How thin can you go? New clients continue to be introduced, like HP’s unveiling of the t310 G2 All-in-One Zero Client in January. With client types on the market ranging from traditional thick desktop computers to PC over IP zero clients and everything in between, IT decision-makers are left with tough questions as they try to parse out the differences and best uses of various client types.
By considering the particular strengths of thick clients vs. thin clients vs. zero clients around several key attributes, IT teams can implement the right solutions to meet the need of their businesses.
What Is a Zero Client: The Security Benefits and Beyond
One of the signature strengths of zero clients is security. Because a zero client has no local operating system, the avenues of attack are radically reduced.
But, says David Johnson, a principal analyst at Forrester, even a zero client carries some degree of vulnerability.
“Zero clients have at least some firmware,” says Johnson. “Firmware is vulnerable to attack, or can be. But in general, it should be easier to secure a zero client. With an entire PC there are a lot of attack surfaces.”
He stresses that security is more than just a matter of device; it’s also a matter of the engineering of the system as a whole. And it’s important not to discount entire classes of products under the general labels of “thick,” “thin” or “zero.”
“You can also argue that something like an iPad can be used as a thick client because it has a pretty strong operating system on it, and it’s used for productivity in its own right,” says Johnson. “But they’re also extremely secure devices — incredibly secure devices, difficult to break and hack.”
He recommends thinking through security needs and selecting not necessarily the most secure setup, but rather an appropriately secure setup that won’t unnecessarily hinder productivity, and to consider opportunities to secure the system at the physical infrastructure level.
Consider an Ecosystem Approach to Client Performance
Performance is another key attribute of thick, thin and zero clients. Brian Madden, an end-user computing strategist for VMware, notes that traditionally, rich graphics and the virtual environments thin and zero clients rely on haven’t mixed.
But, says Madden, within the last half decade, that reality has changed.
“It’s certainly possible to make a virtual desktop environment that performs just as well,” says Madden. “It’s even possible to make one that performs better, because storage in the data center is higher-performance.”
He recommends IT teams look at the entire computing environment in order to determine less obvious elements of performance, like server loading and electrical use. A thin or thick client may be able to share the computing load with the data center and drive savings in server costs and power consumption.
“You have to look at the whole ecosystem,” says Madden. “Look at what server you’re using, what applications you’re using, what technologies are in place.”
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