February 08, 2013

Key Differences Between Thin Clients and Zero Clients for VDI


Thin Clients and Zero Clients are both small form factor, solid state computing devices, specifically designed for a server based typology, currently generally associated with Desktop Virtualization (VDI), but they have many different characteristics that are important to distinguish. Below we will discuss the differences between Thin Clients and Zero Clients.

Thin Clients

Thin Client devices for VDI are traditionally end-point devices with some type of skinny, locked-down OS. The most common type of Thin Clients run on Linux, Windows Embedded (WIN XPe/WES/WES7) and to a lesser degree Windows CE. Windows CE is deployed less frequently due to the lack of available connection broker. It is extremely difficult for a Windows Embedded Thin Client to get a virus and is impossible for a Linux Thin Client to get one.

Zero Clients

Instead of an operating system, Zero Clients have a highly tuned onboard processor specifically designed for one possibly three VDI protocols (PCoIP, HDX, or RemoteFX). Most of the decoding and display processes take place in dedicated hardware and therefore are more efficient than using a software client and a standard CPU and GPU setup as with a Thin Client. Zero Clients have boot up speeds of just a few seconds and are immune to viruses, decreasing the overall downtime of the device and increasing the productivity to the end-user. The Zero Client device requires very little maintenance and rarely needs an update unless there is a significant change/enhancement to the VDI protocol or the occasional BIOS related update.

Let’s Compare and Contrast the Differences Between Thin Client and Zero Clients:

Connection Type: One factor that distinguishes the differences between Thin and Zero Clients is their connection type.
  • Thin Clients usually contain multiple VDI connection brokers. These connection types are managed with a central utility which is needed to efficiently maintain and apply updates to the connection brokers.
  • Zero Clients run only with one or two connection types largely being Citrix or VMware, these devices can also be centrally managed but is not as necessary as a Thin Client.

The reason so many people go with Thin Client devices for their VDI implementation is because of their great flexibility. Thin Client devices are able to change connection brokers (ex. VMware to Citrix) when required by your company’s quickly evolving desktop needs. Though flexibility is a great feature, Zero Clients are finely tuned for a specific protocol which offers a robust video experience. 10ZiG's V1200 is a prime example of a Zero Client for PCoIP that offers exceptional video graphics; this unit is specifically designed for the PCoIP Portal Processor.

Configuration: The configuration process is another factor that compares Thin Clients vs. Zero Clients.
  • Thin Clients are usually configured using a template from previous Thin Client configurations and therefore makes managing the device(s) very simple and can be done by a single IT administrator. With Thin Clients, software updates are usually larger and can be more frequently than for Zero Clients because of their extensive features. Thin Client software updates are still quite small and less frequent compared to a PC.
  • Zero Clients have a relatively short and simple configuration compared to that of a Thin Client. Software updates for Zero Clients are usually minute, for example the Tera2 PCoIP Zero Client contains the Teradici PCoIP chipset and usually only has updates for the PCoIP protocol itself or the occasional BIOS update for improved peripheral support, thus making for simple software updates. Zero Clients have very minimal maintenance.

Keep in mind that though Thin Clients have more lengthy updates, the updates can be scheduled at on off-peak times so that end-users are unaware of the update and does not affect their productivity.

Task Capabilities: Identifying the application needs of the end-user is an important consideration when choosing Thin Clients or Zero Clients.
  • Thin Clients are known for being flexible and designed for the needs of the individual end-user. IT managers can simply drag and drop the proper applications to the Thin Client for the end-user to access ranging from graphic design applications for the advanced user to very simple Microsoft Office applications for the every-day task worker. Thin Clients have the ability for installed applications such as browsers, email clients, office/PDF viewers as well as, connectivity to any legacy client server application.
  • Zero Clients will only have applications provisioned to them from the desktop server. These devices can handle the most graphic demanding applications and can support the highest quality multi-media. Zero Clients are the perfect fit for those looking to use quad monitors without losing precision.

Typically, the exceptional graphics capability, ultra-low power, fast boot-up and easy management are the characteristics that people go for when deciding to deploy a Zero Client. Others go for the highly flexible, well-rounded Thin Client that proves to provide the truest desktop experience.