back to article Going on a thin client diet

We may not be in the post-PC age, but we’re definitely in the ‘plus everything else’ era. A gaggle of new mobile devices has gathered to join the PC, and it’s making things more complex for IT administrators. Smart phones were already heavily in the enterprise, and now, tablets are gaining traction too. How can they cut through …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Windows

    What actual work are people doing on tablets? I need at least a 24" monitor, preferably two.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge

      Depends - if your work if in IT, you're not going to be using a tablet at a desk. If you're more mobile, you're more likely to use a tablet.

      One day, we'll be able to agree that one thing doesn't suit everyone.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "What actual work are people doing on tablets?"

      Using them as clip-board replacements.

      1. Mayhem

        Lately I find a tablet makes for a wonderful etch-a-sketch for numbering purposes when taking photos onsite.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well, I worked once in a company where sales people had better hardware than the development teams - "because they meet customers, you don't - and after all you just work with text files!"(sic!) - luckily, that company no longer exists...

      A lot of people don't need workstation and multi-monitor setups. Others do.

  2. Frederic Bloggs

    What goes around...

    ... comes around. In this case for at least the fourth or fifth time. Or one could argue that they haven't really ever gone away, just dropped out of fashion and then occasionally in (a bit) for a while.

    If you need them, then use them - it really isn't some big deal or new technology that requires all this hype. Remember Wyse "thin clients" from the 1980's?

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: What goes around...

      I remember terminal emulators... the mother of all "thin clients"...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I remember terminal emulators... the mother of all "thin clients"...

        and I remember terminals themselves ... :-p

        And once heard someone telling me about some guy who didn't need a terminal, but could work (or at least test) some sort of serial thingy by flipping switches on and off...

        1. deshepherd

          Re: I remember terminal emulators... the mother of all "thin clients"...

          "and I remember terminals themselves ... :-p"

          terminals - luxury - I remember teletypes (and front panel switches!)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What goes around...

      "Remember Wyse "thin clients" from the 1980's?"

      I remember them even from the 2000's, and the last ones were phased out along with the last SCO OpenServers about 10 years ago. We also used Link Tech terminals (Wyse compatible), Falco and some others too.

      Can't say I really miss the Chase serial boards, cabling, Epromming, the MUX boxes and SLIP lines. Troubleshooting remotely with so many moving parts was just a PITA. Thank god for ethernet connectivity and off-the-self parts these days!

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: What goes around...

        ""Remember Wyse "thin clients" from the 1980's?"

        I remember them even from the 2000's,

        I remember them from today. They are still a current product. Just swapped one out.

  3. chivo243 Silver badge
    Coat

    Local Data

    I know both words, but in this context the are foreign to me. File Server, check. Shared folders, check, personal folder on the server, check. Local data? never heard of it.

    My coat, the one with the shortcut in the pocket...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Local Data

      What? Do you still use file-based data?

      Since database client frontends first, and then web application allowed for most data to be stored on remote servers, and be accessed by "thin clients", there has been very little need of data stored locally but for user with little or no connectivity (an issue any thin client can't overcome).

      Too many solutions has been rolled out to let user keep on working in a "paper" based processes/workflow albeit on "electronic paper" (files) instead of modifying the processes/workflow themselves to truly take advantage of IT.

      The company I work for could easily switch back to typewriters, cyclostyle and pneumatic mail, and really nothing would change in the way we work, but a huge savings in the power bill.

      1. Mayhem

        Re: Local Data

        And how does your remote office print?

        Particularly if you have a temporary setup in serviced offices while the main building is constructed and your WAN links don't exist yet.

        One problem we had recently was that a lot of the modern thin clients run their own custom linux OS, which doesn't translate well between the windows, Xen and the local printer. The only effective workaround was using a PC as a local print server, and that was pretty awful.

        Granted that was probably exacerbated because our cloud provider was crap, but then most are once you've been onboard a while.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    99% of my poor co-workers have modern Wyse thin clients on their desks. I'm still rattling along on a 7 year old desktop, which they will pry from my cold dead etc. In my experience thin clients are not capable of playing MP3s without skipping. They just about manage to support two monitors but don't expect smooth video playback. Sometimes when people demo software to me the mouse cursor jerks comically across the screen. Obviously Aero and desktop background images are disabled.

    Thin clients are an IT department's wet dream but terrible for end users. The amount of money you would have to spend on hardware to make the experience tolerable would put a gaming PC on everyone's desk.

    I'm confused about the Manageability section of this article. Our users still mess up the operating system from their thin clients. They have just as much ability to corrupt their OS whether it is hosted on a hard drive under their desk or on a VM in the server room. They can also still put USB sticks that they found in the car park into their thin client and obviously that feeds directly into their operating system.

    1. romanempire
      WTF?

      Sounds like...

      they don't have a competent BOFH. Any decent sysadmin would have that all bolted down so the poor lusers couldn't hurt themselves and the sessions optimised for lean smooth running.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well don't play games/videos while at work, then!!

      And as to plugging in random USB memory sticks, the USB ports should be disabled by default, it's easy enough to do.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        silicone

        I find Silicone sealer disables USB ports effectively :-)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      But if a User messes up a VM or a thin client session.

      Delete the instance spin up a new session with the permissions for their OU and scan their files in their share on the file server for Nasties and of they go again. No need to re-image the Fat client and try to save locally stored "Critical files" which turn out to be pictures of little Jimmy playing football or MP3 files stored against IT Policy.

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "They can also still put USB sticks that they found in the car park into their thin client"

      A blob of epoxy in the USB sockets should cure that.

    5. Richard Plinston

      > ... poor co-workers ... terrible for end users ...

      Thin clients, or in fact any desktop in a business, is for _work_ related activity. It is not for entertainment, nor should it have graphics toys. Your examples of what is 'bad' about these are:

      "not capable of playing MP3s without skipping", "don't expect smooth video playback".

      > The amount of money you would have to spend on hardware to make the experience tolerable would put a gaming PC on everyone's desk.

      The business owners and management want the staff to have on their desks the thing that is furthest from being a 'gaming PC'.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "Thin clients, or in fact any desktop in a business, is for _work_ related activity. "

        None of your staff do online training?

    6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Thin clients are an IT department's wet dream but terrible for end users. The amount of money you would have to spend on hardware to make the experience tolerable would put a gaming PC on everyone's desk."

      We did a deployment for a client a couple of years ago. Upwards of 800 locations around the UK. As we got near the end of the deployment it was visibly obvious at 9am when everyone was logging in that it was getting slower and slower the more offices were converted. Day to day use may have been ok, but the system couldn't cope with the peak demand times. I heard comments that it could take upwards of 10 minutes to log off at 5pm so people started logging off sooner so they could be sure it completed before they missed their bus. Others logged of and left it and found it still logged in the next morning with a timeout error on the screen.

      We were just contracted to deploy, so "not my problem mate"

      1. Robert Pogson
        Linux

        Thin clients can be rockets

        John Brown wrote, "We did a deployment for a client a couple of years ago. Upwards of 800 locations around the UK. As we got near the end of the deployment it was visibly obvious at 9am when everyone was logging in that it was getting slower and slower the more offices were converted. Day to day use may have been ok, but the system couldn't cope with the peak demand times."

        That's trivial to deal with. It's a predictable slow down and can be easily solved by installing local caches and faster networks. The designer didn't do his maths. One trivial solution is to remotely set the clients to boot a few minutes before office hours. Add a few servers for log-in peaks. I've seen M$'s OS take 2 minutes to give a usable desktop on legacy PCs. I've seen thin clients open a session in 5s, even less if the session is left in RAM on the server. Every solution has scaling problems. The legacy PC is just about the worst solution for many usage cases. The worst case I've seen of legacy PCs besides complete failure to boot was a lady who would go to her desk and fire her PC up so it would be ready by the time she had her first cup of coffee. After that, it took 2m per click for the PC to respond. How convenient/efficient/effective was that? She was amazing. Despite the performance of her PC she still got her work done but imagine how much better she could have done her other tasks if she was not always wait, waiting, please waiting... She wouldn't permit me to install GNU/Linux until she had completed her contract when the identical hardware turned into a rocket. It was still a thick client but she could have been running software on a brand new powerful server instead of an 8 year old PC as a thin client. Until you've seen thin clients done properly, don't state they can't do the job.

    7. Robert Pogson
      Linux

      Thin Clients Work and They Save a Bundle

      Anonymous Coward wrote, "Thin clients are an IT department's wet dream but terrible for end users. The amount of money you would have to spend on hardware to make the experience tolerable would put a gaming PC on everyone's desk."

      That's nonsense. If you are not doing full-screen video all day long (goofing off), thin clients work very well. Nowadays we have gigabit/s LANs and huge RAM and storage and computing power in servers at a reasonable price. Savings realizable in hardware really add up: $50 or so per user in storage, $100 or so in RAM, $100 or so in CPU, and with GNU/Linux a pretty sum not paying M$ for permission to use your hardware. Then there's energy consumption, a few watts per station for the box instead of ~50W. It all adds up. The biggest item is not the hardware but the maintenance. A secretary can hand out a replacement thin client to plug in instead of dispatching an IT-guy to replace yet another infected PC. Thins clients being fanless can last ~10 years with virtually no maintenance except in very dirty conditions.

      If you think you need huge powerful machines to run a keyboard and monitor, you're dreaming. Smartphones can do it. Why pay for a huge box full of air and blow-driers when a tiny box will do?

      I once worked in environments which did not use thin clients. At one place when there was no cooling and sweat was dripping from my nose, I did the maths. In my room there was 2.5KW of body heat, and 4KW of PC heat. There was 12 gB of RAM and 1TB of storage where thin clients would have required 2gB and none. There were 72 fans running where none were required. There was 1000 pounds of electronic waste being generated every few years. There was 100 cubic feet of clutter near desks. Use your head. Legacy PCs work but they're terribly wasteful and inconvenient. These days, thin clients can be embedded in keyboards or displays, even mice, and forgotten. They just work.

      Personally, despite all the numbers, I still think having just one copy of every bit of software in the place is a huge advantage compared to updating a gazillion file-systems. PCs are make-work projects and provide free slave-labour to outfits like M$. If you want to work for yourself, use thin clients. Use GNU/Linux. Don't pay M$ for nothing but permission to use the hardware you own.

      Oh, user-experience? That can be better using thin clients because files cached in RAM on the server are instantly available whereas legacy PCs seek all over some hard drive. If you use SSD, thin clients get faster too, if stuff is not in RAM. My users saw 2-5X faster response on legacy PCs converted to thin clients because the last user to load some software into RAM left it there to be shared with the next user. That's performance. Further, if a user did something that would have made a PC's CPU sag, a user of thin clients can have a huge cluster of 64-bit machines at his/her bidding. Besides, many are using web-applications mostly and those are already on the servers... Do you know any user who thinks Google or Facebook are not serving them well? I don't.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reliability

    Thin clients are fine but they elevate the reliability need for connectivity to the same level as processing and memory; without it you are stuffed.

    In a controlled office environment that is possible but if the Boss wants me to work on the train then he is going to have to get me reliable fast wifi on the train. Same at home.

  6. batfastad

    Thin?

    I'm not sure there's much of a cost saving with thin clients. I've seen teams of engineers wrestling with endless app packaging and registry keys to remove OS features/customisation. Then for infrastructure you've got UCS chassis costs, virt host licensing etc. And then Wyse thin clients that cost the same as a mid-range PC.

    The whole lot comes crashing down, quickly, if there's even a minor blip in any of AD, DNS, network, storage etc.

    More hassle than it's worth?

    1. Mayhem

      Re: Thin?

      That was a problem we had at my last place - almost all business apps were in the cloud, along with all the core servers and networking equipment, but the access control systems were local.

      And if the internet feed had problems, all remote sites lost DNS , which meant that you couldn't make new keycards as the access control systems only worked with DNS names, not IPs.

      Ludicrous, but that's legacy systems for you.

  7. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Four years ago there were howls of anguish when my local council rolled out no-brand tablets to staff. "How ****DARE**** the council give iPads to council staf!!!1!!11"!"!!" Makes you think the average taxpayer expects council staff to work with pencil and paper. ("Pencils???? They should cut open a finger and use their own blood!" AND bring their own paper in to work! AND pay for the privelidge of working in a warm office, the scroungers!!11!!)

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021