Zero clients are appliances, and to return the best value, they must remain appliances. They should be identical...
and interchangeable so that they can all deliver the same desktop experience from the data center to every user.
One of the primary benefits of using zero clients is that workers use an appliance to connect to a desktop, so there is relatively little about the device itself for you to worry about. A uniform zero client configuration allows for centralized management, simple setup and lower costs.
For those reasons, the more users who work on zero clients, the greater the return on investment will be. When deployed correctly, zero clients provide a consistent environment for your help desk to support, and a predictable environment for your users to enjoy.
Zero clients aren't unique snowflakes
Zero client computing aims to alleviate the burden of supporting individual machines. With zero clients, the devices sitting atop users' desks need no persistent configuration. Instead, the network provides access to the desktop every time a zero client starts up.
As a result, zero-client devices are never unique. This distinction is essential to understanding the difference between zero clients and thin clients: Thin clients sometimes have local applications installed, and will hold their configurations on persistent storage in the device.
To keep the zero clients interchangeable, they must have consistent configurations. Achieving this consistency means doing zero client configuration through a central management console. The console should hold a small number of standard zero client configurations, and those should be applied to the vast majority of zero clients. Policy exceptions for nonstandard zero-client configurations may be necessary, but these should be made only with good reason.
To monitor the zero client configurations, it's a good idea to get periodic reports on the proportion of zero clients that are exceptions. A lot of exceptions suggest that the standard zero client configuration isn't meeting user requirements. In such situations, it might be simpler to add the settings that are a common exception to the standard configuration. An organization achieves consistent zero clients only when it has a small number of standard configurations and as few exceptions to those configurations as possible.
A range of settings makes up the standard zero client configuration. Different zero clients have different options. All will need the address of a desktop broker (which provides the glue between the virtual desktop in the data center and the device in front of the user) for authentication and access to users' desktops. Some will allow you to specify the default authentication domain and possibly even allow you to hide the domain list if only one domain is being used. You may also be able to set timeouts for logon duration, idle sessions and screen savers on the zero client.
You might want to control which physical ports on the zero client workers can use and which devices they can plug into those ports. You can usually control these security settings in the virtual desktop infrastructure product you use. It's important to restrict users' ability to configure zero clients with their keyboards and mice. When you do all the management and configuration through the central console, there is a single source of truth for zero client configuration.
Blades, virtual clients and zero clients, oh my!
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Zero client hardware options
It might be a zero client if…