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VMware: Thin Client vs. Zero Client

14 November 2011

Thin clients and zero clients are virtual desktop infrastructures (VDI). A key driver for companies adopting this type of technology is the promise of radically lowering Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) while still delivering a complete Windows-based desktop computing environment. Your choice of endpoint will greatly influence this success. Here we will discuss the key points of thin client and zero client options.

The term thin client refers to a computer or program which heavily depends on some other computer, or more specifically its server, to fulfil its traditional computational role. Thin clients occur as components of a broader computer infrastructure, where many clients share their workings with the same server.

A common modern thin client is a low-end computer terminal which concentrates solely on providing a graphical user interface to the end user. The remaining functionality, in particular the operating system (OS), is provided by the server. Thin clients can be designed with much more modest hardware, because they perform much more modest operations, thus saving businesses and organisations money on their I.T. spend. Other benefits include the security risk factor which thin clients go towards combating. A thin client relies on its server to process most or all of its business logic thus removing security risks in individual hosts. Other facts to consider with this type of technology include the impact on productivity and energy use from endpoints.

Zero client technology is also a server-based computer model but the end user's computing device has no local storage, no operating system, central processing unit (CPU) or memory located at the endpoint. Zero clients all have software and all run an OS. For this reason a zero client can be contrasted with a thin client, which retains the operating system and each device's specific configuration settings in flash memory.

A zero client device is a small box that only connects a monitor and its accessories (keyboard, mouse etc) back to a remote server. The server, which hosts the client's OS and software applications, can be accessed wirelessly or with cable. Zero clients are often used in a VDI environment.

This is what separates zero clients from thin clients (which require local processing capabilities and operating systems). In fact, some say that zero clients, thin clients and VDI are different technologies that can intertwine to create a desktop experience for the end user.

VDI is the key technology behind zero clients. Ideally a zero client endpoint will connect back to a virtual PC located on a blade server in the data centre.

In summary:
• A Zero Client is more likely to be a purpose built hardware, designed specifically to connect you to your virtual desktop.
• A Thin Client is a more generic device which could be used and programmed to run different functions/software other than just connecting to a virtual desktop.

VMware adopt VDI technologies into their programs and software. VMware courses offered by Total Training Solutions include modules in VDI programming and configuration, such as the vSphere Install Configure Manage course. To view the full range of VMware courses from TTS please visit their Course Directory. For more information email info@tts-uk.com or call 0800 612 1299.

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