clients have hundreds and full PCs have tens of thousands.

They are also easy to work with because users just see their remote desktops as if the desktops live on the local device. And zero clients do not store any data locally, so they are a good fit for organizations that cannot afford to lose any critical data.

Regular zero clients are desktop devices that only work with wired Ethernet. Obviously mobile users need Wi-Fi. And if the zero clients do connect to Wi-Fi, IT configures them to only connect to its corporate-owned network. Well, mobile users must be able to access the internet in airports, coffee shops, hotel rooms and much more.

How are mobile zero clients different?

The Toshiba Mobile Zero Client can enable mobility in highly regulated organizations.

Mobile zero clients include Wi-Fi connectivity, but that still doesn't give users everything they need. To deliver wireless access to mobile users IT must include a local web browser on users' mobile zero clients so they have a place to log in to wireless networks. IT may also need to install a VPN on users mobile zero clients so users can access their virtual desktops.

Finally IT administrators should invest in a remote management product so they can keep track of mobile zero clients through the internet. Remote management is important because although the device does not carry any data on it locally, it does represent a pathway into a company's corporate network. With remote management IT can disable any device that is lost or stolen.

A look at Toshiba Mobile Zero Client

The Toshiba Mobile Zero Client can enable mobility in highly regulated organizations where users working with mobile devices would otherwise be impossible because they couldn't take devices with sensitive data out of the office. Toshiba chose Portege Z-series hardware, which is a thin and light laptop design, for its mobile zero client.

The Mobile Zero Client does not include a local solid-state drive or operating system. Instead a local boot loader, a program that puts the computer's operating system in memory, connects to a Wi-Fi or wired Ethernet connection where users can access a web service to reach their virtual resources. This gives the Mobile Zero Client wired internet and Wi-Fi access, but no 4G or VPN client.

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For users to access the web service IT must register each device's serial number with the Toshiba Boot Control Service and assign it to a user. Then the device downloads the user's OS image. Luckily, the image is small, around 200 MB. Once the device downloads the image and boots up, the user can log in to her VDI broker, which controls the virtual resources she can work with, and access her desktop.

If a device is compromised Toshiba's Boot Control Service locks it out immediately. Organizations with extreme security demands can use a custom boot loader that talks to a dedicated web service for access control, rather than using Toshiba's web service.

Admins can also choose to put a small amount of flash storage on the zero client to cache the OS image and speed up desktop access. Caching the OS image leads to a shorter time from power on to desktop access. Naturally, the local cache is encrypted.

NCS Technologies also has a line of mobile zero clients in the company's Cirrus LT and Cirrus LT Plus. Both products use the PCoIP remote display protocol and simplify management and security by keeping the OS, storage or hard drives off the devices. HP Inc., IGEL and Dell Wyse all offer mobile thin clients, but do not list any of their products as mobile zero clients.

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