As the workforce becomes increasingly mobile and remote, there has been a rise in the popularity of virtual computing environments, and with that, thin clients. In fact, the thin client computer market shows the possibility of incredible growth, with projections reaching $1.23 billion in annual sales by 2023
With the potential to help businesses meet budget, energy, and security goals
through a consistent and easily-managed solution, thin clients are worth looking into for anyone hoping to remain competitive in their industry.
What is a thin client?
Unlike a “fat client” or “thick client,” such as your traditional desktop PC, a thin client is a simplified machine that relies on a separate server to run programs and complete user tasks.
The thin client itself connects to the server through a remote connection, so it doesn’t need a fully-functional hard-drive. It’s common to have a whole suite of thin clients connected to the same server or server group, with very little computing happening at an individual user’s machine.
Your window to the cloud
Another way to describe what thin clients do is that they serve as windows to the cloud
. They give the user the means to communicate, manipulate, display, and retrieve data served and stored in the cloud without changing any of the data at the local level.
Thin clients can take the form of monitors or touch screen displays, or they can have features you’d see in traditional laptops and desktops. However, without all the components of those devices, thin clients tend to be much smaller and take up less space, even with a display. They’re also portable, especially when they can plug into any monitor or projector, like the HP Zero Client t310
Useful for almost every industry
It’s possible for most industries to incorporate thin clients into their employee workflow, particularly at the administrative level. Any office setting could benefit from these streamlined PCs. For example, retail distribution and manufacturing industries have embraced them for operations tasks. And because thin clients are so small, you can mount them anywhere, which gives them game-changing functionality.
In retail, for instance you can use your thin clients like a POS system
. And in manufacturing or distribution, you can attach a thin client to a forklift to tell the driver what to pick while they are still in transit, giving them an easy way to scan inventory without a bulky machine.
In a healthcare setting, medical professionals can log into a thin client when they enter a patient room, accessing records located on a central, secure server. When they go into another examination room to see a different patient, they simply log in to the thin client in the new room.
Benefits of a thin client for your business
Given that thin clients are relevant to almost every industry, what would drive your company to incorporate them into your next tech upgrade? Let’s take a look at the advantages other businesses cite when sharing why they made the switch.
1. Cost savings
Saving money is a good place to start, since that's usually what decision-makers need to hear before leaving a legacy system for a new one.
Thin clients have multiple ROI opportunities, which start with upfront purchasing costs. Depending on the unit style and type you choose, each thin client can cost less per user than buying traditional desktop PCs or laptops. Once you begin to factor in software licensing purchases that are no longer tied to an individual workstation, the savings look even better.
Easy management means you'll also spend less on IT resources to set up new users. Add in the space-saving perks, which could save you on real estate expenses, and you have some substantial info to bring to your next budget meeting.
2. Energy savings
If you have stepped into your office and noticed heat or noise coming from all your workstations, you understand the amount of energy that rows of PCs use. This energy costs money, both in the power necessary to run so many processors and hard drives, and in the money you spend keeping cooling your offices to keep both the equipment and your employees comfortable.
Thin clients address this problem by providing solutions that use no more than 85W power supplies, which is at the low end of a traditional PC. Some use even less than that, with 45W and 65W common for desktop thin clients that are passively cooled and have no moving parts. Even the mobile units, which have fans, are an energy-saving opportunity compared to their standard laptop counterparts.
3. Increased productivity
Employees who use thin clients can do their jobs with less downtime, increasing their productivity and your bottom line.
As shared in the forklift example above, you save time when drivers know where they are going while en route to their destination. There's no need to check-in at a base station after every batch of orders. Not only that, they know that they have a direct line to the inventory system right there in the cab of their forklift. Compared to pen-and-paper methods, this is a clear upgrade.
Healthcare settings are another prime example. By having a thin client in every patient and procedure room, doctors and nurses save time when they no longer need to transport a laptop or tablet from room to room. Anyone can access the system at the location of their choice. You eliminate the unnecessary back-and-forth between rooms or sharing of tech resources.
4. Simplified management
There are a number of administrative IT tasks that must happen before an out-of-the-box laptop or desktop is ready for use in a business, including installing the software and ensuring permissions consistency. This doesn’t happen with a thin client, which you can connect to a remote server through the network and have ready for work within minutes.
This means scaling your business through additional workstations or POS displays can happen in an instant. The plug-and-play nature makes it easy to manage multiple machines, with the only real work happening at the server or cloud services levels.
5. Incredible flexibility
Imagine not having to go back to your own PC or laptop to get the files you need to finish a project. Your login could get you access to your information at any thin client connected to your company's network. This possibility doesn’t simply exist with a thin client – it's standard.
No single user's data is tied to a specific computer station, and if something happens to a particular thin client, the user can sign in another one while theirs is replaced. Having data sets, files, permissions, and programs tied to a user's login and not their workstation just makes sense in today's fast-paced world. It also has incredible possibilities for the future of remote work.
6. Enhanced security
Today's thin clients are more secure than ever. The server-hosted software is just one area that’s received rigorous testing against hacks and leaks
. The entire concept of a thin client is secure, because each user is limited to what they can do at the local level. They can’t download new software with local permissions, and they can’t change data.
Only those with server-level permissions can introduce new programs to the network system. Also, using the example of the physician's office, a thin client in every room ensures laptops and tablets aren’t left unattended or halted by necessary security updates.
7. Compatible with the cloud
What software services do you currently use
with your workstations? While you can use almost any available cloud service on a standard machine, the initial set up and continued computability may be problematic. From file formats to permissions, there are different rules for every cloud system. Consider thin clients as an option for the ultimate experience in consistency across your company.
8. Flexible for upgrades and rollout
The true beauty of a thin client program is that it looks the same whether you're buying 10 new machines or 100. You can roll out programs across all of your thin clients at once, with teams hitting the ground in less time than ever before.
When it's time to upgrade, or if you want to add in a variety of thin client types to your system, you can do it without missing a beat. From thin client desktops to laptops to zero clients, they can all play together from day one, and you don't have to reinvent the wheel to get there.
Tips for choosing a thin client
If the idea of a thin client is truly new to you, you may have some questions. Fortunately, members of the HP sales teams
are well-versed in not only what each model type can do but how these machines are already making a difference in your industry. Prepare for your discussion with answers to these questions in hand, or use them as a starting point:
- Do we experience productivity loss due to outdated inventory or picking systems?
- Would having each picker, packer, or stocker carrying their own “computer” solve any logistics issues?
- Are we looking to transition to additional remote teams or move temporary ones to permanent status?
- Does our business handle highly-regulated or confidential data that could be compromised by having it stored on an individual machine?
- Do we know that our employees will follow strict security protocols every time they log in?
- Can we benefit from energy savings or have a mission statement that’s aligned with sustainable goals?
While there are many options for initial implementation, someone somewhere has been in your shoes and created a pathway for making the most of these ingenious opportunities. Don’t be afraid to ask what’s happening in your niche where thin clients are concerned.
About the Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP Tech@Work. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.