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Thin Client, Or Fat Client? That Is the Question 450

theodp writes "If virtual desktops are so great, asks Jonathan Eunice, then why isn't everyone using them? However encouraged folks are by the progress virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has made, and however enthused they may be about extending the wins of server virtualization over into the desktop realm, you don't see analysts and developers eating the virtual desktop dog food. And even the folks you meet from Citrix, Microsoft, Quest, VMware, and Wyse — the people selling VDI — use traditional 'fat' notebooks. So, are you using virtual desktops? Why, or why not?" I wonder how long the abbreviation VDI will stick around.
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Thin Client, Or Fat Client? That Is the Question

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  • by santax ( 1541065 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @07:52PM (#34693022)
    So I moved to Europe. Now all my clients are thin and as a side-effect my sex-life improved greatly.
  • Videographic performance is one sticking point.
    • Re:Performance (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @08:02PM (#34693144) Homepage Journal

      Having used some actual thin clients, it's not bad, though I wouldn't want to game on it.

      I think the core point would be that because of the way licensing works - you have to buy the client, pay for a license for the client, a license for all software used on the client(if you're going to be legal), it ends up actually being more expensive than a bottom line, but still capable full PC.

      The HD adds, what, $20-40? The licenses for our thin clients was more like $100.

      • Re:Performance (Score:5, Informative)

        by cratermoon ( 765155 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @08:16PM (#34693294) Homepage

        The licensing costs end up being the key issue in companies of any size. By the time they set up and license all their people with client machines and all the applications, a company will spend about as much as just buying PCs in bulk from Dell or whoever and site licensing the corporate-standard MS Office suite. Pile on top of that the various fiddly things about virtual desktops that just don't work like having a real desktop PC raising the support costs and it's not competitive.

        The central server with dumb terminals era ended long ago, except in niche applications. Desktops and laptops that a capable enough are just too cheap and standardized desktop support contracts from third-party support operations pretty much rule the budget considerations. For virtual and really thin clients to take off, the licensing would have to be notably cheaper and support for the edge cases like traveling remote access would have to be much better.

        • Re:Performance (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @10:02PM (#34694186)

          I've done contract work for one of the major credit card companies as a data analyst, and they require us to go through Citrix clients (among other hoops) for a very simple reason: security. There is no way for us to perform an end-run around all of their security for the simple fact that they control our environments, tools, everything. It doesn't matter what kind of system we have (Windows, Mac, Linux, bottom-of-the-line laptop or ass-kicking Alienware), we're limited by the environment that they set up for us.

          They could easily pay triple what it's costing them, as long as their security measures are in place, that's what matters most.

        • by dave562 ( 969951 )

          Any legit company who is pushing VDI and thin clients will tell you that the ROI on the hardware does not materialize until the first hardware refresh. Instead of doing a full refresh every three to five years and having to buy mid-range to high end workstations, you can buy the least expensive hardware available, and then buy extended warranties for it.

          The only thing that made any sense to me was the support aspect of it. Instead of having to touch every single desktop every time there is an application

          • Re:Performance (Score:4, Insightful)

            by FictionPimp ( 712802 ) on Wednesday December 29, 2010 @02:11AM (#34695720) Homepage

            That is why we are piloting a VDI deployment this year. I work at a community college and we are rolling out thin clients using a combo of VMWare, Unidesk, and Panologic. What we were drawn to was how easy it was to control what applications the user gets, patching the desktop and applications, improving security, faster recovery times if there is a software issue (like a virus that slips past), and lastly because we have kiosk computers, being able to have non-persistant desktops (This will save us a little money as it replaces software like deep freeze).

            We are in a unique situation however where we need to give users access to multiple operating systems and applications on a given hour. In the past we would need to build our physical machine's bigger then normal so they could handle windows XP + a virtual machine for windows vista or 7. For about the same cost of the PC hardware we would have purchased for the number of PC's we selected for piloting I was able to purchase the server, software licenses, and thin clients needed to do the accomplish the same task. Our hope is that we can save soft costs when it comes to managing these computers and that the thin clients will last longer then a typical PC refresh and saving us cash in the long run (as you pointed out).

            Other features that weighed on our decision was how easy it was to recover a dead machine and being able to leverage de-duplication. Currently, if our CFO's dell computer died, we would need to retrieve his computer, recover his files, image a new computer (providing a suitable computer was in stock), install any custom applications he requires, and finally place his data back where it belongs (providing whatever died is not in stock to replace). Ideally all of his data would have been backed up on the network, but being a typically user he probably saved to other locations as well (And being someone like a CFO, you can't give him the usual 'you should have done it like we told you' speech). If the thin client dies, it is literally just a walk to his office and a swap of the device. If he can't wait that long he could just go to any other thin client and log in to get his desktop. Further more, UPS devices at the desktops are no longer required. If the power goes out, the desktops are still running in our datacenter with it's own generator.

            Our back-end storage has de-duplication. This combined with the cloning technology unidesk leverages has us with 25 desktops deployed and only 60 gigs of storage used. While user data will increase that amount as the system is used, we could have 1 or 100 desktop and would still only store 1 copy of the OS and 1 copy of each application installed. The savings can be significant.

            We are also hoping that the thin clients will ease our way into windows 7. As a college we are constantly being pushed by students, outside companies, and our own faculty to be technologically current. There has been a huge push for us to start moving to windows 7. Unfortunately, there are still many applications that are not supported on windows 7 that some staff members require. There is also course material (some certification tests) that have not yet updated their material for windows 7. Using this system we will be able to offer both XP or Win7 at any location where there is a thin client. So if you run into a document that doesn't work right in office 2007/2010 you can quickly 'reboot' into XP and office 2003 and get your job done while you wait for the author of the document to update it. This comes at a great time because a lot of our computers are at the end of their life cycle and would not meet the requirements to run windows 7. We can provide them with a thin client with XP and all their apps, then slowly rollout windows 7 allowing them a transition period where both systems are available to them.

            We know that VDI won't be the solution to all of our problems. There will always been users with notebook computers, classes that require high end video cards or lots of ram (3d modeling, etc), and other situ

      • Hardware: Sunray , 20$ a pop. + beefy server

        Software: Ubuntu + LTSP
        (took a whole 5 minutes to set up on my lan)

        Now go have a picnic.
        • My enterprise Windows software would like to talk to you. But, oh, wait.

          It can't....
        • We can't even get our people off of windows desktops, what makes you think we can get them onto Ubunto at the same time as we go thin client?

          • We can't even get our people off of windows desktops, what makes you think we can get them onto Ubunto at the same time as we go thin client?

            Neither could Google until one day their windows machines got hacked by the Chinese government then oh wait they could.

      • Re:Performance (Score:5, Interesting)

        by geobeck ( 924637 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @09:17PM (#34693796) Homepage

        I studied this issue in the early 00's. The company I worked for had delayed buying any new client hardware to the point where we had administrative users on nine-year-old Dells and AutoCAD users on five-year-old machines. So of course we needed to buy new machines for everyone, and we wanted to find the cheapest solution. Well, management wanted the cheapest solution; users wanted to get some work done, rather than waiting until lunch time for their computer to log in.

        In our case, including licensing and server upgrades (which were minor, because we had excess server capacity due to a shrinking company), it would have been cheaper to use a thin client system--but only for the administrative users. AutoCAD was not supported in a thin client environment (is it, even today?), and our service technicians absolutely hated using Citrix to access the ERP system. (Logging into the west coast from China, Germany, or even the midwest was ridiculous, waiting half a minute for your cursor to move across the screen.)

        I finally managed to convince my boss, who loved the thin client concept, that because of remote users and AutoCAD users, it was best for us to kill off our Citrix system altogether. The power users got fast new workstations, the administrative users got shiny new PCs, our server room was leaned out and less prone to overheating, and everyone lived happily ever after--until the company folded 18 months later due to incompetent management.

      • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 )

        Here's the big difference,though:

        * Physical desktop infrastructure is short-sighted.
        * VDI is long-sighted.

        Yes, the costs may be higher in some regards, but it shifts your focuses significantly.

        Instead of having four to eight "desktop jockey administrators", you've got maybe three 'server administrators'. You've got fewer physical assets to manage, which means:

        * user-experienced stability problems become apparent almost immediately
        * you have fewer physical assets to manage
        * hardware failures are treated as '

    • Re:Performance (Score:4, Informative)

      by Mordok-DestroyerOfWo ( 1000167 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @08:19PM (#34693326)
      Another problem is buying the thin clients themselves. I can't remember off the top of my head, but the price difference between a client and a new workstation is barely enough to offset the difference in licensing, not to mention user complaints on performance. We toyed with the idea of retrofitting older workstations but supposedly we'd miss out on VMWare's/Teradici's proprietary PCoIP protocol. When it comes down to it, it's cheaper for us to buy more RAM and replace parts as needed on our existing workstations than purchase the needed infrastructure and thin clients to even begin replacing our workstations. I have begun giving some of our secretaries (or whatever the PC term is this week) older workstations with Debian with few complaints and more than one compliment on performance, however our GIS and admins will always need Windows and a beefy graphics card.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jvin248 ( 1147821 )
        Check into
        The concept there is you transform previous thick clients into thin clients (basically rip out all the drives and network boot off the servers). You can take 10 year old desktops that are limping along on decade old OS and programs that don't fit on there anymore and run them from the central server with more horsepower. Then you're not buying new thin clients.
  • Developers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nerdfest ( 867930 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @07:57PM (#34693090)
    Developers won't generally use them ... as with so may computer related things these days, VDI is not about usefulness, it's about control. It makes it easy to lock employees down to a standard desktop, and provision or restore them with minimal effort. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's not really aimed at developers.
    • Though it does make it a lot easier to give your developers access to high-speed disks and a 16-core machine, so long as they don't all want those 16 cores at the same time.

      • I'd rather use a distributed compiler like distcc.

      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        Though it does make it a lot easier to give your developers access to high-speed disks and a 16-core machine, so long as they don't all want those 16 cores at the same time.

        I have yet to meet a developer who doesn't think that 16 cores and 2.3 TB on the server means that he can use 16 cores and 2.3 TB at any time.

        As for distributed compiling, that works to a small degree. Again, developers are selfish, and will share out one core out of four, grab as much from the cloud as they can, and then complain that it's slow because everybody else are just as selfish as they are.

    • Bingo.

      If you want to push a program or policy out to 1,000+ desktops, there are a variety of tools out there. And if you want to clone an image, there are a variety of tools out there. VDI is just one of those ways to easily manage a multitude of desktops and keep them consistent.

    • Granted, I'm working in a highly secure environment with secure images, so we are all over the VDI for development. It allows my dispersed developers world wide organization of death and destruction to work in a large team environment while being in Europe, Florida, California, Washington, Japan, Hawaii, and Singapore. And yes, I am being completely serious.

      It does allow us to provide a central pool of tools that make changes without dealing with the local machine that is controlled by another agency.

    • by EdIII ( 1114411 )

      I am your exception then.

      It was really tiresome going from home to the office with a laptop, and taking it on trips. I also hated the occasional rebuild of my development environment (tools, apps, etc.). So we have a VDI on a server at our datacenter. Now all I need is remote desktop and I have a consistent development platform regardless of what equipment I am using. Considering that most of the development I do does not require heavy graphics and does require access to the datacenter (Internet) it real

  • Security (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @07:58PM (#34693092) Homepage Journal

    Employers love thin clients because they give more control over the information moved in and out of the organisation. You don't have to worry about blocking Lady Gaga CD-RW disks if the user only gets a picture of the data anyway.

    But then the same limitations create a constant demand for new solutions to work around problems which should be simple. How can the PHB work on the plane? What is a switch dies and takes out sixteen users?

    I have seen thin clients used successfully in a doctors office, where the integration requirements are simple. I can't see it satisfying every requirement in the engineering environment where I work.

    • What is a switch dies and takes out sixteen users?

      Replace switch with spare. Back online in an hour or so.

      • Re:Security (Score:5, Funny)

        by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @08:27PM (#34693408) Homepage

        What is a switch dies and takes out sixteen users?

        Replace switch with spare. Back online in an hour or so.

        Attempt to fill in IT service request to replace switch. Realise need computer to do that. Pick up phone, but forgotten how to use. Wander hallways seeking IT support monkey. Monkeys elusive, cunning, always escape behind cubicle. Finally corner one, demand support. Monkey needs key to server room but IT manager must authorise taking key off hook. IT manager away doing Six Sigma Course. Monkey suggest fill in IT service request. Escape into air duct.

        Reality of corporate environment not always match SLA. Rogerborg sad, but must speak truth, even if delivered in cursive.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      For me, the main problem with thin clients is that the latency and bandwidth isn't always predictable and stable. Especially not if you travel, but even for stationary machines, it can be unpredictable. And you notice a variable latency much more than a constant latency.

      And when it's not network latency but server overload, you don't even have any indication as to why things are slowing down. You don't see a blinking drive light and can't look at the process table.

      • We've played with it a bit with our remote locations, mainly because of an older piece of software that just doesn't run worth a damn over a VPN sitting on top of a DSL connection. The chief complaints are latency; it can be very slow to update. Hopefully in about fourteen months we'll be abandoning that shitty software and we can run strictly off of workstations with domain controllers and a distributed file system at each location, making DSL uplink speed issues relatively invisible to the end-user.


    • by martas ( 1439879 )
      I've often heard the availability/data safety argument against thin clients, but I can't imagine that it'd be that hard to implement proper data and application "caching" on the thin client to ensure a user can work for brief periods of time offline, and sync correctly when connection is reestablished. There's already a lot of theory on similar problems in distributed databases, it seems like it should be possible to transfer some of the knowledge to this new realm...
      • by jamesh ( 87723 )

        I've often heard the availability/data safety argument against thin clients, but I can't imagine that it'd be that hard to implement proper data and application "caching" on the thin client to ensure a user can work for brief periods of time offline, and sync correctly when connection is reestablished. There's already a lot of theory on similar problems in distributed databases, it seems like it should be possible to transfer some of the knowledge to this new realm...

        Maybe i'm setting myself up for a whoosh, but isn't that a fat client that you are describing?

    • Re:Security (Score:5, Insightful)

      by R3d M3rcury ( 871886 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @09:45PM (#34694026) Journal

      What is [sic] a switch dies and takes out sixteen users?

      Fair enough. But let's consider our lives here in 2010.

      Let's say your switch dies and takes out 16 users. They're sitting there twiddling their thumbs and can't do anything. If they had desktops, they could be productive! They could handle their e-mail--wait, no, the switch is down. They could work on that presentation--wait, no, they need clip art which is stored on the central server. They could submit their corporate expense reports--wait, no, you have to use the web form for that and they can't get to the web server. They could fill out the form on their computer and print it--wait, no, the printer's on a different subnet so they can't get to it. All they can really do is play solitaire and minesweeper until the network is back up.

      If you're going to depend on your network, whether with VDI or with more conventional network services, you're still going to need a reliable network. So the whole question of "What happens if a switch goes down?" is moot--you're still not getting things done.

    • by dkuntz ( 220364 )

      What is a switch dies and takes out sixteen users?

      Um... even with fat clients, if a switch dies, wouldnt that take out anyone who's on that switch anyways? I mean, yes, they'll have access to their desktop, but not anything on a fileserver, such as shared spreadsheets... or email, or web, or anything else outside of their walled off system.

      Switch would still need to get replaced, no matter if the person had a thin client, a fat client, or a Cray YMP...

  • by fotbr ( 855184 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @07:58PM (#34693094) Journal

    I've yet to meet a salesman who will claim with a straight face that the thin-client solution works well when one is traveling and working out of hotel rooms and client sites on a regular basis.

    • Sun..err..Oracle via General Dynamics has a Sun Ray thin-client laptop with 3G called a Tadpole [].
  • by pablodiazgutierrez ( 756813 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @07:58PM (#34693096) Homepage

    At work we all have latest generation laptops that end up working as dumb terminals through VNC. A bunch of servers and a load balance connection hub to always route you to the least used one make sure no work is lost if the laptop drops or is stolen, and with current network speeds, it's pretty much like working locally, with the added benefit of an 8-core beast compiling for you, and little to no maintenance on my side. If anything, I'd love for things to go thinner. I lug my laptop, which is heavy enough, from home to work and back every day. Then at work I dock it to use the 25" screen and full keyboard on my desk. If I could just have a small device that acts as a real dumb terminal with some processing power and minimal storage, I'd be happy.

    • You could have the same with a distributed compiler (distcc) and online backup system (lsyncd?), with the advantage that you could use it even without Internet access.

    • Use a macbook air.
      It's not gonna be dumb but should be light enough.

    • Interestingly enough, the one company I know around here that went thin clients two years ago is back buying their employees laptops. My understanding was the thin client approach was great when it was working, but if something went wrong you could end up with a lot of people not able to do anything and all. And apparently they had a couple instances where that happened. Turned out for them the costs involved in building in redundancy into everything (network switches, routers, servers) ate away at all t

  • No, he's not (Score:5, Informative)

    by zn0k ( 1082797 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @08:00PM (#34693122)

    > If VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) is so great, then why aren't you using it?

    Eunice isn't saying that, he's quoting Brian Madden as saying so and then gives his opinion on why he thinks they sooner or later will.

    You can tell because of the sentence directly before the one quoted above:

    >Virtualization analyst Brian Madden asks an excellent question:

    But hey, fuck accurate summaries, right?

  • by nomadic ( 141991 )
    Does anyone know of any reputable services that actually sell virtual desktops? I'd really like some sort of centralized place I can log on and have things set up like I like them, be able to store files, etc. but haven't been able to find a place that just offers that, just whole servers.
  • This is the year (Score:4, Interesting)

    by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @08:05PM (#34693182)
    of VDI on the desktop!

    Actually, if it happens it will be fairly gradual, the result of ever-improving infrastucture and improved technology at many levels. Just as the Pocket Computer / Smartphone has evolved gradually. For example, the Apple Newton failed, whereas the iPhone was later a blockbuster. Why? Lots and lots of reasons. Some of them, such as faster/cheaper/smaller processors and networking, apply directly to virtualization as well.

  • From my understanding, Citi is almost exclusively virtual desktop oriented, whether you work in the office or remotely. In fact, you have to get executive approval to get a laptop issued to you. Personally, I am not a fan of virtual desktops, especially if your work requires unique tools (cygwin, wireshark, customized troubleshooting apps, etc.) like mine does. In addition, if you work remotely that means that YOU provide the machine the desktop will run on, which pushes the cost down to the user. I don't a

    • Re:Some are... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @08:31PM (#34693456)
      For banks, I think that probably ought to be required. Industries like that and places that need to tighten control of the data love VDI, as it makes it a lot harder for somebody to gain access or more worryingly leave secure data on an insecure machine.
  • Really, this is so simple. There aren't suitable thin client options for most businesses. And Microsoft is to blame. No, this isn't an anti-Microsoft rant - there's no reason for them to support (or more accurately, PUSH) such a model. It boils down to this: Windows is hardly "thin client" status anymore. Computers are dirt cheap. Buying a thin client machine costs about as much as buying the cheapo level desktop most businesses need (the ones that need more powerful hardware aren't suited for thin clients,

    • I'm going to call BS partly on this. Most of the business world is using basic productivity software, probably Microsoft Office, with some users needing access to an accounting package or CRM. Thin clients aren't so much about up front cost as they are about reducing long term support costs. Using thin clients in an enterprise or small to medium business environment gives you a lot of benefits to the long term bottom line. From a security perspective, you cut the "attack surface" of your network very sharply - from dozens if not hundreds or even thousands of desktops that each need antivirus, security updates, administration, and security monitoring, down to a handful of servers that you can lock down pretty tightly. From a support perspective, you are no longer managing all those desktops, you are now managing a handful of servers. You have all the data for your organization where you can make sure backups are happening, and where you can keep tabs on what data is being stored and where it's stored, so you no longer have to worry about that file with a million customer social security numbers or credit card numbers sitting on someone's desktop, where you won't find out about it until after it walks out the door. Also, with a good setup, you ease the pain of patch days a fair bit, since you don't have to chase breakage across all those desktops, just across the app servers. You remove the expectation of user control because a thin client is clearly not a desktop (the "but I can do it at home, why can't I do it here" syndrome). These are damn good reasons to go to thin clients on the desktop, even if the up front costs are the same or even slightly more, and they apply to most desktop users. Only "high-performance" application demands, like CAD, and software development need fat desktops. Now, on the laptop side of things, internet connections in the field aren't something you can count on, even with mobile broadband and wifi penetration, it's not always there, and it's not always good enough. so thin clients aren't going to make much headway there for a long, long time.
    • It doesn't matter how wonderful the technology behind thin clients is, or how wonderful it gets... it's a waste of money for most scenarios.

      Thank you. You hit it. Thin client is great in hospitals for hot desking, it works great for some trading organisations who want to centralise certain aspects of their business, lawyers who don't want information leakage and all sorts of other things. I have seen (and designed / implemented) these solutions. It's just another tool in the tool box. You use it where it makes sense, in a lot of organisation the requirement to properly administer these solutions costs too much more than running their environment half assed which still satisfies the user requirement.

      The whole virtual desktop solution is massively expensive and works only in a small subset of situations. The cost of bringing everything back to the rack, the requirement to have everything on SAN as opposed to local disk, the IO requirements of it means you need a decently sized SAN (And that's not cheap).

      Thus, what's the purpose of spending the same amount of money for a thin client machine that one would for a full fledged desktop and full OS?

      Well, I don't know how you did your math, but you sorta screwed up some numbers somewhere along the lines.... Thin clients are cheaper, you need to look at patching, and managing all those machines, warranties, and everything else. Thin clients mean that there is no local profiles, no local domain requirements, a stripped down windows means no patching and if you do you netboot the machine and serve it out over TFTP on a saturday when nobody is around (Including you!) and just do another run later to deal with the exceptions. Your down time on a properly implemented thin client solution is a LOT lower than what your going to end up with using standard desktops, as a CTO though, your going to have to realise that your going to pay higher wages to get the right guys who understand the technologies and can properly administer it.

    • by jkmartin ( 816458 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @08:51PM (#34693616)
      The promise of thin clients has never been on upfront costs. The advantages have to do with maintaining the clients once they have been deployed. Think patches, service packs, O/S upgrades, memory upgrades, HD replacements, etc. With traditional desktops many of these changes can only be done by going to each machine individually. Additionally, thin clients make backup/restore trivial whereas trying to enforce data retention standards on desktops is always a battle. While these issues may not present themselves in a small to medium sized company, trust me when I say that with thousands of installed desktops there are hundreds of people dedicated to maintaining the hardware and managing the environment.

      I'm not sure what you mean by "there aren't suitable thin client options for most businesses." Most of the actual business of say a bank, or an insurance company, or a web vendor, or just about any company that isn't a full fledged software developer comes down to a few apps that rarely require huge amounts of memory, the latest video card, or even a hard drive since most of those apps just run as a client and save data on the server anyway. In fact I can think of few businesses where thin clients shouldn't represent the majority or installed systems.
  • by characterZer0 ( 138196 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @08:12PM (#34693246)

    My development environment is a Xen VM or two.

    My client is not thin though. I run the window manager, browser, mail client, IM application, SQL application, and a few other programs on the desktop, and use ssh -X and sshfs to do my development work on the VM.

    I have tried running everything on the VM via XDMCP, VNC, and NX, but it is just too slow anywhere but on the LAN. Until I have a 100Mb connection to my house (instead of the 2Mb/384Kb connection with 50ms ping times to I currently shell out $55/mo for) the thin client does not work.

  • by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @08:14PM (#34693268) Homepage

    It's all a matter of connectivity. If you're using a traditional "fat" desktop (or notebook), you're self-contained. All your software's there, you aren't dependent on any connectivity to the outside world to get your work done. A "thin" virtual desktop client, by comparison, is completely dependent on having a network connection to it's host server to operate. Without that connectivity, it's a doorstop (and a light-weight one at that, so it doesn't even do very good at blocking a door open). And in a world of corporate firewalls and filters there may not be any connectivity that the VDI client can use. Anything other than HTTP/HTTPS may be blocked completely, and HTTP/HTTPS traffic will usually be forced through a proxy server that, even if it allows the kind of streaming connection a VDI client needs, introduces so much delay that the desktop becomes useless. And that's when the network's working correctly. Add in random network outages and traffic congestion at the wrong times and corporate systems that require non-corporate machines to VPN to the corporate network (and to have specific anti-virus and management software installed before the VPN's allowed to connect) and it makes a VDI client distinctly unreliable and hard to deal with. Meanwhile, the guy with the "fat" notebook may have more system management headaches and software synchronization issues than the VDI system, but he's still getting his work done while the VDI guy's sitting twiddling his thumbs while the techs try to sort out all the problems.

    • If your company wants to deploy VDI they'll figure out the connectivity requirements soon enough.

      You're right, though - any kind of network or server outage has people twiddling their thumbs while you're still paying them. Not ideal.

      The main complaints I see about VDI, aside from connectivity issues, is that it "isn't fast enough" to play video and games. Big deal. The majority of corporates are supposed to be working in Office-like apps typing documents, editing spreadsheets or pulling together slideshows

      • The problem is that it isn't your deployment where the problems lie. It's in everyone else's networks where they aren't deploying your VDI solution exactly the way you did, and so the networks aren't set up to make it "just work". If it's internal... well, you can manage desktops relatively easily using the same tools you use to manage the servers (or you should be able to at any rate, in the kinds of networks I'm used to the only difference between a desktop and a server is the video card and what software

  • Eating the dog food (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @08:16PM (#34693290) Homepage Journal

    I have to differ, i do as i preach and have been using VDI in some form or another since i started 'pushing' virtual machines at the office.

    If *I* cant run it, how can i tell others to?

  • True, they use 'fat' laptops to travel, as no net = no workie = pissed off client .. But all the ones i know use vm's ON the laptop.

  • Really, I'm not interested in controlling a remote desktop. What I really wanted was my own private cloud to store and sync all my data to/from my various "clients".

    I looked around and didn't find a solution that let me stream my media, control all of my home systems, have encrypted backups of my data distributed among the PCs of my friends and family, along with a native app & a web interface to rule it all.

    Just s/friends and family/other offices/ to apply these needs to business.

    VDI is not the solution I was looking for. A turn-key "local cloud" where I control all of the data is what I want. I've glued several FOSS solutions to achieve this, and am testing a new cross platform system of my own... Remote Desktop can kiss my ass, all I need is the data (processor speed & RAM are cheap; The "thin client" of today is a behemoth in yesterday's standards).

    People just want to use all their data on all of their hardware. Ultimately we must either run our own servers or trust a 3rd party to "host" it for us. I opted for the former because the latter gives me the willies.

  • What you must run? If everything is web, a pendrive with a live distro could qualify. Other alternatives could be LTSP [] or even Chrome OS. Now, if this is for running windows you lose anyway in costs, security and probably even administration
  • problem solved.
  • by w0mprat ( 1317953 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @08:30PM (#34693440)
    I've seen thin client networks done badly, and I think if you factor in the cost of having a large part of your business unable to work due to a single router flaking out, or your citrix server farm doing something wierd and eating everyones work, you might have eaten up any savings from purchasing and servicing traditional fat clients on desks.

    An occasional one-time saving on cost is eaten up by [sometimes massively] amplified on-going cost in any downtime you inevitably face.

    Suggested addendum to the powerpoint presentations I know that drive these bussiness decisions: Your network infrastructure better be damn good. You also better not think it's a great cost saving strategy deploy your thin client infrastructure to remote sites with dodgy WAN links.

    Laptops as hybrid thin clients make a lot more sense - your business could get up and move. Now, I've seen that done well.
  • by Admiral Burrito ( 11807 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @08:31PM (#34693446)
    I've been using vitual desktops [] since FVWM in the mid 90s, and it has nothing to do with what this guy is talking about. I'd think Slashdot would know better, but of course times have changed. Am I going to have to start calling it Spaces [] now?
  • by digitalhermit ( 113459 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @08:50PM (#34693596) Homepage

    I keep a few Linux instances running on some VMWare and KVM based servers on my home network. The desktop systems run vncserver and I can access the sessions remotely from any system in the house. Though I run some of the same apps locally, there are enough reasons to run them on the central server.

    1) The types of apps I need are not available easily on the client. For example, I use some photography related apps under Ubuntu. These are free and easily available via the Software Manager. The same quality of apps are not available under Win7. For example, there are some HDR utilities I use in Ubuntu that work quite well. Similar software under Win7 or MacOSX costs $40 or so.

    2) The netbooks I've started to use don't have the power needed to run some of the larger apps. Though my main laptop (CentOS 5.5) can handle it, I have some Atom based systems that have issues running a JDE or full blown dev environment.

    3) I have *many* client devices. At last count I have 10 laptops in the house. These run CentOS, Ubuntu, MacOSX, Win7, WinXP and Fedora. This is unusual for most households, but reflects the type of environment I'm seeing in smaller businesses. No matter what client I use I can run my set of apps.

  • Using a modern thin client is pretty much like using 50s era time-sharing systems, with the exception that the modern variation slaves inferrior microprocessors to a more powerful cluster of devices, instead of slaving pure IO devices to said systems. The question then becomes if you are carrying a device that is in itself more powerful then the systems in use even 5 or 10 years ago, what advantage does connecting to 'the cloud' holds over the advancements in computing technology that originally allowed us
  • I don't think this is all that complicated. There are two things going on at once. One, more things are moving into "the cloud" which only requires a browser to access. At the same time as this is happening the hardware continues to get more powerful and cheaper at the same time.

    So there is not a compelling reason to switch to a thin client when the savings would be small and the loss of functionality would greatly outweigh the savings. If, on the other hand, laptops or netbooks were getting more exp
  • Asking why tech companies don't use thin clients I think is bringing up a poor point.

    I think they're pushing them as a way to have cheaper consumer machines. I'm not entirely sure they'd expect people to run eclipse on them.

    However a clueless consumer who never bothers to back up or update is actually better off using things like Google docs and gmail if they primarily surf the net and use email and Word.

    Likewise I'm sure Google view Chrome OS as something more for your grandmother / mother than yo
    • Pretty much. I divide users into 4 categories:

      1. Ordinary users. They don't use computers, they use applications. The computer's just the plumbing needed to make the applications work. They don't know tech, they don't want to know and they really shouldn't need to know. They need their applications, and they should have as little access to and control over the plumbing underneath them as practical. Give them the tools they need to do their job and leave the maintenance of those tools to the guys over in the
  • There are a lot of positions out there where workers only have to hit a dedicated system on an internal web server, and occasionally hit other web pages. For this, thin clients are low maintenance, secure, awesome.

    For any job that needs more flexibility, this breaks down badly.

  • And even the folks you meet from Citrix, Microsoft, Quest, VMware, and Wyse — the people selling VDI — use traditional 'fat' notebook

    It seems kind of obvious that people who have a need for notebooks are not the target market for VDI. A portable computer is likely intended to be carried outside the VDI workspace where it rapidly becomes an unworkable model.

    Am I missing something, or is this a really poor point to try to bring into this discussion?

  • Adobe Acrobat Reader is awfully slow under RDP. Some of the other PDF viewers are better but not by that much. Unless they can fix that, RDP isn't going to be a solution for anyone I know.

  • Thin clients have their uses(though the hardware costs are bloody usurious for what they are. For some ARM widget or a geode board I should not be paying as much as a low-end dual core desktop with HDD, CD/DVD drive, Windows licence, etc.); but there are annoying pitfalls:

    With your classic Citrix or MS Windows Terminal Server, you end up paying once for the backend servers(fileservers, DB, internal web stuff, etc.), once for the terminal servers(to keep the thin clients going), once for the thin clients,
  • The only thing that makes my computer mine is my data (OS, apps, documents, etc). None of the places I work have the sort of connection that could be relied on for speed and availability to make a Thin Client a workable option, so I'd rather sneakernet my data with me and connect it to whatever computer happens to be around to make it 'mine'. Properly encrypted and backed up at any given location of course.

    I'm not actually doing this of course, but it's something i'd like to try.

  • A while back my local University library used a pile of green screen terminals for the catalogue system. It was announced that at great cost it was all going to be upgraded to PCs with MS Windows some time around 1994.
    The result was that instead of a terminal with easily readable text you had a telnet window with tiny text, terrible response time and a few extra steps before you could do everything. Pile on about four or five virus incidents a year (kids tried to put games on them from floppy) that took t
  • Does a CR-48 [] count as a "thin client"?

  • by emeitner ( 513842 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @10:35PM (#34694436) Homepage Journal
    At my place of employment, 250 employee co-operative retail with three locations, I set up a 2 node DRBD/Heartbeat cluster. It is running NFS, Samba, LDAP. Clients, 42 of them, g are $275 Zotacs(Mag HD-ND01-U) running Ubuntu 10.04. I developed a disk image with everything the way we want it. It takes me 10 minutes to set up a new machine and most of that is the unboxing part. Clients authenticate via LDAP and mount NFS homes via autofs. Some apps are local such as Firefox and Thunderbird. Other business apps are accessed via A XenApp/Citrix server using the Citrix Native Linux client. And then there are the HR and Finance SAAS applications. Now the clients could just offer a RDP connection application and the Citrix server could be a server providing virtual desktops. But why? It would add a few more layers of complexity with little benefit. The client machines are cheap, fast, easy to replace. The OS is free. The user gets the performance of silicon on the desk with the storage reliability of a server in the closet.
  • by splerdu ( 187709 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @11:11PM (#34694686)

    Crysis on RemoteFX []
    Starcraft 2 on RemoteFX []

  • Thin is In (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pogson ( 856666 ) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @11:41PM (#34694848) Homepage Journal
    There is so much FUD in this topic. M$ and "partners" try to upsell this technology to make sure they can tax it. If you run GNU/Linux terminal servers and simple X window system clients you get all the benefits of virtual desktops at much lower costs: cheaper servers (more processes per gigabyte and no licensing fees), cheaper thin clients (no need for gB of RAM or hard drive) and better performance (files are cached in RAM on the server or retrieved by a hot RAID). I use this technology a lot. I get 5s logins and 2s opening of windows to huge apps even using old PCs as thin clients. The usual VDI solution involves one virtual machine per client, a huge waste of resources although flexible. If you want low cost and reliability keep it simple and stick with GNU/Linux. It costs about $30 per client to have a good server on-line. New thin clients can be bought for less than $50 and used ones cost nothing (old XP machines are $0). Don't listen to the FUD. Go all-in for thin clients and forget the VDI bloat. Use GNU/Linux.

"For a male and female to live continuously together is... biologically speaking, an extremely unnatural condition." -- Robert Briffault