Vendors Bolstering Thin Clients to Account for Cloud-Hosted Desktops

Adnan Raja
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Vendors such as IGEL Technology, HP, and Dell are boosting their support for cloud desktops to be used with their thin clients. This trend shows how manufacturers are having to keep pace as cloud becomes increasingly prevalent.

  • Thin Clients Move to Embrace Cloud
  • Thin Client OS Issues: Altra Federal Credit Union’s Experience
  • Thin & Zero Clients Expand Support of Protocols
  • Blast 2.0
  • Gartner: 38.4% IaaS Growth in 2016

Thin Clients Move to Embrace Cloud

In this increasingly cloud-based world, the makers of thin clients are modifying them so that their customers can seamlessly take advantage of cloud-hosted desktops and software.

The extent to which the business world has implemented desktops and software delivered through cloud hosting has expanded in recent years, with companies increasingly wanting to have third parties take care of managing the infrastructure. Meanwhile, the thin client market has been struggling, especially because low-end PCs have grown closer in cost. In order to stay in the game and get the attention of desktop virtualization companies, thin client heavy-hitters, including Dell, IGEL, and HP, have taken steps to support cloud-hosted desktops.

Thin Client OS Issues: Altra Federal Credit Union’s Experience

Using a thin client for a cloud-hosted desktop or program could mean you are doing yourself a disservice both in terms of security and performance, according to Envision Technology Advisors CEO Todd Knapp. Why? The OS is limited, and you won’t always have access to the technologies you want to use for cloud systems – GPU offload, for instance.

“They’re running ‘just enough OS’ implementations of operating systems,” says Knapp. “It doesn’t have the entire Windows subsystem.”

In order for thin clients to perform at a higher level with cloud desktops, Knapp thinks manufacturers have to move on from proprietary OSs (such as Wyse ThinOS, used by Dell) that have a limited feature-set.

One enterprise that ran into challenges with a proprietary OS was Altra Federal Credit Union in Onalaska, Wisconsin. The finance firm isn’t looking at cloud desktops currently, but it has not always been able to support USB peripherals with its Dell Wyse thin clients.

It’s typical for thin clients not to have full support for peripherals, so IT departments should consider that potential snag if they are considering these stripped-down devices for a privately or publicly hosted virtual desktop.

Tommy Tang is the chief EHR app analyst for MD Anderson, a Houston-based cancer center affiliated with the University of Texas. “Peripherals are so key,” he says. “It is probably going to be one of the biggest challenges that you’re going to have with [virtual desktops].”

Thin & Zero Clients Expand Support of Protocols

Even more challenging to the notion of cloud-hosted software or desktops are zero clients. These devices will frequently only use one remote display protocol. Since cloud vendors will typically only support certain protocols, you may not be able to get the system to work.

Makers of thin clients are aware of these issues, though, and are working to fix them. For instance, all of the zero and thin clients made by IGEL now support the VMware Blast Extreme remote display protocol. By giving access to Blast, IGEL is able to speed up multimedia and software since they’re thereby harnessing the H.264 video codec. In turn, IT is able to give users on cloud desktops a stronger audiovisual experience. Also, since Blast is built out of open source parts (vs. rival Teradici’s PC over IP, aka PCoIP), VMware can form partnerships, and other organizations can develop tools for use with Blast.

Dell and HP are now Blast-ready as well. Blast will be supported by Dell’s Window Embedded devices, and HP is now giving Blast support to its Smart Zero line – one of which was released at VMworld, the t630. The Smart Zero Clients are now compatible with all protocols, extending to PCoIP, Remote Desktop Protocol from Microsoft, and Independent Computing Architecture from Citrix.

HP is also making another move to better integrate with cloud desktops: subscription pricing on its thin clients.

Blast 2.0

The upcoming release of Blast 2.0 will add support for additional clients, Raspberry Pi and Fujitsu. Plus, it will be compatible with the M10 graphics card from NVIDIA. The M10 support is especially notable because it can save money by allowing for more user density on each card. VMware, in working with Riverbed to better deliver its desktop over WAN, could make this option more attractive to some organizations. Plus, Windows Server 2016 and Windows 10 will be supported.

Gartner: 38.4% IaaS Growth in 2016

Thin client desktops are, of course, just one way to access the cloud. Use of cloud is growing tremendously in just about every category – but especially in infrastructure-as-a-service. “The worldwide public cloud services market is projected to grow 16.5 percent in 2016 to total $204 billion,” notes Gartner. “The highest growth will come from cloud system infrastructure services (infrastructure as a service [IaaS]), which is projected to grow 38.4 percent in 2016.”

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